Riding the winds with Diane Lonsway of Michigan Pagan Fest

Diane Lonsway is the firebrand behind the Michigan Pagan Fest that has become an international phenomenon.  Beautiful in mind and soul, forthright, and down to earth, she embodies the drive and vision that can be found among the best of us.  She is also, as typical of many people who do the work involved to make things really happen, a name you may not know.  She took a moment to allow a brief interview on who she is and what she does for this powerful event.

Diane Lonsway with Permission
Diane Lonsway
with Permission

Take a moment and pull up a chair while we get to know heart of Michigan Pagan Fest.

How would you describe yourself if you were talking about you?

Laid back, humble, smart, can be funny, people-pleaser.

What would you say describes you specifically as an event organizer?

I’m organized, experienced, and friendly, hate drama, listens to my attendees and staff.

How does this affect the way you see the world?

It’s my world and I only see it that way lol.

 How did you get started, where did you begin your journey?

Started at the Florida Pagan Gathering in 1998 helping with sound than moved onto video, photography and the website. I still do the photography and website and eat with the headliners.

Who would you say was the most influential on your style.of management and organization?

Roger Coleman who founded FPG and the current board president of FPG, Ann Marie.

What makes Florida and Michigan different? In what ways are they sort of alike?

MPF is smaller and location is easier to handle. We run on a dozen or so minions and volunteers. FPG requires so much more staff. FPG is a non-profit, MPF is not. We host many of the same headliners and musicians.

How are the communities in respect to their attendance and preference of programming?

Michigan Pagan Fest public symbol

I have seen FPG close to 700 people and as low as 350 with other festivals popping up in Florida. Programming is similar.

What do you look for when you are headhunting headliners?

My personal friendships and knowledge of many them helps. We ask who people would like to see and go after them.

When you decided to take on the Land of the Fresh Water Seas, what was your biggest challenge?

It was an accident! We didn’t actually decide to do a festival at first. I am friends with Spiral Dance from Australia and one of their tour stops in the U.S. canceled on them. They got a hold of me to see if there was someplace that would host them in Michigan. I had the perfect partner to help start this. She knew all the local people to assist and I knew all the headliners and had the experience of working FPG for many years.

In talking we decided to call some of the headliners whose numbers I had in my phone. Called Edain McCoy and she said absolutely, emailed Raven and Stephanie Grimassi and they were in. Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone also had a cancelation on their U.S. tour and when they heard we were having one they called me. So our first festival (although expensive and in the hole) was filled with amazing headliners and musicians.The first two years it was owned by a non-profit. I have personally owned it for the last five. The biggest challenge has been staying in the black. When you see and hear the attendee’s excitement, enjoyment and finally blissful exhaustion after it’s over you put all the aches and pains of doing this aside and realize why you do it.

What has been your greatest victory?

Breaking even to live another year.

 Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone
Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone – image by Sianna74
You call your volunteers Vikings? Why?This is new this year for our site/vikings people. Regular staff is called minions. Then we have our guardians. Vikings are setup and tear-down and emergency weather assistance for tents and canopies and have to stay the entire weekend. We just tossed out names when coming up with this department and it stuck. Volunteers are on-site only, they do not attend meetings.And what would you say is the biggest motivation behind your volunteer morale?People like being part of something bigger than themselves. For some it is the only way they can attend due to finances. We like to be drama free and treat our volunteers with respect.

Is this a labor of love?

You have no idea.

RD has been a big personality. Can you describe this larger than life entertainment dynamo?

He helped start the Atlanta underground drag shows. He has 2 doctorates. Enjoys the entertainment world and sings like you wouldn’t believe!

What can we expect this year at the festival?

We have 75 workshops, 24 vendors, Opening, Main, & Closing Rits, Peruvian Fire Ceremony, Bardic Circle, Variety Show, Midsummer Masquerade with Tommy Toons and of course camping and hotels.

It expanded too, right?

Yes, currently we are a four day festival.

What should folks pack who are camping out?

Depends. We have the option of the slumber party which is bring everything but the tent and claim your spot in the huge building.  If tenting it. Extra stakes (from experience) for your tents. If you have forgotten anything, Walmart and Meijer’s are right around the corner.

Any special tips for festival etiquette?

Always ask before taking someone’s picture. Do not throw anything into the sacred fire for the entire festival. No means no. Enjoy yourself! 

Now, if you had a theme song for this year. …what would it be

“Wind of Change” – Scorpions. Most words apply

This year, Diane has once again brought renowned people to the festival that just keeps getting better.  This year lasts from Jun 23 – 26, 2016.  Headliners include Judika Illes, MR Sellars, Orion Foxwood, and Lady Bona Dea.  Music, workshops, fire, drums, and magick.  Sounds like a heady mix to put the wind in anyone’s sails.  Thank you, Diane, for being who you are and doing what you do.

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