Stage of Nations Blue Rain EcoFest Shares Haudenosaunee Culture in Hanover Square

Jul 22, 2015

Irv Lyons Jr. has nurtured the fest so close to his heart through its many stages, and he's sure the best is yet to come.

He can recall when he put together the first one in the P&C parking lot in Fairmount Fair, an event for the nearby Onondaga Nation and all Haudenosaunee to share music and arts and crafts with the community.

"And 5,000 people showed up," Lyons said during a recent sunny lunchtime interview at a sidewalk table outside Nikos Restaurant in Hanover Square. "The next year we held it in Clinton Square with Joanne Shenandoah as headliner, and we had 20,000 people."

The annual summer event also had a three-year run on the campus of Onondaga Community College when Lyons worked there in events and development under then President Debbie Sydow. "I was mentored by (Jazz Fest founder and executive director Frank Malfitano), and I learned from the best," he says.

In 2009, he brought the Stage of Nations Blue Rain Ecofest back downtown, this time to Hanover Square.

"It's not like Clinton Square, with a lot of hot concrete in the summer time," Lyons says. "I like Hanover, with its trees and its fountain. I pictured crafters and green organizations and water. And here it's been."

That's where it's stayed since, and where it will run from Friday and Saturday as part of Arts Week, still showcasing the Haudenosaunee culture for the entire community.

Here's the entertainment schedule:

Friday:  5 p.m.  Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers, 6:45 Hoop Dancers, 7:30 Native Flute Player 8:30 Carolyn Kelly Blues Band.

National blues star Coco Montoya headlines Saturday night.
Saturday:  Noon Morris and the Hepcats, 1:30 Kay & The Cavemen, 3 Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers, 4 Smoke Dance Competition, 5 Haudenosaunee Singers and Dancers/Hoop Dancers, 6:45 The Ripcords, 8:30 national blues artist Coco Montoya.

The Smoke Dance Competition draws serious interest, with $5,000 awarded. "People love it," Lyons says.

"With Onondaga Nation support, it's the real thing," says Lyons, who co-produces the event along with his cousin Rex Lyons (who is also his band made in The Ripcords) and Sherry Hopper.  The event also runs closely with Larry Luttinger and CNY Jazz's Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival in Clinton Square Friday through Sunday, Lyons says, with media relations help from that organization's Kimberly Rossi.

Lyons was raised in Nedrow, then spent 20 years in the military before retiring from service and returning to work in the city he loves.

"Our community loves this event," he says of the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee. "This really brings it all together. But it's inclusive. We want people to soak in our culture."

For example, he says, "Anybody can meet our leader Sid Hill, which is the equivalent to President Obama coming to our event. And our faith keeper Oren Lyons. You can talk to them and learn from them.

"We want to share our culture. You can't turn left or right in Onondaga County without recognizing the impact of our culture. This is the birthplace of Western democracy. I can't believe there's not a Cultural Center here for that, and I wonder why Onondaga County is not known as the birthplace of Western democracy. I'd like to see it."

In 2003, Lyons saw the Haudenosaunee flag raised at Syracuse City Hall for the first time by then Mayor Neil Driscoll. This year, it will be raised for the first time at the New York State Fair. 

"I feel I was put here to be the mouthpiece of our community," he says. "I don't take that lightly."