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April 19, 2011

Native Festival Features Cherokee Hymn in American Sign Language

By Spider Rybaak

Visual artist and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Michelle Johnson will join the fourth annual Native American Touch the Earth Festival on May 28 and 29 at Mexico Point Park in Oswego County.

MEXICO, NY - The Native Circle Touch the Earth Festival comes back to the shores of Great Lake Ontario on Saturday, May 28 and Sunday May 29. Bring the whole family to Mexico Point State Park, just off state Route 104B from 12 to 5 p.m. each day to enjoy a distinguished line-up of performers and learn about Native American lore.

Gypsy Red and Native American Music Award nominees Johnny Lipford and Owl and Dove are scheduled to perform, along with American Music Award-winning groups The Storytellers, Thunder Hawk Singers and headliner Cornbred.

New to the event this year is Michelle Johnson. She will use American Sign Language (ASL) dance interpretation to join Laura "Brightstar" Vannah in a performance of Amazing Grace sung in the Cherokee language.

"I first saw Michelle perform last fall and was completely riveted," said Vannah, founder and executive director of the festival. "She wasn't simply signing the words of the song. Her whole body embraced and expressed the song. It was as if I was watching a river of silver light swirl and flow with passion and feeling. I knew then that I wanted Michelle to join our festival."

Johnson began studying ASL nearly 15 years ago and developed a deep respect for the culture behind the language. More than a traditional interpreter, she is a visual artist. She combines ASL signs, movement, dance and facial expressions to create a visual interpretation of what a song sounds like and what music feels like.

Johnson performed "Grandfather" with Wind Spirit drum artist Windwalker at the 12th Annual Native American Music Awards last November, when she also performed Joanne Shenandoah's "America." Her other performances include the "See 'N' Hear the Music" showcase and a "Hearts for Haiti" fundraiser.

Vannah added, "What Michelle does with ASL is truly an art form. She passionately embodies the nuances and feelings of the songs that she performs. I'm delighted that she will be joining the festival this year."

The Native Circle Touch the Earth Festival will kick-off with an inaugural gala on Friday, May 27 at Mexico Point State Park just off state Route 104B. From 6 to 8 p.m., the gala features a silent auction, music and food and beverages provided by The Bake Shop Eatery in Mexico. Advance sale tickets are $30 per person until May 15 and $35 after that.

In addition to award-winning music, storytelling and dance, the festival also features educational programming, arts and crafts vendors, children's activities and refreshments. Admission and parking are free.

For more details about the festival, to purchase gala tickets and for vendor information, call Laura Vannah at 315/963-3820. The vendor application deadline has been extended to Sunday, May 15.

For accommodations and visitor information, call the Oswego County Tourism Office at 1-800-248-4FUN or go to www.visitoswegocounty.com

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