Michigan’s signature festivals aim for rebirth, mostly Crain’s Detroit – Crain’s Detroit Business


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Tourism officials across the state are generally breathing a cautious sigh of relief.
Though the recent sharp spike in COVID-19 cases fueled by more easily transmitted variants caused them to scale back some events, for the most part, annual festivals are being held again this year after mass cancellations last year.

For example, this weekend, May 7-9, saw the return of the Mesick Mushroom Festival, which drew thousands to the small northern Michigan town to celebrate the morel, everyone's favorite spring mushroom. Saturday's parade had a theme: "Bringing Back the Fun in 2021," and in classic small-town fashion the parade grand marshal was the Mesick High School volleyball team.
Other events included a black-morel hunting contest; the blessing of the Jeeps; a co-ed softball tournament; Masonic Lodge pastie sale; a carnival; corn-hole tournament; antique car show and cruise and a 5K run.
The Holland Tulip Festival, because it is much larger than the mushroom festival, had more of a hybrid feel when it was held this year, from May 1-9.
Organizers canceled some of the more popular annual events that drew big crowds, including parades and the Dutch dance performances, and scaled back the scope of the carnival midway. And the annual road races went off as a virtual event, meaning entrants could get bib numbers, finisher medals, T-shirts and hoodies, but they ran a 5K at a time and a place of their own choosing and entered their times online.
A Dutch costume event, new this year, was held daily, featuring dancers wearing costumes from eight of the 12 regions of the Netherlands. Accompanying the costume event was a Dutch market, with a variety of Dutch-inspired merchandise. And Mayor Nathan Bocks led visitors on two-mile walking tours of the city's main points of interest, and yoga sessions over three days were held amid tulips in full bloom.
Sadly, after COVID cases began spiking again in early spring, some event organizers decided the prudent thing was to cancel for a second year in a row, including the Empire Asparagus Festival on May 15 and the Cadillac Freedom Festival and Lake City's Greatest Fourth in the North, both scheduled for the Fourth of July.
But many other festivals remain on the calendar. While not an all-inclusive listing of tourist events and attractions around the state that are back on the calendar this year, here are some highlights:
The Upper Peninsula
Mackinac Island: The 73rd annual Lilac Festival, the largest summer event on the island, is scheduled for June 4-13. The annual parade through downtown has been canceled over COVID precautions, but most of the other events are back.

Visiting the island will be easier this summer than it was last. Shepler's Ferry began service to the island on April 21. After operating with sharply reduced capacities last year, company President Chris Shepler said that while masks will be required for all passengers, the boats will be operating at full capacity this season.Events include the coronation of the festival queen, a corn-hole tournament and a 10K run, one of those bucket-list races for state runners. It includes what might be the toughest first mile in state racing, with runners starting down at lake level and hitting the one-mile mark as they go past Fort Mackinac on the top of the cliff overlooking downtown. This year, the start and finish have been moved from Windemere Park downtown to the Mission Point Resort, which has expansive grassy areas for runners to spread out on and socially distance after they finish.Most years, Jeff Young, a lilac expert who comes in from Maine, leads walking tours around town to show visitors the wide range of lilacs on the island. Some of them are hundreds of years old and are not the bushes one might expect, but instead towering trees. This year, instead of walking tours, Young will be stationed in Marquette Park and restrict his discussions to the various lilacs there.The island's other big draw is the Mackinac Policy Conference, which over concerns about COVID has been pushed back from late May to Sept. 20-23 at the Grand Hotel. The conference brings together hundreds of business and government leaders for a range of policy and panel discussions and networking."It was very cool that both parties were very flexible to make it happen," said Tim Hygh, executive director of Mackinac Island Tourism, referring to the Detroit Regional Chamber, which hosts the conference annually, and island officials. Hygh said he expects a bit of a slow start to the tourist season but based on reports by hotel owners about booked reservations thinks by July visitor numbers will be back to normal.

St. Ignace: The city's biggest event, the St. Ignace Car Show, is back on for its 46th running (or driving) on June 24-27. Hot rods and show cars come from around the country and Canada. According to Quincy Ranville, director of special events for the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, about 25,000 spectators are expected to attend, with 800 cars officially registering and three times that many actually showing up.On June 24, there will be a drive-in movie theater temporarily set up at the Kewadin Shores Casino. On all four days there will be car cruises around the eastern Upper Peninsula, ranging from 20-75 miles. What is billed as the Muscle on the Mac cruise is scheduled for Friday for muscle cars to flex their stuff across the bridge to Mackinaw City and back.

There will be fireworks Saturday night.Ranville said most motels in the area are already sold out, and most of them will be sold out by the end of the show for the 2022 event. "When people check out of their rooms on Monday, most of them make reservations for next year," she said.St. Ignace also has another big vehicle draw, the 25th annual Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show from Sept. 16-19, with another 20,000 or so showing up to see some 200 fully tricked-out, jazzed-up and lit-up semis.From May 28-30, the city hosts the annual Native American Festival, displaying native traditions and culture at the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.Marquette: The tourist season gets into full swing with Art Week from June 21-26, which includes exhibits, workshops and concerts.The Marquette Trails Festival is June 25-27, with up to 1,000 expected to participate in a variety of mountain-bike and running races, with all proceeds going to support the Noquemanon Trail Network trail-building program. For more information, visit marquettetrailsfestival.com.

The annual Blueberry Festival — the UP is paradise for fans of wild blueberries, which can be found in the forests, along trails, in every roadside park and lining the Lake Superior lakeshore in July and August — will be downtown on July 30. Stores will have sidewalk sales and you can revel in everything blueberry, from blueberry pizza to blueberry beer and, of course, baskets of fresh blueberries, farm raised and wild.Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: The streets of downtown Munising are filled all summer with people coming off or getting ready to board the boats run by Pictured Rocks Cruises LLC, a concessionaire of the National Park Service. For more than 50 years, boats have taken tourists on 2 1/2-hour cruises to the wildly colored cliffs along Lake Superior east of the city.The tour season was delayed last season but began this year on May 8. Boats were at a limited capacity last season but will run at full capacity this year.In recent years, kayak tours along the cliffs have also grown hugely popular.Pictured Rocks is open year-round but its two visitors' centers, the Munising Falls Visitor Center and the Grand Sable Visitor Center, don't open until the Friday before Memorial Day, May 28, and are open through the end of September.The Keweenaw Peninsula: There are two counties in the peninsula — Houghton and Keweenaw. Brad Barnett, executive director of the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau, said there are 35,000 residents in Houghton County but just 2,000 in Keweenaw County, and that according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., 70 percent of all jobs in Keweenaw County and 10 percent of all jobs in Houghton County are tourist-related.Sam Raymond and his partner, Shelby Laubhan, have run the Keweenaw Adventure Co., which is based in Copper Harbor at the tip of the Keweenaw and runs kayak and mountain-bike tours and rents mountain bikes and kayaks, since 1999. When COVID hit last March and the world seemed to come to a halt, he thought he might have to pull the plug on the 2020 season."I did a cash-flow analysis. I was trying to figure out if we could even open," he said. "We wound up opening in June at a limited capacity, and it was quickly apparent people wanted to get away. It became our best summer ever. It was off the hook. We ended up 18 percent."He said some customers told him they'd been planning to go out west or to Europe, and since they couldn't fly anywhere, they ended up driving to the Keweenaw."A lot of people had the Keweenaw on their bucket list, and it became time to check it off," he said."The thing about the Keweenaw is that there is an event every weekend of the summer, and last year they were all canceled. I'm looking forward to getting them back this year one way or another, following the recommendations of the health department," said Barnett.The first big event is a three-day Experience the Keweenaw Bike Festival over the Memorial Day weekend. It includes a guided group ride through the Adventure Mine cavern in the village of Greenland; a guided group ride on the Michigan Tech trails in Houghton; a guided ride through the Churning Rapids trails in Hancock; a guided ride through the Swedetown trails in Calumet; and what is billed as Lake Superior Gravity Series Enduro Race at Copper Harbor.About 500 riders from around the U.S. are expected, with the enduro race capped at 100.Copper Harbor is a hotbed for mountain biking, with trails ranging from not too crazy to insane, especially some of those coming down off the top of Brockway Mountain at the edge of town. The road at the top of the mountain, which leads to a parking lot and a large grassy knoll that affords some of the best sunset views in Michigan, as well as the sight of Isle Royale almost all the way across Lake Superior, is reportedly the highest road between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies."It's a world-class trail system," said Raymond.There is also a three-day series of mountain-bike races in Copper Harbor over the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-6, the Bells Brewery Copper Harbor Trails Fest.The eastern face of Brockway Mountain, whose road to the top snakes along the edge with places to stop, is a great place to see what locals say is the best Fourth of July fireworks any small town ever put on. On Brockway, you can see the fireworks at eye level while looking down at Copper Harbor. Every hotel and motel in the area gets filled, as does the campground at the nearby Fort Wilkins State Park.Another big tourist draw are tours of the Quincy Mine in Hancock, which once was one of the most productive copper mines in the world, with operations from 1846-1945."Quincy had its biggest season ever last year and we expect another busy season this year," said Barnett.Other big events are the annual Pasty Fest in Calumet in August, on a date yet to be set, and the 61st annual Eagle Harbor Arts Fair Aug. 14-15, a juried fair in what many consider the prettiest town in the UP, at the base of a deep bay on Lake Superior.The Lower PeninsulaTraverse City: The biggest draw of the annual National Cherry Festival, the air show by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight team, has been canceled. Its show annually draws a crowd of 500,000 and parks and beaches around East and West Grand Traverse Bays would too packed to allow for any social distancing, said Kat Paye,the festival's executive director. The Bay Side Music Festival on the water downtown has also been canceled.

She said the last economic-impact study done, in 2016, showed the festival generated about $24 million in economic activity.Paye still expects 500,000 to attend one or more of the events for this 95th annual festival, scheduled for July 3-10, which includes a classic car cruise; a porch parade, where residents of the old stately homes adjacent to downtown decorate their porches, yards or windows; a pancake breakfast in the park called the Open Space on the west bay; an art-and-crafts show; a carnival midway; a sand-sculpture contest; a beer tent; the Ultimate Air Dogs docking diving contest for man's best friends; and the Great American Duck Race, which features trained ducks swimming in lanes against each other faster than you'd ever imagine. The Festival of Races will be held on July 10, and options for runners and walkers include a 5K, 10K, 15K and half-marathon (13.1 miles).For information, go to cherryfestival.org/events.The other big tourist draw, though, the Traverse City Film Festival, which draws tens of thousands to town annually for a week in late July and early August, has been canceled for the second straight year.Michael Moore, the filmmaker who is the festival's founder and president, announced on April 30 that he had decided to cancel this summer's festival, though he said there is a possibility some film festival might be staged late in the year."The Festival believes it would be irresponsible to invite thousands to the small Lake Michigan community of Traverse City, whose lone hospital recently needed to once again limit visitors because of the current spike in cases," he said in a release.The Northwestern Michigan Fair, the largest in northern Michigan, and its 4-H competition, will be held Aug. 8-14.The Great Lakes Equestrian Festival will offer 12 weeks of competition, from June 9-Sept. 19, though spectators will have to watch via live streaming and not in person.Up North Pride has moved from June to October, at dates yet to be determined, because of COVID. Events include Drag Night and a Visibility March. Visit upnorthpride.com.The Iceman Cometh Challenge, one of the most popular mountain-bike races in the country, is back this year, on Nov. 6. It is a 29-mile race on forest trails that takes riders from the village of Kalkaska to the Timber Ridge Resort in Traverse City.About 5,000 riders will participate. The race is already filled, said Paye, who directs it, too, though riders can get on a wait-list for entrants who have to drop out ahead of time, at iceman.com. Cheboygan: The Cheboygan County Fair draws 25,000 annually and is back on the calendar again this year, from Aug. 7-14.

There is a carnival with rides and games of skill, a horse show, livestock auction, dirt-track racing, a 4-by-4 mud-truck run; lawnmower racing and a petting zoo. Times and dates for events have yet to be determined but will be posted on cheboyganfair.com.Every Thursday night from June 10 through mid-September there will be a free concert in Washington Park downtown. In conjunction with the weekly concert, merchants will stay open late, many of them with street displays of their wares, and there will be a farmer's market. Street musicians will also be plentiful, and many of bars and restaurants in town will have live music of their own.There will also be a Fourth of July parade and fireworks display.Charlevoix: The Charlevoix Venetian Festival will be July 17-24, with a street parade; 5K and 10K runs; boat parade; farmers market; fireworks; a beach and boat party billed as AquaPalooza; a three-on-three basketball tournament; bingo; corn-toss tournament; disc golf doubles; croquet; pickleball and a sailing regatta.For details, go to venetianfestival.com.Elk Rapids: Elk Rapids' big annual tourist event, Harbor Days, will be held downtown on Aug. 4-7. Elk Rapids, a small harbor town north of Traverse City on Lake Michigan, has a big marina and a long beach.Events include a carnival, concerts, food booths, 5K and 10K runs, a big fireworks display Saturday night that fills the beach and brings boaters in from miles around, an arts and crafts show and parade.Another big draw is the Wooden Boat Show June 11-12, which includes ticketed full dinners, beverage tents, a boat show and awards and a wooden-kayak display. Gaylord: The 57th annual Gaylord Alpenfest, which honors the city's heritage and its partnership with its sister city in Switzerland, Pontresina, will be held July 13-17.Activities include a craft show with more than 60 participating artists; a parade, kids' games and contests; carnival rides; 5K and 10K runs; outdoor concerts each night; food booths and something billed as the world's largest coffee break. Visit gaylordalpenfest.com.Tawas City: More than 130 booths of handmade arts and crafts will be on display at the annual Memorial Day Weekend annual Shoreline Arts & Crafts Show at Tawas City Park on Lake Huron May 23-24.The two-day Summerfest will be July 10-11, with a classic car show and car cruse, street dance, 5K run, mayor's fish boil and sand-castle contest for kids.The annual big Labor Day weekend arts and crafts festival will be Sept. 4-5 in Shoreline Park on the shore of Lake Huron. About 150 exhibitors are expected at this juried show, which draws some 6,000 visitors to town. Shuttle buses will ferry people from the park to downtown, where many businesses will have outdoor displays.Ludington: The 40th annual Ludington Lakestride half-marathon, 10K and 5K are back to being an in-person series of races this year, on June 12. Last year, they were held as virtual events, with runners getting race numbers but racing at a time and place of their own choosing. The half-marathon, which includes running down a sand dune in Ludington State Park and then for miles along Lake Michigan back into town, is one of the most popular destination races on the state's running circuit.Go to ludingtonlakestride.com for entry information.An event that had been held in recent years in conjunction with the marathon will not be held for the second straight year.That is the effort organized by Barry Neal, the owner of the iconic House of Flavors restaurant and ice cream shop in downtown Ludington, to set various Guinness world records.Past records have included getting tourists and townspeople to eat the world's longest ice cream sundae, with ice cream filling more than half a mile of rain gutters joined together; and getting 1,387 folks to make sand angels on the beach at the same time.The city's annual Suds on the Shore Craft Beer & Wine Tasting Festival is back on again this year for Aug. 21, with up to 10,000 expected to come sample beverages from more than 50 Michigan makers of craft beer, wine and hard cider.The Thumb: Last year was the first year since 1925 that the Bayview Yacht Club didn't put on the Port Huron-to-Mackinac Island sailboat race.

This year's race will be held July 24-27 and will bring a sellout crowd to area motels and hotels.The city will also host the Art on the River Festival June 11-13, with dozens of artists displaying their paintings, glass work or jewelry with the blue of the St. Clair River as a backdrop. Musicians and bands will be playing throughout, ranging from solo artists to large orchestras, playing classical, jazz and rock and roll.Heading north in the Thumb is the annual Blue Water Sturgeon Festival in Fort Gratiot on June 5, honoring the Great Lakes oldest and largest fish species, growing to more than six feet long and weighing up to 200 pounds. There will be a live sturgeon available for a hands-on experience, food, live music, Great Lakes exhibits and vendors and sturgeon fishery biologists eager to talk about their favorite fish.The Lakeside Craft Show will be held in Lexington on June 19-20. Lexington will also be host to the first annual Bikes, Boats and Beats Festival on Aug. 20-22, with live entertainment, vendors and bike and boat displays.The Harbor Beach Maritime Festival will be July 8-11, with live music, a pet parade, a bocce-ball tournament, fireworks, jet-ski races and a lighted-boat parade on Friday night.

At the tip of the Thumb, the annual Porch Fest in Port Austin will be on June 26, with bands and musicians playing for free on many of the porches in and around downtown.For information in these and other Thumb events this spring, summer and fall, go to bluewater.org/eventsSouth Haven: The city in the far southwest corner of the state is at the heart of blueberry country and home to the annual Blueberry Festival. This year's 58th festival will be on Aug. 12-15 and is expected to draw up to 75,000 to town.

"We've taken the road that by August, more people will have been vaccinated and we'll be closer to herd immunity," said festival President Amy Andrus. Last year, the festival was pared down to one day, and included a scavenger hunt for kids.This year, tentative plans, depending on possible resurgences in the disease, call for the festival to be almost back to normal, with carnival rides downtown on Water Street, a climbing wall, a basketball tournament and, one of the main events, a blueberry pie eating contest. Missing will be a main concert stage and beer tent. "We're not quite back to that level," she said. "We're still a work on progress. We want people to know we're doing as much as we can to keep them safe."There will also be a 5K, traditionally one of the more popular races on the yearly running circuit. To cut down on congestion, the field will be limited to 600, which will go off in two waves of 300, and results will be posted online and awards mailed out so finishers won't have to hang around after.The local youth soccer program will also put on demonstrations to lure more kids to the sport.Battle Creek: The Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival will be held June 29-July 4 at the W.K. Kellogg Airport. About 85,000 are expected to attend the festival, which will include musical acts, a carnival, hot-air balloons and fireworks.Big Rapids: The annual Bands, Brews and BBQ Festival will be back this summer at the Big Rapids Bandshell on July 10 from 2-10 p.m. Acts include Key West Permafrost Blues Band, Rochelle & Rochelle & the Spoilers, the Brenda Loomis Band and the Benzing-Graves Collective. The music festival kicks off the Mecosta County Free Fair, which runs through July 17.Bronson: The annual Polish Festival will be held July 15-17, with events including fireworks, polish food and music, a parade, crafts, talent show, pancake breakfast, fishing tournament, truck pull, bingo and probably various sports tournament, pending COVID developments.East Lansing: The East Lansing Art Festival, which was launched in 1964, has been moved from May to Aug. 7-8 to allow more people to be vaccinated and hopefully reduce transmission. The event has grown to include poetry readings, live music, art-education activities for children and a lot of artists selling their work from rented booths.Coldwater: The annual Apple Fest & Craft Show will be held downtown on Sept. 18.Lowell: The 53rd Annual Fallasburg Arts Festival will be held in Fallasburg Park on Sept. 18-19. About 25,000 are expected to attend the festival, which will include more than 100 fine-art and craft booths, food booths, kids' craft area and musical acts on the outdoor stage.

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