For the "arts" aspect of Arts, Beats & Eats, organizers have really upped the ante. As in past years, the festival will feature a diversity of artists working in a variety of mediums and disciplines, such as jewelry, prints, paintings, and other items festivalgoers can buy on a whim.
But new this year, organizers decided to go big. A number of participants work in a large scale — such as the duo John Wayne and Paige Jackson from Black Mountain, N.C., who create giant (over 5 feet wide) sculptures modeled after leaves; Bruce Holwerda from Hoover, Ala., who paints surreal, circus-inspired works; and Jennie Burt from Monroe, Mich., who creates whimsical paintings of seascapes (up to 10 feet tall).
"These are big pieces, so you have to be wanting a large piece like a painting or a large sculpture, and that is a really cool thing," says Lisa Konikow, art director for the festival's juried fine arts show.
Other additions to the festival's art offerings include live artist demos and artist talks in a program sponsored by the DIA. In all, the festival will feature 135 artist booth spaces. "We're really proud of our local artists, but we're really happy to have artists that reflects the greater community of southeastern Michigan," Konikow says. "We're really lucky that we have some really good artists."
There's a pretty killer musical lineup this year — especially for a free festival. Each night has a nationally known rock headliner, filling the schedule with local stars at all times of each day.
Some of the Detroiters include longtime vets like Thornetta Davis, the recently crowned "Detroit Queen of Blues" (Saturday, 9:45 p.m.) and local bar and club staples Killer Flamingos (Friday, 9:45 p.m.). There's also the one-two punch of blues-rock group the Muggs (Saturday, 7:45 p.m.) and the similarly bluesy (but with a funky twist) Howling Diablos (Saturday, 9:30 p.m.).
For fans of folk music, there's Ann Arbor's Laith Al-Saadi (Friday, 9:30), who performs after the party-starting Infatuations (7:30), and acclaimed singer-songwriter Jill Jack (Sunday, 9:30). If you're looking to catch a glimpse of future stars, check out young pop duo Stereo Jane's show (Saturday, 2:15 p.m.).
At the main stage has headlining bands of all ages. On Friday night, hit-making power pop legends Cheap Trick ("Surrender," "I Want You to Want Me") play at 8 p.m. On Saturday, you can see catchy '90s radio stalwarts the Gin Blossoms (8:15 p.m.) followed by the more contemporary danceable pop-rock band Neon Trees. Finally, Young the Giant, they of the big recent fist-pumping, blood-pounding anthems like "My Body," closes the whole thing out Sunday at 10 p.m.
The culinary offerings at Royal Oak's summer-capping fest are no afterthought. Food may come last in the name of Royal Oak's annual "Arts, Beats & Eats" festival, but the food offerings don't come last at all. Certainly, there's enough food at the festival to draw even those uninterested in music or art. Festival creator Jon Witz says, "It really is one of the tops as far as food events in the entire Midwest."
It's a diverse lineup of eats, featuring Greek from Kouzina, Asian from Saigon Diamond and Peking House, Indian with MotiMahal, barbecue with Bert's Marketplace, Lockhart's, and Victory Smokehouse, soul food from Andre's Louisiana Cuisine, and even fine dining from Prime29 Steakhouse, and that just scratches the surface.
Of course, Royal Oak in itself is already a destination for diners, but what's special about the festival is it offers food-lovers the chance to graze on tidbits from dozens of restaurants, as 80 percent of the vendors will offer taste-sized portions, all costing less than $5 on average. Lockhart's will even be selling St. Louis-style ribs by the bone. And that's just in the commodious food tents — two food trucks make their first appearance on Washington Avenue this year, from Bigalora and the Soaring Eagle Cuisine Machine.
The festival has worked with vendors to develop some more healthful choices for diners, such as all-organic Maryland crab cake sandwiches from Bozii, vegetarian grape leaves from Alexandria, and seafood pasta from Andre's, but you can expect a few gut-busting items as well, such as deep-fried Mars Bars from Union Jacks and burnt ends from Famous Dave's.
Some of the more sophisticated restaurants participating have risen to the challenge of presenting cloth-doily cuisine in a wax-paper environment at affordable prices. Prime29 Steakhouse will be offering filet mignon sliders, for instance. Other high-end restaurants will include Steven Lelli's and nationally recognized Café Muse.
Witz says, "We have a great new lineup of restaurants this year, and it's one of the most diverse food fairs you'll find. I'd say we're the second best food festival in the Midwest, behind Taste of Chicago. ... The food's going to be flying in all directions."
Arts, Beats & Eats is 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4-Sunday, Sept. 6 and 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7; downtown Royal Oak; 248-541-7550; artsbeatseats.com.