Special Issues » Festival Guide

These Detroit-area festivals will get you to the end of summer and through the fall

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Arts, Beats & Eats, Royal Oak, Aug. 31-Sept. 3. - COURTESY OF ARTS, BEATS & EATS
  • Courtesy of Arts, Beats & Eats
  • Arts, Beats & Eats, Royal Oak, Aug. 31-Sept. 3.

Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats

Aug. 31-Sept. 3; Royal Oak; artsbeatseats.com. Admission is $3-$7.

Each year, for 22 years, Arts, Beats & Eats has served as a satisfying send-off to summer. The four-day Labor Day celebration, which moved from Pontiac to Royal Oak in 2010, continues to flex hard on the belief that the best things come in threes.

This year, Arts, Beats & Eats will host 200-plus music acts across nine genre-themed stages, including headliners and swing-swingers All-American Rejects, semi-charmed '90s dudes Third Eye Blind, alt-rockers Theory of a Deadman, as well as, '80s hitmakers Night Ranger, Foghat, and Motown mainstays the Four Tops. Dozens of local artists like the DropOut, Killer Flamingos, Eliza Neals and the Narcotics, and Thornetta Davis will also get some stage time.

As for food, more than 40 restaurants will offer their best bites to satiate the masses, spanning all appetites. From sweets (Treat Dreams, Nothing Bundt Cakes) to barbecue (Lockhart's, Famous Dave's), and Mexican fare via Imperial. Meanwhile, Taste and Tell and Mezza Kitchen will offer Mediteranean eats, Prime 29, Fogo de Chapo, and Johnny's Italian Steakhouse will be the place for steak-centric foods, and for vegan-friendly fare, there's the Nosh Pit.

To beautify life beyond the festival grounds, more than 130 artist booths will span the festival offering handcrafted works from artists from all over the country, including painting, photography, blacksmithing, glassworks, leather, jewelry, wood, sculpture, as well as theatrical performances from Oakland Community College students.

Michigan Renaissance Festival

Through Sept. 29; 12600 Dixie Hwy., Holly; michrenfest.com. Tickets start at $20.95 for adults, $14.50 for children.

Chaos is a ladder, folks. And while everyone is still somehow shit-talking the Game of Thrones finale (seriously, let it go), the Michigan Renaissance Festival is kicking it back to the 16th Century for its 41st year of pageantry, rivalry, revelry, and royalty. The thematic Holly-based festival will, once again, cater to an expected 280,000 visitors across its sprawling, all-encompassing 17-acre village, which hosts 17 stages as reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns, and, of course, a castle.

Per previous years, there will be themed weekends throughout the RenFest's seven weekend-long run. This year, visitors can anticipate a viking invasion, wonders of the world, and shamrocks and shenanigans. In addition to main attractions like full-contact jousting, a massive artisan market, and turkey legs, this year will also offer ticket add-ons, such as an interactive spy quest to thwart the plot of the Red Knight, a beer- and bacon-tasting event, royal high tea in the Crystal Castle, and an early-morning hawk walk guided by a master falconer. Huzzah!

40th Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival

Aug. 30-Sept. 2; Hart Plaza, Detroit; detroitjazzfest.com. Free.

The Detroit International Jazz Festival is not only the world's largest free and open to the public jazz fest (that's right — no wristbands, fees, or lines) but one of the oldest, too. The Jazz Fest isn't just for aficionados (because we all know that one person who won't let you take Lee Morgan's The Cooker out of its dang sleeve). In fact, this event is inclusive — not only to all disciplines but to listeners of all experience and knowledge levels. You don't have to know the difference between hard bop and ragtime to enjoy this year's artist-in-residence, Stanley Clarke. And if the name Thelonious Monk doesn't ring a bell, you can still take in Connie Han or Macy Gray. Despite the insane roster of talent, the real star of the Jazz Fest is the final days of summer overlooking the Detroit River.

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Aug. 31-Sept. 2; Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; hamtownfest.com. Free.

Hamtramck is known as "the world in two square miles" — which is why a festival that draws in tens of thousands of people each year is so impressive. For nearly four decades, Hamtramck has celebrated the working class with a kick-ass blowout along the main drag of Joseph Campau with the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, which is a little bit of everything: part music fest, part foodie destination, and, at the end of the day, a wet and wild party (no, really).

A staple of the longstanding blowout is the Hamtramck yacht race, during which Hamtown bars compete against one another in push-carts that are personalized and designed to look like canoes while spectators dump, spray, and hurl water at the speed racers. Also a huge festival draw — in addition to the Polish Day Parade, carnival fun, and an artists village — is the lineup of more than 40 local bands across two festival stages. This year, Sheefy McFly, Market, Vespre, Paint Thinner, Wiccans, the Polish Muslims, VVISIONSS, High Strung, and Moonwalks will be among the festival's performers. Not enough excitement? How about some international wrestling between heavyweight champions Mysterious Movado and Kongo Kong? Yeah, because that's going down, too.

Michigan State Fair

Aug. 29-Sept. 2; Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi; michiganstatefairllc.com. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children, wristbands available for $30.

Tradition can be pretty dang cool especially when it involves giant pumpkins, fireworks, dueling high divers, butter cows, baking contests, live music showcases, baby animals, eating competitions, and a literal endless supply of chocolate milk and this particular tradition goes back to 1849 when Michigan debuted Michigan's original state fair and one of the earliest events of its kind. It's crazy to think that in 2009, Gov. Jennifer Granholm pulled the plug on the event which eventually got up and running again at its new home in Novi with all the tradition that makes the Michigan State Fair a must-see attraction like carnival rides and elephant ears galore, some blue collar Americana via cow milking and monster trucks, and a whole lot of people watching.

Detroit Month of Design

The month of September; Various venues around metro Detroit; detroitmonthofdesign.com. Many events are free and open to the public.

In 2015, Detroit earned a coveted designation as a "City of Design" from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — making it the first such city in the United States to get the distinction. To celebrate, more than 55 design-related events have united under the banner of the Detroit Month of Design. (See our feature in this week's issue.)

Plymouth Fall Festival

Sept. 6-8; Kellogg Park; plymouthfallfestival.com. Free.

The annual Plymouth Fall Festival will kick summer to the curb and welcome children back to school and autumn back to Michigan. But who are we kidding, it's the Midwest and most likely it'll still be 80 degrees. The first Plymouth Fall Festival took place on Sept. 11, 1960 and brought in an estimated 3,500 people serving roughly 2,800 barbecue dinners. Today, the festival has expanded to offer an array of entertainment and food. Tickets for the pancake breakfast, spaghetti dinner, and the annual Rotary Club chicken barbecue are available for pre-sale online. Events throughout the weekend include a car show, craft show, pet show, taste fest, carnival, and booths from local vendors. Families wouldn't want to miss out on this jam-packed weekend.

Dally in the Alley

Sept. 7; Cass Corridor, dallyinthealley.com. Free.

Since its inception in 1977, Dally in the Alley has withstood Cass Corridor's ever-changing landscape to become Detroit's largest community festival. The single-day, volunteer-operated family-friendly event returns for its 42nd year, once again providing a platform for artists, vendors, and musicians. At the heart of this homegrown jubilee is beer — lots of beer. As per last year's fun, Dally's 2019 iteration will feature an extended beer garden with two locations, as well as food from some of the city's favorite eateries. Artists and vendors will hawk wares throughout the cozy corridor while more than 30 metro Detroit bands take to Dally's three stages, including Leaf Erikson, Pet Psychic, the Stools, Coastwilde, Jack Oats, Apropos, Dani Darling, and the Muggs. Oh, and this year's Dally will offer a bike valet for folks who want to feel like a VIP while also reducing their carbon footprint.

Harvest Moon Celebration

Sept. 19-21; downtown Farmington; downtownfarmington.org. Tickets are $6 advance, $8 at the door.

Downtown Farmington's annual end-of-summer bash features harvest food pairings, cider and artisan ales, explore fine wine, and music including the Harvest Moon Dance on Friday.

Fork & Cork Festival

Sept. 20-22; downtown Utica; forkandcorkfestival.com. Free.

Returning to the end-of-summer festivals is Utica's Fork & Cork Festival. This year the festival added one more day to the lineup, giving you another chance to listen to live music all day and feast on some local food. Admission is free, so if you're thinking music and food might not be your gig, don't fret. There will be over a hundred different exhibitors, including local artisans and hand-crafted items for sale. Be sure to pop the cork or sip the suds of craft beer and wine sourced from local breweries and wineries. You can leave the event feeling warm and fuzzy — from the food and booze of course — but also from knowing that proceeds from the festival go to the Humane Society of Macomb.

Cityfest

Sept., 13-23; The Whitney, 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit; thewhitney.com. Prices vary.

Returning for its second year is the Whitney's celebration of spirited dining via Cityfest. The event, which spans two weeks in September, includes 12 individually ticketed themed events, all of which focus on Whitney's food and libation offerings. This year patrons can take part in the festival's opening event, Brewers Feast for an introduction to a lavender lager from Atwater Brewery; or the New England lobster feast, which is exactly what it sounds like; or the Art, Bubbles, and Brunch event, which includes a docent-led tour of Murals in the Market at Eastern Market paired with Bloody Marys, mimosas, and brunch. For those interested in the paranormal activity of the historic haunted Detroit castle, Dining with the Spirits will offer dinner followed by a tour through the Whitney led by Haunt Investigations of Michigan.

In addition to the good times and even better eats, Cityfest donates a portion of the event's proceeds to local charities, including Cass Community Services, which aims to provide services to underprivileged residents of Midtown.

Murals in the Market, Sept. 14-21, Eastern Market - COURTESY 1XRUN
  • Courtesy 1xRUN
  • Murals in the Market, Sept. 14-21, Eastern Market

Murals in the Market

Sept. 14-21; Eastern Market, Detroit (and various other locations); muralsinthemarket.com. Free.

Detroit may be a car and music town, but it's also a low-key public art city, which is how Detroit's Murals in the Market was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the world's best mural festivals. The return of this weeklong art appreciation fest means a mural makeover and takeover for Eastern Market. Since 2015, many local and international artists have come together to create 120 murals. Not only an eye-candy feast, MITM prides itself on being a unique form of community outreach by giving the district a unique visibility and accessibility.

This year, the festival has commissioned dozens of artists, including Ashley McFadden, Breann Whlgn, Tiff Massey, Mikey Francis, Ed Irmen, Efe Bes, Diviniti, Lindy Shewbridge, Nick Pizana, and Ron English, among others. MITM will kick things off with the DJ-heavy Family Reunion Block Party on Saturday, Sept. 14. To make it easier to track down the new murals, see the MITM website for a detailed map about the artist and each mural's location and for the full schedule of events.

DIY Street Fair

Sept. 20-22; Ferndale; ferndalediy.com. Free.

Championing the do-it-yourself spirit since 2008 is the community-centered DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. During its run as a free three-day crafty celebration of innovation, collaboration, and creativity, DIY has given metro Detroit makers and artists a platform to sell their works and wares. In addition to the marketplace, which is the heart of the event, DIY is one of Ferndale's favorite parties because it boasts an eclectic local music lineup, food trucks, and booze — lots of booze. Fun fact: All the folks keeping you lubricated and hydrated are non-profit volunteers and all of the very generous tips you are absolutely going to tip go directly to benefit their organization.

Funky Ferndale Art Fair

Sept. 20-22; Ferndale; funkyferndaleartfair.com. Free.

On the other side of Nine Mile is a different type of fair. Not to be confused with DIY, Funky Ferndale Art Fair is a less rowdy celebration of metro Detroit artists with more than 100 juried artists, spanning all disciplines selling their works throughout Ferndale's main retail drag. In addition to the shopping and art collecting element, the event will also host a watercolor painting project presented by the DIA, face painting, live demonstrations, body art, kids activities, selfie stations, as well as a live hair art demo from rock star and hair designer Marcie Bolen.

Smoke on the River Cigar Festival

Sept. 28, West Riverfront Park, 1801 W. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; smokeontheriverdetroit.com. Tickets start at $75 for drink and food tastings only and $150 for cigar, food, and drink tastings.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em at the inaugural Smoke on the River Cigar Festival. Well, technically if you attend this event you'll have all the cigars. Touted as an "experimental" cigar event, Smoke on the River will offer attendees can choose from several ticket levels which offer cigars, cocktails, and tickets for food truck offerings. For cigar smokers, the base level ticket option allows each attendee access to 15 cigars from premium brands such as Tatuaje, Olivia, J.C. Newman, Fratello, and others, in addition to libations and eats.

Pinzucon

Sept. 29; Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; pinzucon.com. Free.

Wear your flair. Pinzucon brings more than 25 of the area's best pin, patch, and sticker makers to the Motor City for a special Halloween edition.

Theatre Bizarre

Oct. 11-12, 18-19; Masonic Temple, 500 Temple St., Detroit; theatrebizarre.com. Tickets for the main event are $95; masquerade gala tickets are $260.

Step right up to the greatest masquerade on Earth! No, really. Theatre Bizarre is unlike anything you've ever seen. The costume-mandatory event takes place on Saturday, Oct. 12 and Oct. 19 with special masquerade galas Friday, Oct. 11 and 18. In keeping with tradition, this year's theme is "Zombo's Repose," so attendees beware — an uprising is upon us.

You'll be shocked by the over-the-top hedonist celebration and surprised by new delights – even if you go both weekends every year. Your mouths (and other orifices) will be left agape with a visit to the Fistatorium (yes, it is exactly and also nothing like it sounds). Take a trip on the seventh floor Ghost Train, where things can get rather handsy. If tantalizing burlesque sparks a fire in your loins, there's a stage for that. The event features six main stages — The Odditorium, The Liars Lounge, to name a few — and more than 20 performance spaces each possessed by music performances, sideshow acts, circus demons, fire jugglers, and suspension artists. Other attractions, both hidden and accessible, include a Victorian ice cream parlor with boozy treats, an erotic cinema as well as opportunities for guests to capture the evening with a 3-D printing of themselves in costume or a snap from a 110-year-old tintype camera.

Kerrytown Edgefest

Oct. 16-19; venues throughout Ann Arbor. Tickets start at $55.

Shit's getting edgy. Edgefest, the four-day experimental avant jazz fest produced by Kerrytown Music House, returns to Ann Arbor with a roster of artists carrying the torch for the improvisational and collaborative genre. The award-winning Edgefest, which was founded in 1997, will, once again, host dozens of players and composer-performers from all over the country as well as their ensembles, many of whom will be joined by Michigan area performers. This year will see performances by Oluyemi Thomas' Positive Knowledge, William Hooker, Myra Melford Combo, Tad Weed Tribute, Cycle of Restoration, Andrew Bishop's New and Used, Bobby Bradford and Vinny Golia Quartet, and others.

Detroit Beer Festival

Oct. 25-26; Eastern Market, mibeer.com. Tickets start at $45.

Winter's coming, which means now is the time for all the beers. Returning as one of Michigan's largest beer tasting events, the Detroit Beer Festival is not for lightweights.

With each ticket purchase, drinkers are awarded 15 drink tokens, each one allows for a 3-oz. beer sample. We're not mathematicians but that's like, more than a quart of hoppy goodness. Presented by the Michigan Brewers Guild (which means shit is serious), DBF will feature more than 800 craft beers from close to 120 Michigan breweries. Don't worry, folks, food will be available for purchase to help soak up the damage and there will be live music, too, so that you can shake off the buzz with ease. Remember, drive responsibly, or better yet, buy a $5 designated driver ticket.

Youmacon

Oct. 31-Nov., 3; Cobo Center and Renaissance Center; youmacon.com. Tickets start at $65.

Con you believe it? Youmacon — Detroit's celebration of Japanese animation, comics, video games, and culture — returns for its 14th year. Thousands will attend, many of whom will cosplay, or dress as their favorite characters.When it debuted in 2005 at the Troy Hilton, Youmacon drew an initial crowd of a little more than 1,000 attendees. This year, the event will return to the Renaissance Center and Cobo Center, and the three-day event is on pace to top last year's attendance record of over 22,000, making it one of the largest anime cons in North America.

In addition to events like Live Action Mario Party, tabletop gaming, Clara Cow's Cosplay Cup, a Youmacon Dance Competition, and the Maid Cafe. Youmacon also features a plethora of panels, some of which are hosted by celebrities, voice actors of popular series, animators, and writers. Many others are fan-operated and cover topics ranging from the ultra-niche (like last year's "Long Long Ago, 20th Century: Showa Era Tokusatsu") to full-on crash courses on entire anime series, to more accessible discussions like the "Mythology of Miyazaki," "Playing with Power: A Nintendo Fan Panel," "Anime Trivia," or, for the thrifty cosplayer, "Cosplaying on a Budget."

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