With summer around the corner, it’s time to jam-pack your calendar with family fun, festivals, outdoor concerts and fair food. Here’s a guide to some must-see events, happening now through September, that City Pulse rounded up.
But before we get to some returning events, and a few new festivals, unfortunately, we have to pour one out for a couple that said “see you next time” or “farewell.”
The big one, according to its organizers: “Common Ground Music Festival will not happen this year in the same format as in previous years.”
Those were the words from a statement by Scott Keith, president & CEO of Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority.
In the same announcement, Keith added some context to the decision to pull the plug on the large-scale event that kicked off back in 2000.
“It was unanimously decided based on all the limiting factors of staffing, rising costs and expenses, and the impending construction at Adado Riverfront Park, that we should continue to evaluate our options for music this summer and fall,” Keith explained. “We will try to find other venues to utilize, including Jackson Field, but limitations to schedules and other factors created a finite opportunity for use.”
According to its website, thanks to its roster of mainstream touring acts, Common Ground attracted more than 1 million guests to the downtown Lansing festival, with an estimated economic impact of “upwards of $70 million.”
Although the once-thriving music festival has ended, Keith said hope for a new event could be on the horizon. “We would love to bring music and live events back to downtown,” he said. “All I can say is — stay tuned.”
Keith said Margarita Fest, sponsored by City Pulse and LEPFA, has been put on hold this year because of staff issues. After two successful years, the pandemic forced its suspension for the last two years.
Another annual community mainstay to permanently close the curtain is the Renegade Theatre Festival. According to a May 11 Facebook post, organizers of the dynamic Old Town-based festival voted to retire the event after 20 years in an effort to make “way for new endeavors and opportunities,” the social media statement read.
“I will forever be so proud of what we accomplished,” said Renegade co-artistic director Melissa Kaplan. “We created room for the new, brought people together, contributed to neighborhood vitality and helped build Lansing’s festival scene. Though most pandemic things felt terrible, a break in producing Renegade felt good so we decided the time was right to retire Renegade and move on to new creative projects.”
While we say goodbye to now-defunct pillars of local fun, there’s still plenty to do across Mid-Michigan. Keep reading to plan your summer calendar.
2021 Aurelius Road, Holt
Friday, May 27-Saturday, May 28
FREE; $25 artist lounge & pit passes
The original Woodstock may have happened back in the Summer of Love, but that harmonious spirit lives on this year in Holt — albeit much more family friendly.
Little Woodstock Music & Art Festival, an all-ages street festival, features live music of all genres, food trucks, kid’s activities, local vendors and more. Event founder and operations director Brandon Ashley Green said this second iteration of Little Woodstock, which began in East Lansing, is about more than just a good time. It’s about making a difference in the community.
“The mission is to create a sustained platform to provide funding and exposure to our nonprofit partners, as well as the local musicians, artists and business vendors that make up the festival,” he said. “We are thrilled to have raised over $2,000 and counting for our beneficiary partner, Holt Food Bank.”
Music headliners include Jen Sygit at 8:45 to 10 Friday night and Root Doctor 7:45 to 10 Saturday night. Sygit, a fixture in the Michigan folk scene and open mic nights at Moriarty’s Pub, said this is her first time playing at the festival. Returning to big stages is a good feeling for the veteran performer.
“I feel like the tide is slowly changing and there are more venues bringing back live music,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is also more competition for those gigs than ever due to the loss of venues and pay cuts.”
The Little Woodstock bill gets even more special with a performance from Root Doctor, a fellow headliner. The band, which features vocalist Freddie Cunningham and a stacked band of seasoned blues musicians, announced its retirement last year, playing its “last” show on the Michigan Princess riverboat on Oct. 29, 2021 — but this appears to be a swift comeback for the local blues masters.
Last year, Cunningham announced his departure from the band that formed in 1989. He said he grew tired of being on the road, announced his retirement, and then COVID hit, which impacted many of the band’s scheduled gigs.
“We do a combination of blues, and as some people say, jazz. It’s a collection of covers and some songs we’ve written ourselves,” Cunningham said. He’s excited to return to the stage, but wants to make sure he’s up for it.
“When you’re performing regularly, it’s like anything else, you’re in shape,” he added. “When you stop, that shape goes away. I’m looking forward to getting back and getting my timing back. I am excited,” he added.
Cristo Rey Church Grounds
201 W. Miller Road, Lansing
Friday, May 27—Sunday, May 29
FREE $5 donation Friday-Saturday after 5 p.m.
This celebration of Mexican culture opens with comments by Fiesta director Guillermo Z. Lopez, The Rev. Vincent Richardson and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. The three-day festival, which has taken place for nearly four decades, offers authentic Mexican folkloric dancing, live music by Tejano and salsa merengue bands, homemade food and even a taco eating contest.
Washington Square, Downtown Lansing
Thursday, June 2
Lansing 5:01, Downtown Lansing Inc. and the City of Lansing invite all to detour through downtown’s Washington Square for live music, local food and drink, and larger-than-life installations. Three blocks of Washington Square will be stacked with local artists, boutiques, food trucks and entertainment by Fool House, a ‘90s cover band.
Lansing 5:01 Executive Director Christopher Sell said this is the event’s second year. In June 2021, the event was created “as a means to highlight Downtown Lansing with a large street festival and support downtown businesses that had faced challenging times as a result of the pandemic.”
This year, Sell said the event adds street and community art projects, three different concert stages, a fashion show, hot yoga, and — for the foodies — cooking demos and classes.
300 Bailey St., East Lansing
Saturday, June 11
FREE Donations at Gate/via Kickstarter Campaign
This folky East Lansing outdoor music festival welcomes headliners Joshua Davis, Jordan Hamilton, Ken Yates, Annie Bacon, The Ukulele Kings and more. Pumpstock also includes local food vendors, including Cottage Inn Pizza and Blue Owl Coffee, along with children’s activities, a ukulele petting zoo and more at the newly renovated Bailey Park.
Smitty Smith, the event’s organizer, said this is the 12th annual PumpStock, describing it as “a great day of great American Roots music in a family-friendly park environment.” The festival, an offshoot of the Pump House Concert series in East Lansing, is collecting donations in advance via Kickstarter.
Washington Avenue, REO Town
Saturday, June 11
Thirsty? The 8th annual Lansing Beer Fest returns to Washington Avenue in REO Town, between South and Elm streets — and it has plenty of suds. Event organizer (and local craft beer aficionado) Paul Starr said the yearly party shuts down the street for a day of fun. “We have 30 breweries and cideries available with more than 100 selections that attendees can sample,” he said. “On top of that, there is a full day of live music to set the mood, and giant chess and checkers to entertain.” Also new this year, Lansing Beer Fest will have more ready-to-drink cocktails on deck than previous years, Starr said.
Washington Avenue, REO Town
Thursday, June 16—Sunday, June 19
Downtown East Lansing
Friday, June 17—Saturday, June 18
Festival coordinator Justin Drwencke said the free, two-day musical event celebrates the best in local, regional and national jazz. The 26th annual festival features 19 bands on two different stages, over two days.
The Summer Solstice Jazz Festival was founded in 1996 by former East Lansing Arts Commission Co-chairman Al Cafagna, Drwencke said. After a few years on MSU’s campus, the event moved to downtown East Lansing and grew from 800 to 8,000 attendees each year. In 2022, the jazz festival will be integrated into the Albert EL Fresco area and feature a series of performances to celebrate Juneteenth through traditional Black art form.
1025 Cochran Road, Charlotte
Thursday, June 23—Saturday, June 25
$30; $90 weekend tickets
For those in search of true mountain music, no need to travel down to Appalachia. The authentic stuff is right here. This year marks the milestone 50th anniversary of the annual Charlotte Bluegrass Festival, started in 1972 by Gary Lyons.
This year’s lineup features national headlining spots from The Cleverlys, Sideline, Volume Five and The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys.
Event promoter Wes Pettinger said the fest is “a wonderful family event for the adults and kids.” With three days of music, over 200 campers come to the grounds for the event. The fest features music workshops, concerts, a craft show and cornhole tournaments. “The stage shows are exciting,” he said, “but we also have all kinds of jam sessions in the camping area during and after the stage shows.”
Turner St., Old Town
Friday, July 8: 5-9 p.m. Saturday, July 9
For 12 years now, ScrapFest has built up a “repurpose-focused” art festival, complete with a scrap metal sculpture competition, eco-art booth artisans, family activities, live music and food.
Event organizer Mike Bass said the competition portion involves around 20 teams, each getting an hour to pick 500 pounds of scrap metal out of Friedland Industries’ scrap recycling plant. “They then get one month to create sculptures, which are on display, juried, and auctioned off during the festival in mid-July,” Bass said.
There are three new components this year, Bass said, including an 8K run/walk called The Great Scrap Run on Saturday and a Refashion Show.
The Refashion Show gives teams a month to use scrap fabric to make something wearable. Models will showcase the apparel near the stage Friday night.
“This is the first time we’ll have the festival since Old Town has been designated as a Social District,” Bass said. “This means that people can purchase food and beverages (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) from participating establishments, and walk/sit within the boundaries of the Social District. ScrapFest is fully within the boundaries of the Social District, so we have added umbrellaed seating to accommodate for this.”
Brenke Fish Ladder, Old Town
Thursday, July 14—Saturday, July 16
$10/ticket Thursday, FREE Fri.-Sat.
Making for one of Lansing’s most unique pop-up concert spaces, the Brenke Fish Ladder is the location of Dam Jam Music Festival, put on by Lansing 5:01 for the fourth year in a row. The three-day music festival will have a bigger stage than previous years. “Lansing 5:01 launched Dam Jam years ago to showcase our region’s renowned river trail, multimodal transportation and regional amenities with large concert stages featuring Michigan-based performing artists,” said Christopher /Sell, Lansing 5:01’s executive director.
The ticketed Thursday, July 14, concert comprises some of Nashville’s hottest up-and-coming country artists, including Shy Cater, Avery Anna and Reyna Roberts. Free performances follow the next two days with sets from Detroit-based rapper JayPitts, Lansing-based hip hop artist Kwaj, Grand Rapids-based band Phabies, Ann Arbor’s rapper and songwriter Nadim Azzam, and East Lansing’s Cross Eyed Strangers.
Turner St., Old Town
Thursday, Aug. 4—Saturday, Aug. 6
A melodic Lansing staple, JazzFest, produced by Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art, includes over 20 hours of top-notch performers, clinics, workshops and jazzy activities. Nearly 5,000 people attend each year to see national and regional talent in the heart of Old Town. The performer lineup has yet to be announced, but there will be three venues this year: the Turner Street Stage and the River Stage (both open air) and the UrbanBeat Afterglow Stage, which is indoors.
Old Town Lansing
Saturday, Aug 13 1-10 p.m.
Details on first-time, family-friendly event are still in the works, but Lansing Pride, a nonprofit, hosts this “celebration of love and diversity” in Old Town. The event promises live entertainment, vendors, merchandise and more. All are welcome to come out and support, while enjoying entertainment along Turner Street and browsing more than 30 vendors. The kid’s activity center, by Sir Pizza, includes fun stuff like “Storytime with a Drag Queen.” The event is looking for both sponsors and volunteers; contact Lansing Pride for details.
Lansing’s Eastside Neighborhood
Michigan Ave., from Hayford to Marshall Street
Saturday, Aug. 20
This free, family-friendly event showcases, celebrates and uplifts the eastside community. Event coordinator Bridget Doyle said that last year the event featured live entertainment and over 80 vendors ranging from artists to creators, small businesses and nonprofits.
This is the second year the event, started to uplift and celebrate local businesses hit hard by the pandemic, will occur. “We have decided to make this year’s event one day,” said Doyle, who is also an Eastside Neighborhood Organization board member. “Last year, we held it on a Friday and Saturday and while it was successful and well attended, we think one day will help us fine-tune details we missed last year.” New this year is the addition of food trucks, so feel free to show up hungry.
300 N. Grand Ave., Adado Riverfront Park, Lansing
Saturday, Sept. 3—Sunday, Sept. 4
The founder/CEO of Michigan Chicken Wing Festival, Shirley Carter-Powell, said the annual event is two days of fun-filled activities, live bands, a chicken wing-eating contest, VIP beer and wine tent, food and merchandise vendors, a Kids Zone and more.
The event began in 2015 as a way to bring some family fun back to Adado Riverfront Park over the Labor Day weekend. “The park had been vacant of activities on that weekend since 1999,” Carter-Powell said. The festival serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Against All Odds.
“The festival is known for our variety flavors of wings, especially the Blueberry BBQ,” she said. “This year, we will be selling some of our sauces. Festival-goers will also enjoy new activities, including a 50/50 drawing and more door prizes.”
Ticket options range from $5 for general admission, $35 for eight wing samples and three beer or hard ciders, and $45-55 VIP options, which include more samples.
Turner St., Old Town
Thursday, Sept. 15—Sat., Sept. 17
Another staple in the summer music festival season, BluesFest, began in 1994, sponsored by 92.1 WWDX and MessageMakers. Today, the MICA event draws over 5,000 people to Old Town each weekend. For those looking for a behind-the-scenes experience, the fest is now accepting volunteer submissions — write email@example.com to find out more. The performer lineup is yet to be announced, but it historically brings in a remarkable roster of players. For those looking to take in a full-scale music fest before Michigan cools off, this is the spot.
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