Planning For A “Full” Cherry Competition; Film Fest In Doubt, Other Events Adapt

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines has made the event outlook for the summer of 2021 a lot brighter than 2020. Still, Traverse City’s festival and event planners, most of which are making a comeback this summer, are warning that this year will be different than any other. The Ticker is checking in at the National Cherry Festival, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Traverse City Pit Spitters, Northwestern Michigan Fair, and several other events to see what’s on the agenda for summer 2021.

National Cherry Festival – 3.-10. July 2021
Traverse City’s largest festival was canceled for the first time since World War II in 2020. Kat Paye, executive director of the National Cherry Festival, says her team is planning a “full festival” in 2021 but may need to reorganize several events significantly this year. A major challenge: NCF is traditionally an “open, free event mecca” with unguarded entry points and free-flowing crowds in the open space, on nearby beaches and halfway, according to Paye. Subject to government mass restrictions in July, NCF could limit the capacity of the beer tent and Bay Side Music Stage this year, move events like the Old Town Classic Car Show and Arts & Craft Fair from Union Street to more spacious venues, and follow strict hygiene measures Logs halfway between trips.

Whether and how NCF can control the crowd for events like the planned US Air Force Thunderbirds air show or festival parades is less clear. “Anything that attracts large numbers of people that we carefully consider and discuss with local and state officials with a plan to make decisions closer to the festival,” says Paye. “We can’t control families sitting a mile and a half on a parade route together. We look at this and say, ‘OK, can we do another type of parade?'” Some events could go virtual – Paye notes ironically that this year a personal Cherry Pit Spit competition is off the table – or hybrid emergency plans like the Meijer Festival of Races. One pivot for 2020 – the Very Cherry Porch Parade – will return in 2021.

Having to cut down on capacity for NCF’s few revenue-generating events isn’t ideal for a festival already hit by last year’s cancellation. Paye says it will likely take “several years” for 2020 and 2021 financial success to recover. Given that the event is largely taking place on urban land, town clerk Benjamin Marentette may revoke permits if the city believes an event poses a public risk – NCF plans to work closely with community leaders to ensure that the festival is everyone Safety guidelines met. “The festival is going to be different this year – it won’t be what you saw before,” says Paye. “We try to stay true to our community and our traditions within the parameters set in front of us.”

Traverse City Film Festival – TBD
TCFF has been closed to both theater and festival operations since spring 2020 – and the schedule for its return is uncertain. Festival founder Michael Moore, who could not be reached for comment, told The Ticker in February that it would be “great” to hold a festival this year this year, but it is currently not a realistic goal. He said the TCFF board would make a final decision in April, with the film festival usually starting in the last week of July. According to Marentette, Moore recently had discussions with his office about the possibility of holding a “scaled-down event” with a stronger local focus this year. “Certainly the film festival’s eyes are wide open and respectful of the public health issues involved,” he says.

Interlochen Center for the Arts – TBD
In an email dated February 23rd to previous concert ticket holders, the Interlochen Center for the Arts confirmed that this is the time of year when the summer concert series is normally announced. Since the venue, according to Interlochen, “is not yet sure to host live performances in person”, this announcement will be delayed until the end of this spring. There could be concerts this summer, says Katharine Laidlaw, Vice President for Strategic Communication and Engagement at Interlochen, but they have to adhere to the safety guidelines that allow campers to be there. “We are actively communicating with industry consultants and agents, and although we have won several great artists, touring, routing, and the feasibility of presenting major public events remain uncertain,” she says. “We know how much our supporters appreciate this series, which is also an important source of student scholarship support.”

Northwestern Michigan Fair – March 8-14 August 2021
According to Board Secretary Carolyne Woodhams, planning for the Northwestern Michigan Fair is “different than usual this year.” However, the event is set to take place in person after being largely canceled in 2020 (with the exception of a virtual 4-H component). “Of course we know that there will be more hand washing stations, more hand disinfectants and the like, but otherwise we are still in the planning process,” she says. The board is also keeping an eye on the M-37 construction, which will include a new roundabout at the intersection of Blair Townhall Road. “There is nothing we can do about it one way or another … we just pray that it is done before mass,” says Woodhams.

The Great Lakes Equestrian Festival – June 9th – September 19th, 2021
According to Matt Morrissey, organizer of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, a sport on horseback creates a “natural six-foot distance” between participants. This factor allowed the event to continue with 11 weeks of competition in 2020 and return this year with 12 weeks of competition. Like last year, GLEF plans to keep security protocols in place on the property and eliminate personal bystanders at Flintfields Horse Park in Willamsburg. Instead, it offers free live coverage of its events.

Up North Pride – Moving June to October 2021
After a series of virtual events in 2020, Northern Michigan’s LGBTQ + advocacy group Up North Pride is hoping to host its key Pride Week events – including the Drag Night and Visibility March – in Traverse City in October instead of this June. Up North Pride plans to have a presence in June “with digital arts and community events in northern Michigan,” followed by face-to-face events on the city streets and open spaces on the second or third weekend of October, according to Nick Viox , Program Director of Up North Pride.

Traverse City Pit Spitters – May 31 – August 14, 2021 (regular season)
After the Traverse City Pit Spitters used a pod system last year where three Traverse City teams played each other during the regular season, this year they’re back on a team that has a normal league schedule of 36 home and 36 Contests away games. The recent status changes, which have allowed 1,000 attendees at off-site venues, were “exciting” news for General Manager Mickey Graham as the number represents double the capacity of Turtle Creek Stadium last summer. The ballpark could reach 1,500 to 1,600 visitors and still have six feet of seating between groups, which is also planned for this year. The stadium will host other smaller events such as high school games and travel tournaments this summer. If guidelines allow, there are plans to expand to larger non-baseball events in the fall.

Paint Grand Traverse – August-September 2021
The annual open-air painting festival and the Crooked Tree Arts Center competition will continue this year with a Plan A and Plan B event schedule, with slightly different dates for each schedule. The first, more ambitious, scenario will involve two major personal events that Paint Grand Traverse had to eliminate over the past year, including the Quick Paint Competition and the Collectors Gala. The second plan, a more cautious approach similar to 2020, would eliminate these events and focus primarily on artists working outdoors in socially distant spaces, shifting sales of paintings online. Megan Kelto of the Crooked Tree Arts Center says the organization will decide by June 1 which plan to implement based on metrics such as state capacity constraints and the availability of vaccines for all adult groups.

Summer theater
Finally, the theater will return to Traverse City this summer as both Parallel 45 and the Old Town Playhouse are hosting multiple outdoor productions. P45 has already put tickets on sale for its series from July 8th to August 1st. Titles include The Sound of Music, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Play Reading Series, and Ugly: A New Pop Musical. Attendees will be socially aloof with lawn seating and liquor sales at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. The Old Town Playhouse will be bringing its Theater Under the Tent franchise back in late June and will run Tuesday through Saturday throughout the summer. According to Phil Murphy of the Old Town Playhouse, the series will include Tuesday Dance Nights (with themes such as Golden Voices and Top of the Pops); a Beach & Buffett night featuring the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, and other 1960s music; and productions like Love, Loss and What I Wore and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End. The full OTP summer roster will be announced closer to June.

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