The fifth annual celebration in this lakeshore town gives folks a great excuse to travel to northern Michigan, with performances by five bands and plenty of Michigan brews on tap.
Fall colors are approaching near-peak conditions in northern Lower Michigan, but that’s not the only reason to revel in the splendor of the region.
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The magnetic charm of the annual Empire Hops & Harvest Festival may best be demonstrated by the enthusiasm of its musical headliner K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys: The northern Michigan Cajun and Zydeco band has played the event five years in a row.
“We love playing it,” said longtime band member and rubboard player Mark Stoltz. “Empire puts on a great party. It’s a great time to be in northern Michigan. I love the fall, it’s right on Lake Michigan and it’s so near my home, I could call it my hometown.”
Festival organizer Paul Skinner said 1,200 to 1,500 attendees will make Empire their home base for the fifth annual weekend festival which will feature beer from more than half-dozen Michigan breweries, food vendors and more.
Taking place on Front Street in Empire, the music kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday with The Broom Closet Boys, with a fish fry hosted by Art’s Tavern. Admission is $5.
It continues at noon Saturday with Andre Villoch, followed by Jackpine at 230 p.m., 5th Gear at 5 p.m. and finally, K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys at 8 p.m., when the Louisiana-fueled dance party really begins.
A FULL DANCE FLOOR, FOOD VENDORS AND MICHIGAN BEER
“As soon as we hit the first note, the dance floor fills up and we are off. We do a two-hours-plus set,” Stoltz said. “We don’t like to stop and lose the dancers.”
The entrance fee on Saturday is $20, which includes a commemorative festival glass and one drink ticket.
Although many are locals, Stoltz said, festivalgoers come from Ludington, Kalamazoo and beyond to attend the event which will feature beer from breweries such as Right Brain Brewery, Lake Ann Brewing, Filling Station Microbrewery, St. Ambrose Cellars, Monkey Fist Brewing, Short’s Brewing, Stormcloud Brewing and North Channel Brewing, as well as Northwoods Soda. (Empire is a 2-1/2-hour drive from Grand Rapids.)
Skinner said numerous food vendors also will be on hand, including those from Scalawags Fish & Chips, Rocco’s Old World Pizza, Art’s Tavern, Nepalese Have Another, Pleva’s Meats, Mama Lu’s, Rockwich, Shipwreck Café and Mel & Fell.
Hosted by the Empire Chamber of Commerce, the event is aimed at celebrating the harvest season in a community that’s “surrounded by a number of hops farms, many of whom source their hops to breweries throughout the state.” Advance tickets for Saturday can be purchased online at mynorthtickets.com. Tickets are also available at the gate.
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