Mitten State festivals new and old, large and small aim to continue the momentum from their post-pandemic return last year. The story and preview, plus the Local Spins 2023 Festival Guide.
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It’s all about “the spirit of Michigan.”
The state’s music festival scene has exploded over the past 15 years – notwithstanding that pesky COVID pandemic – and those involved in continuing that community-fueled momentum insist there’s nothing else like it anywhere.
“Michigan is such a wonderful state and the music that comes out of here is some of the best in the country,” said Eric Janetsky, who’s organizing the 2023 edition of June’s Nor-East’r Music & Art Festival in Mio, which ranked No. 3 in Local Spins’ 2020 readers’ poll of favorite Michigan festivals. This year’s event takes place June 9-11.
“Nor-East’r tries to encompass the spirit of Michigan or the Midwest. Nor-East’r is about kindness. Our mission is that we want to create an all-inclusive environment for everyone who walks onto the festival ground, where they will say to themselves, ‘I am home.’ ”
That feeling of “home” could apply to dozens of the grass-roots festivals that have popped up across the state – and those that continue to emerge year after year – with most of them showcasing local and regional talent, along with national touring artists.
As Mark Lavengood of July’s third-year Smiling Acres Music Festival outside Trufant puts it:
“Michigan is rich in artists, world-class music festivals, water: It’s all so connected. I think the sweet spot is that there is such a large listener base that trends toward going out to see a live show and for a weekend music festival as opposed to staying in.”
Lavengood and Janetsky both rave about the warm reception that music lovers have given these intimate home-grown festivals, especially last summer.
“Just coming back for the first time since the COVID pandemic, the entire experience was much more than we could have imagined,” Janetsky said.
“The attendees were so gracious, spirited, appreciative and good-natured. I will also say the same for the artists who performed. The camaraderie between musicians was so great to see. It was just a magical weekend.”
FINDING NEW ‘FAVORITE BANDS’ AMID ‘A NATURALLY BEAUTIFUL STATE’
Lavengood, a guitarist and Dobro player who fronts the Mark Lavengood Band, called it “sincerely reassuring” to hear from satisfied festivalgoers “finding their new favorite bands” at Smiling Acres, a young boutique-style festival which plans to enhance its offerings for 2023 when it fires up June 30-July 2.
Michigan supplements dozens of these homey, summer gatherings with larger, more robust festivals that attract fans from across the country and the world: Electric Forest, Breakaway Music Festival, Mo Pop Festival, Movement Electronic Music Festival, Upheaval, Detroit Jazz Festival and others.
Meanwhile, some of the most treasured, longest-running Michigan festivals such as Wheatland, Blissfest and Charlotte Bluegrass Festival continue to attract a new generation of fans as well as devoted attendees who make it an annual tradition.
“Michigan is such a naturally beautiful state and in the summertime, we get to enjoy some picture-perfect days,” said Caroline Barlow, artistic director for the Blissfest Music Organization that launched the first Blissfest in 1981. Last year’s event outside Harbor Springs was the first in-person festival since 2019, due to the pandemic.
“Blissfest occurs in early July, so it feels like quintessential Michigan summer. Festivalgoers enjoy being outside on the expansive lawn, in the shade of the woods and feeling the breeze from nearby Lake Michigan. The 2022 festival was very celebratory. It felt great to gather and once again celebrate Bliss.”
The 2023 festival will take place July 7-9, with Barlow noting that literally 100 percent of performers surveyed this past year said “they would love to return to the festival. We consider that a success.”
She added: “There is a lot to look forward to in 2023. We are working hard to create another notable and dynamic lineup of traditional and innovative folk and roots artists. We’re excited to bring another year of enrichment to our patrons with more areas to connect with one another, jam together, learn together, and enjoy a weekend of inspiring performances.”
Dozens upon dozens of festivals aim to rev up fans in 2023 with “inspiring performances” and Local Spins provides the only comprehensive listing of music festivals in the state. View our 2023 listings here, with the caveat that events are subject to change and some festivals have not yet officially announced their dates for the year.
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