What Not to Miss at the Traverse City Film Festival and National Cherry Festival this July

Summer is festival time in Michigan, and July brings two really big ones to Traverse City: the National Cherry Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival. Everyone has their favorite events, and guest blogger Mike Norton of Traverse City Tourism offers his own personal preferences.

I’m not normally a crowd person — but there are times when I will gladly hang out with thousands of other people.

Ball games, for instance. Oh, and the Junior Royale Parade at the National Cherry Festival.

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Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Now in its 88th year, the Cherry Festival (July 5-12) is Traverse City’s signature event, drawing as many as 500,000 attendees from around the country. And although some of my friends like to huff and puff about how long it lasts and how it snarls up traffic, most of us have events that we never miss if we can help it. I mean, with more than 150 family-friendly activities (air shows, fireworks, parades, games, races, midway rides, demonstrations, banquets and nightly outdoor concerts) it’s hard to avoid having a favorite.

For some, it’s the stunning airshow over Grand Traverse Bay, especially in years like this one when the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will be the headliners. Even before the Festival officially gets underway, they’ll be giving us a Fourth of July treat, and for the next two days there’ll be free shows in the sky. Some folks will also be excited that this year the  Detroit Red Wings will be holding their annual development camp in Traverse City during Cherry Festival week.

Others love the nightly concerts down along the beach. This year’s lineup includes Collective Soul, Here Come the Mummies, the Bihlman Bros., the Gin Blossoms, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, the Under the Sun Tour (Sugar Ray, Smashmouth, Blues Traveler, and Uncle Kracker), Justin Moore, and Tommy James & The Shondells.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Everybody has favorites: the marching band competitions, the food tastings, the fireworks, the midway rides, the excursions out to working cherry farms – after all, the Cherry Festival is still our way of celebrating Traverse City’s role as “America’s Cherry Capital.” And for many folks, the Big Event is the huge Cherry Royale Parade held on Saturday afternoon, the last day of the festival – an enormous procession of floats, bands, marching units, clowns and grinning politicians that draws 50,000 spectators each year.

But my favorite parade is a smaller affair, one that takes place on Thursday evening. The Junior Royale Parade is for kids – in fact, someone told me that it may be the largest all-kid parade in the country. Hundreds of youngsters make their way down the Traverse City streets, marching along, steering their decorated bikes and trikes, leading their reluctant pets, riding on their lovingly constructed school floats or dozing in their baby buggies.

Maybe it’s the early evening atmosphere, so cool and dreamy and filled with just-after-dinner contentment. Maybe it’s the earnest wholesomeness of the whole adventure. But when I’m sitting at the curb during the Junior Royale watching those kids go by, I feel a connection to a sweeter, less frantic time and place. I remember the sights, sounds and smells of summer celebrations when I was a kid – the kind of memories I hope my own kids have, the kind of memories that we should hold on to.

The other thing I’ve always loved about the Cherry Festival is that most of it’s available to ordinary working people. Everything is located within walking distance, and since almost all the events are free, it offers more than a week of affordable family fun. I think that’s one reason why it’s been listed among USA Today’s top ten festivals for several years running.

Traverse City Film Festival – July 29th – August 3rd

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Founded in 2005, the Traverse City Film Festival has been able to lure movie buffs away from the beaches and golf courses with an outstanding selection of independent, foreign, and documentary films, as well as premieres, parties, panel discussions and lectures about the world of film.

Most events are held near downtown — at the vintage State Theatre, the brand-new Bijou by the Bay theatre in Clinch Park, the City Opera House, and the Old Town Playhouse – but there are also free family movies shown each night on a huge inflatable outdoor screen at Open Space Park , on the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay. (Guess what – my favorite part!)

If you’re any type of a movie-watcher, most of these will be films you’ve already seen – probably more than once. But that’s not the point. It’s really about watching a movie while sitting on a blanket on the grass, surrounded by other folks. In fact, to keep the whole thing community-based, the Film Festival folks routinely ask participants what films they’d like to see on the big Friday night movie. This year, it’ll be “Star Wars.” Other free films this year are “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Casablanca,” “The Goonies,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Film Festival is a “weatherproof” summer event that allows participants to sample from a broad menu of film screenings and other events at any time of day or evening. Since most of the events are concentrated in Traverse City’s compact downtown area, there’s a multitude of shopping and dining options close at hand. (Plus, there’s the added thrill of meeting up with a movie star or two out on the street during Festival Week!)

Other than the nightly films on the grass at the Open Space, most events during the Film Festival aren’t free – but they’re not unreasonably priced, either. Regular movies are $10, and sneak previews are $15. Around here we like to say that it “brings a little Hollywood to Traverse City!”

IMG_2782 copy - CopyMike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and hiker, he lives in the village of Old Mission.

10 Traverse City Sights to Explore

Thousands of visitors will flock to Traverse City from June 29 to July 6 for the National Cherry Festival. There’s no end of things to do at the festival – but you should still take a little time to get out and see the rest of this beautiful town. Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau shares a few suggestions.

Hey, I LOVE the Cherry Festival! From the first window-rattling roar of the jets at the air show to the last float in the Cherry Royale Parade, I’m a big fan. But there are lots of must-see and must-do things in the Traverse City area, and you shouldn’t leave without checking out at least a few of these:

1. The Sleeping Bear Dunes
I never get tired of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a breathtaking 64-mile curve of beaches, coves, islands and dunes – some perched as high as 400 feet above the water. Its grandeur can be viewed from overlooks along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. But it’s even better to walk its beaches, hike its trails or even take a ferryboat ride to the unspoiled Manitou Islands.

2. The Grand Traverse Commons
Traverse City’s most distinctive architectural treasure is the sprawling Grand Traverse Commons, our former mental asylum, whose castle-like buildings are slowly being converted into a complex of apartments, shops, galleries, offices and restaurants. Great shopping, and the 480-acre wooded campus is a beautiful place for people to walk, run and bicycle.

3. Wine Country Touring
Traverse City may be the “Cherry Capital of the World,” but the same water-cradled slopes that make this a perfect place for fruit orchards are now producing some of the best wines in the country. The Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are dotted with vineyards and wineries — many in awe-inspiring hilltop settings that make them attractions in their own right.

4. The Interlochen Center for the Arts
In a secluded forest setting (about 20 minutes from downtown Traverse City) Interlochen is a magnet for lovers of music, drama and dance. Over 200,000 people visit each year. Come for a show, or simply for a stroll around the campus.

5. Beaches
You can’t go to TC without spending some time at the beach! On West Grand Traverse Bay, try Clinch Park, West End, and Bryant Park (a particularly good spot to catch the 4th of July fireworks). The entire southern shore of East Bay is one long beach of fine sugar sand, and it’s shallow enough for little ones. Check out the Traverse City State Park near Three Mile Road.

6. Slabtown
In the 19th century, Bohemian immigrants came to work in Traverse City’s waterfront sawmills. They built their homes with slabs of scrap lumber from the mills, so their neighborhood came to be known as Slabtown. Many of their cottages are still standing – and so are two great bars: Sleder’s Family Tavern, and the Little Bohemia Pub & Grill. Both places still preserve the feel of an earlier, more authentic Traverse City.

7. Tall Ship Sailing
Traverse City’s has more of these stately sailing vessels than any other port on the Great Lakes. Taste the exhilaration of the Days of Sail is to take a two-hour cruise aboard the 114-foot Tall Ship Manitou, a replica of a 19th-century schooner, or on the Nauti-Cat, the largest commercial sailing catamaran on the Great Lakes.

8. Lighthouses
At the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum near Northport, visitors can see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the early 1920s. One of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, it has been in service for over 150 years. The smaller Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, is another scenic treasure.

9. Shopping
Traverse City is a shopper’s paradise. I love our shady, pedestrian-friendly downtown, with its scores of fascinating boutiques, restaurants and galleries, and lots of places to sit and relax. Nearby are picturesque lakeport towns like Leland, Glen Arbor, Elk Rapids and Northport — filled with hidden byways, cozy cottages, quaint shops and stunning galleries.

10. Fresh Food
This time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables – including cherries! – can be found almost everywhere around Traverse City. The community has lots of farmers markets, roadside stands, and U-pick orchards where you can enjoy picking your own fruit. It tastes so much better that way!

What would you add to the list? Visit michigan.org to learn about more things to do and see in the Traverse City area.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

Pie, Parades and More at the 2013 National Cherry Festival in Traverse City

The National Cherry Festival brings more than 500,000 people to Traverse City, Michigan each year. This year the celebration returns from June 29 – July 6 with music, parades, entertainment and – of course – cherries galore! Today, Susan Wilcox Olson, media and marketing manager for the festival, fills us in on what to expect at the 2013 event.

The Grand Traverse region, known for its world-record tart cherry harvest, bursts with visitors eager to savor the flavor of cherries tucked into everything imaginable. Each day festival goers find cherry delights along with parades, family and kids events and entertainment. In all, there are more than 130 events along the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.  In fact, the National Cherry Festival was just featured in Wall Street Journal Weekend – naming it one of just a dozen Festivals not to be missed this season!  And travel to the Cherry Capital of the World is easy with direct flights to the Cherry Capitol Airport (TVC) from NYC, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Minneapolis.  There’s convenient one stop service from every corner of the country, Europe and Asia!

The eight-day event will kick off on Saturday, June 29th at 9 a.m. with a Very Cherry Pancake Breakfast – one of the world’s largest displays of cherries, all bay side!  Then Festival goers will look to the skies and witness one of the nation’s most spectacular Air Shows…over water!  Choreographed perfectly, three dynamic teams will perform maneuvers wowing Festival goers of all ages!  There’s a new twist to the Festival Air Show…A NIGHT FLIGHT!  On Saturday evening at dusk, you won’t want to miss the first ever Night Air Show in Pure Michigan!  Pyrotechnics and lights will fill the skies!

Performing on the Bay Side Music Stage Opening Night is the legendary rock band STYX!  In the heart of downtown Traverse City, overlooking the shores of the Bay it’s a not be missed night of fun!  In fact, the Bay Side Music Stage will be rockin’ all eight days with performances by Country music star, Montgomery Gentry, Sunday, June 30th; Foreigner on Monday, July 1st; Blues legend Duke Tumatoe & The Power Trio on Tuesday, July 2; Country Music returns on Wednesday, July 3rd with Aaron Tippin and Michigan native Jana Kramer.  Fourth of July will pay tribute to the legendary Central Park 4th of July performance by Simon and Garfunkel – a Tribute Band Old Friends will perform just before Fireworks over West Grand Traverse Bay.  Friday night Rock returns with Edgar Winter and Rusted Root.  While closing night will feature The Tribute – 1964, paying tribute to the Beatles.

There’s something for just about everyone!  From dozens of free children’s events, cherry pie eating, pet shows, bicycle and big wheel races to name just a few, to competitive sporting events like the Million Dollar Hole-in-One contest all week to one of America’s most beautiful 15K Running Races.  In-fact on closing day Saturday, July 6th the race finishes its last leg along the parade route of the DTE Energy Cherry Royale Parade, with tens of thousands spectators!

Beyond the 130 events, visitors will find cherries in just about everything at the Festival’s Farm Market all week long.  From the Festival’s Signature Cherry Pie – Grand Traverse Pie Company’s Cherry Crumb Pie and Brownwood Farms’ cherry topped sundaes to gourmet products like cherry salsa, cherry mustard, cherry butter, and cherry BBQ sauce – it’s all here!

Don’t miss the world’s largest cherry extravaganza!  Visit www.cherryfestival.org or check out the interview below for details!

Susan Wilcox Olson is Media and Marketing Manager for the National Cherry Festival.  For 26 years Susan has been serving up Michigan lifestyle stories to readers, listeners, and viewers across the country and internationally.  From the National Cherry Festival, Cherry Capital Airport, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and other Pure Michigan destinations like the golf centric Gaylord and Treetops Resort, Susan is proud to call Pure Michigan her home. She may be reached by email at susan@cherryfestival.org.

Will you be at the Cherry Festival in Traverse City? Share with us below, and learn more at michigan.org.