Beneath an Open Sky

Up and around the Great Lakes State, shorelines are alive with the sounds of music.
Manitou Music Festival, Dune Climb Concert
Manitou Music Festival, Dune Climb Concert // Photography by Ken Scott

From Cajun to Chopin, music festivals are perking up all sorts of summer activities: wine & cheese and beer events, picnics in the park, a seafood festival, a cherry festival, afternoon tea parties, a four-day Polish Polka party — and a few surprises, including a symphonic tribute to The Beatles and “an instrument petting zoo.”

“There’s absolutely nothing quite like soaking up live music along the Great Lakes shoreline during the summer, which is clearly why many Michigan coastal communities have capitalized on the idea,” says John Sinkevics, publisher of, which covers the West Michigan music scene.

Moreland & Arbuckle, Marquette Blues Festival
Moreland & Arbuckle, Marquette Blues Festival 2013 // Photography by Tom Buchkoe

“I’ve seen more and more of these festivals and music series sprouting up on weekends and weeknights,” he notes, “and they appeal to a mix of audiences, with everything from folk to jazz to rock to blues. Better yet, they give talented local and regional artists more opportunities to strut their stuff and expand their fan base.”

Great Lake Music

Northern Michigan draws some of the finest regional and national artists to perform throughout the Alpena Blues Festival, June 20-21, along the shores of Lake Huron, (

Tito Carillo, Dewey Canon Park/Harbor Arts
Tito Carillo, Dewey Canon Park/Harbor Arts // Photography by John Boughton

The Manitou Music Festival stages a month-long series of performances at different venues in Glen Arbor, from the schoolhouse lawn on July 3 to the base of Sleeping Bear Dune for the hugely popular Dune Climb Concert, this year featuring The Moxie Strings with fiddler Diana Ladio and cellist Alison Lynn on July 13 (

The White Lake Wine and Jazz Festival will be Saturday Aug. 2 on the lakefront at Goodrich Park in Whitehall. Also, at various locations in Whitehall, the 5th annual White Lake Chamber Music Festival takes place Aug. 1-10, with a weekend workshop for serious amateurs. Professional performers include the Thoreau Piano Trio, Robert Swan and Patrick Godon, while Italian pianist Aldo de Vero pairs up with Bryan Uecker for a piano four-hand recital (

Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra
The Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra (above) and Justine Blazer (below) perform at Shadowland Pavilion on Silver Beach. // Photography Courtesy of Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra

Ship tours, a carnival, fireworks and parades combine with musical stage favorites and a line-up of new talent, too, at the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, July 25-Aug. 3 (

In Traverse City, music enlivens food-and-drink fests. Savor evening concerts at the Open Space, July 5-12, during the 87th annual Cherry Festival and at the Summer Microbrew & Music Festival the weekend of Aug. 22-23. The season begins with the Cedar Polka Fest, a four-day party July 3-6, sponsored by the Polish-American Leelanau Peninsula community (

Justine Blazer
Photography Courtesy of Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra

Dance, jam and groove at Petoskey’s Festival by the Bay on Aug. 15 and 16, where a dozen bands are booked to rock the Entertainment Tent in Ed White Ballfield this summer. Performers start at 5 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday, playing until midnight both nights (

“A sweet summer balm for the restless heart and hurried mind,” the Beaver Island Music Festival is scheduled for July 17-19. “Baroque on Beaver,” July 25-Aug. 3, brings classical music performances ranging from small ensembles to full orchestra and chorus (

Per summer tradition, the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra heads outdoors with audience-friendly shows in local parks. Celebrate Independence Day at Lions Pavilion in New Buffalo with patriotic music set to fireworks on July 3 at dusk and on Aug. 10, enjoy Hollywood film scores at popular Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

Performers start at 5 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday, playing until midnight both nights.

More fun can be found on Silver Beach at Shadowland Pavilion in St. Joseph: June 21 brings 16 breweries and bands Libido Funk Circus, the Hot Sauce Committee and Justine Blazer together for Summer Solstice Music & Microbrews; July 19 showcases Stephen Sondeim’s powerful works; July 20 marks the Buddy Holly Dance Party; and seats can be saved now for “Shrek: The Musical” on Aug. 17 (

Reggae, acoustics, jazz and bluegrass infuse historic Dewey Canon Park in downtown Three Oaks every Saturday evening in summer for a mix of reggae, acoustics, jazz and bluegrass when bands including Mojo Daddy, Tito Carillo and My Sweet Patootie take the stage (

Up in Northwest Michigan, the non-profit Alpena Blues Coalition hosts its 11th Annual Alpena Blues Festival to stamp out hunger, June 20-21. Embraced by the Thunder Bay River, avid blues fans can gather round the main stage this year for both national and regional performances (

Petoskey Festival on the Bay
Photography Courtesy of Petoskey Area CVB

Catch the UPMC Sunset Music Series on Beach 1 in Presque Isle every Wednesday starting at 5:30 p.m., when top regional live music is set against a backdrop of scenic Lake Erie (

The 13th Annual Blues by the Bay Festival kicks off Aug. 22 for three days of live music in East Tawas Park, right next to the State Dock, featuring Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Lady Sunshine and the X Band, Shakura S’Aida and Big Bill Harwell, among others (

Gas House Gorillas at Marquette Area Blues Fest
Last year, the Gas House Gorillas, among others, enlivened the stage at the Marquette Area Blues Fest in Mattson Lower Harbor Park. // Photography by Tom Buchkoe

In 2013, GM River Days in Metro Detroit, presented by Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, drew 150,000 people to the shores along the Detroit River for a family-friendly, three-day weekend of national and local music; this year’s fun happens June 20-22 (

The largest event of its kind in the Upper Peninsula, the Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival draws crowds July 18-20 in Tourist Park, Marquette for bluegrass, Celtic, acoustic, blues and folk singers and dancers (

And finally, the Marquette Area Blues Fest in Mattson Lower Harbor Park, Aug. 29-31, winds up the summer with a free concert by The Jimmy’s Friday night and ticketed performances by recording artists Johnny Rawls, Nikki Hill, Ray Fuller and others well-practiced at enlivening the water’s edge (

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