For 19 years, West Michigan residents gathered for an 11-day party to celebrate the best of summer on the shores of Muskegon Lake.
The festival, known as Muskegon Summer Celebration, brought nationally touring, big-name acts to scenic Heritage Landing, along with thousands of people who patronized downtown businesses after the concerts and other festivities.
Since the 2011 demise of Summer Celebration due to financial losses, several local business owners and entrepreneurs have stepped up to organize more unique, boutique-type festivals and fill the economic void. It’s not just about pumping money into the local economy, but creating a positive and memorable experience that will make visitors want to return.
“We want people to plan their Fourth of Julys in Muskegon,” said Brandon Baskin, founder of RockStock. “We want people to plan their Labor Days in Muskegon and to go home and say ‘Hey, that was awesome.’”
Heritage Landing, July 3-4, $5, muskegonrockstock.com
This year marks the 10th anniversary of this family-friendly rock showcase, started by Baskin as a way to highlight local and regional bands. It was originally a one-day event in Hackley Park, but moved to Heritage Landing over the Fourth of July holiday after Summer Celebration folded.
RockStock, held July 3-4, draws crowds of 10,000-plus and continues to grow. This is the fourth consecutive year at the waterfront venue and a large KidStock area is new this year.
The festival features a variety of rock acts, headlined by Crazy Babies Ozzy Rebourne and Echoes of Pink Floyd, with a laser light show, fireworks, raffles and more.
Baskin said the festival was always meant to be affordable for families, so admission and T-shirts remain $5. With the help of sponsors, Baskin’s company also puts on the Fourth of July fireworks display over Muskegon Lake.
He’d like to see RockStock join the conversation and reputation of Unity Festival and Michigan Irish Music Festival, but at a sustainable pace.
Rebel Road and Bike Time
Downtown Muskegon, July 12-16, rebelroad.org
Drawing motorcycle enthusiasts from throughout the Midwest and beyond, Rebel Road features beer tents and live music, food and merchandise vendors, camping, and contests, along with bike, car and stunt shows, all over four days in downtown Muskegon.
Summer Celebration and professional hockey were two reasons Muskegon native Ron Madison decided 11 years ago to buy Racquets Downtown Grill. With the loss of both, coupled with new breweries and restaurants, Madison knew he had to do something when Muskegon Bike Time announced it was leaving downtown in 2015.
“In my mind, if we lost one more event, it could have been crippling for downtown,” he said. “No matter what the draw is, foot traffic is the key to our future.”
So Madison reached out to other business owners and the Child Abuse Council of Muskegon County to organize Rebel Road on the same weekend, this year on July 12-16, closing off several blocks of Western Avenue for motorcycle parking and other events.
“It’s the atmosphere that has been a big part of the success of the event,” he said. “Downtown Muskegon has always been a great place to host an event or a big party, and the out-of-towners in particular enjoy the opportunity to come in and take the town over.”
Bike Time decided to return to the Harley Davidson dealership this year, but Rebel Road already has taken off as its own event, adding a Wednesday kids’ night featuring Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish. Female rocker Jasmine Cain headlines Friday and Jared Blake on Saturday.
Besides exposing new people to the region, the festival pumps millions into the local economy, and every downtown event adds value.
“They’re all helpful and even if they’re not measurable in terms of dollars and cents, they create a positive atmosphere and energy,” he said. “When people are trying to think about what it is they want to do with their time, they remember the last positive experience they had in your community.”
Shoreline Jazz Festival
Heritage Landing, Aug. 24-27, $35 per day, shorelinejazzfestival.com
Helping to put Muskegon on the map among jazz lovers, Alexander Zonjic’s Shoreline Jazz Festival celebrates culture, diversity and great jazz.
Now in its fourth year, the festival at Heritage Landing includes well-known performers like Boney James, Peabo Bryson, Gerald Albright, Steve Cole, Joey Sommerville, Organissimo, Yancyy and more.
Zonjic serves as artistic director of similar festivals throughout Michigan, Ohio and Canada and said it takes three to five years for an event to become sustainable. Thanks to great local sponsors, the Muskegon festival continues to bring in big acts, grow in popularity and add more off-site events to create a true festival environment.
Local residents benefit, but it’s also a boost for the region, including area restaurants and hotels, as most attendees travel from cities as far away as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago, Toronto and Milwaukee.
“We’re on track to create a world-class jazz festival on the lake in Muskegon,” he said. “When you talk to someone in Chicago and they say, ‘Isn’t that where that great jazz festival is?’ That is when you know you’ve created something cool.”
Burning Foot Beer Festival
Pere Marquette Beach, Aug. 26, $50-$60, burningfoot.beer
Michigan’s only beer festival on the beach, the Aug. 26 Burning Foot Beer Festival is another event garnering national attention. Held in a circle on Pere Marquette Beach, Burning Foot highlights the best of summer and craft beer from 65 breweries, plus live music, food, camping and more.
This year’s band lineup includes Melophobix, SouthPaw, Tropidelic, Badfish (a Sublime tribute band), and headliner Less Than Jake.
Organized by the Lakeshore Brewers Guild, based in Muskegon, the festival is focused on promoting the craft beer scene in areas that border Lake Michigan.
The guild considered downtown, but wanted to showcase Muskegon’s beaches and the state’s unique lakeshore lifestyle. Organizers bring in bands who fit the beach environment, custom-inspired local art and a culinary team to create quality, beachy eats.
“It’s a beer festival at heart, but it’s a lifestyle event to go along with it,” said Allen Serio, chairman of Burning Foot Beer Festival.
The event is organized so people can set up their tent in the sand Saturday morning, go check out downtown or the beach and then enjoy the festival, capped off by a sunset and beach bonfire. For those who don’t camp, shuttles and a trolley are available as well.
Serio is another Muskegon native who helped start Taste of Muskegon and then Burning Foot three years ago. While tickets are capped at 4,500 to keep the growth manageable, he expects it to sell out and said 60 percent of sales are outside of Muskegon County. Last year, attendees came from 23 states.
“You really get to take in the beauty of Pere Marquette beach and being in Muskegon,” he said. “We set up in a big circle, and as the sun sets, you can see the pier. It’s a really cool environment and lets you experience that beach lifestyle mentality for a day.”