Four summer festivals highlight Oakland County culture and creativity

As August winds down, it’s easy to feel a sense of regret that these dog
days of summer passed so quickly. With the worst of the heat behind us,
it’s time to celebrate Oakland County’s outstanding artistic
contributions. With four outdoor end-of-summer festivals to choose from,
there’s plenty more than good eats to satisfy every appetite —
cultural, musical, physical and historical.

Dragon on the Lake, Lake Orion

Want to enjoy a final weekend on the water? Head to Lake Orion August 26-28, where the Dragon on the Lake festival will draw 15,000 to 20,000 spectators for a truly original Oakland County happening — the lake’s annual Dragon Boat races. Based on a Chinese custom, teams of 20 rowers and a drummer race 40 ft. “dragon boats” across the water. It’s rapidly growing in popularity, says Reggie Harrison, director of the Orion Art Center. Last year’s heats featured nine teams — this year, 24 squads have signed up to race the lake.

Dragon on the Lake incorporates two unique Lake Orion features — water and dragons (the high school’s mascot) — with a variety of artistic and cultural spectacles promoted by the Orion Art Center. When planning the celebration, now in its third year, Harrison says, “we wanted to create something that was truly unique and representative of our community.” So beyond the rowing heats, Dragon boat parade and traditional dragon-led Chinese New Year dance, there’s something for everybody — riverboat rides, performance artists, beer and wine tents, and diverse local music offerings (everything from DJs to a Dixieland band) . New this year are specially-themed zones for kids and teens with BMX demonstrations, the Detroit Pistons hoops truck and a teen concert. “This is a truly intergenerational event,” Harrison adds.

And the festival’s Chalk Art Challenge, which offers visitors the chance to witness stunning sidewalk masterpieces created all weekend, is still looking for artists. It’s $10 to reserve a parking lot square, and the winner of the contest takes home $500. Find out more at dragononthelake.com.

Arts, Beats & Eats, Royal Oak

Back for a second year in downtown Royal Oak, Arts Beats & Eats continues to grow and diversify. The festival will occupy an additional  four blocks of downtown, making this entertainment giant a can’t-miss-event for Labor Day weekend. You can’t beat these beats — we’re talking hundreds of musical acts (including major stars like Panic at the Disco, Bret Michaels, Vince Gill and George Clinton), including newly booked shows all weekend at Royal Oak Music Theater. For the eats, ABE now offers 70 restaurants, caterers and dining attractions to sample, a 25% increase over 2010. Sushi, fondue, po’boys, crepes — and that’s just a taste of this weekend’s expansive culinary offerings.

Big things are also happening on the artistic component, a competition attracting creatives from across the nation. “The US Bank FlexPerks Visa Juried Fine Art Fair at Ford Arts, Beats and Eats is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 art fairs in the country according to Greg Lawler’s Art Fair Source book — the leading authority on art fairs,” said ABE’s art director, Lisa Konikow. “Our fair attracts top talent from across the country and showcases a diverse selection of mediums. This high caliber of original artwork is what helps make this art fair so extraordinary and special.”

While they don’t fit in the title, ABE’s ever-growing recycling program, Priority Health in Motioin 5k race, charity drives and an Iron Chef-style cooking competition hosted by Mirepoix Cooking School are just a few of the attractions and initiatives planned for the holiday weekend. And did we mention an attempt to break the world record for the world’s largest Zumba fitness class? Check it all out at artsbeatseats.com.

Art & Apples, Rochester

Downtown Rochester is the stage for the state’s second-largest juried art festival, which features 200 painters, sculptors, weavers and other talents from across the nation from September 7-9. Out of more than 2,000 art fairs reviewed each year by Sunshine Artist Magazine, Art & Apples ranks #29. “We’re very honored, and it helps us to increase the quality of artists at the festival,”says Suzanne Wiggins, executive director of Rochester’s Paint Creek Center for the Arts.

“The Art & Apples festival is unique in that it is planned and organized by a nonprofit organization,” Wiggins says. With only a staff of six, the Paint Creek Center hosts this annual event — with all the proceeds going back to the organization. “95% of the festivals across the nation are either part of a city or county municipality or conducted by a for-profit festival organizer,” she says. “Most of those festivals have some kind of charity component, however, every element of the Art & Apples Festival from food sales to donations at the gates helps to advance PCCA’s mission of enhancing life in the region by promoting, encouraging and creating opportunities to participate in and appreciate the arts,” Wiggins adds.

Beyond the artistic offerings, three food courts will serve up tastes of Rochester for patrons. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson will again be a celebrity judge for the fifth annual Apple Pie & Dessert contest. Families, be sure not to miss the weekend visit of Oakland County Parks and Rec’s awesome inflatables and Puppet Mobile for the Free Kids Art Zone. More information can be found at artandapples.com.

Michigan Renaissance Festival, Holly

No summer is complete without a visit to the state’s yearly celebration of all things medieval, the Michigan Renaissance Festival. And considering the fest runs seven weekends, rain or shine, from August 20-October 2, there’s really no excuse not to plan a trip back to the past — or two. Weekend themes run the gamut from buccaneers to beer-tastes and Italian cooking showcases, ensuring every trip to the Renaissance Festival offers visitors new sights and tastes to experience.

The Renaissance Festival hires a cast of actors and performers to recreate the scenes and sounds of a 16th century English village fair, spread over 17 acres in Holly. Jousting knights, village idiots and fair maidens wander the town, and every street offers entertainment — comedy shows, theater performances, gaming and rides galore. Tickets are available in advance or at the gate. Visit michrenfest.com for prices, schedules and more information.