New Muskegon music festival to have a different look and feel, organizers promise

February 9, 2012
By Dave Alexander
Muskegon Chronicle

The new summer festival being planned for Muskegon County’s Heritage Landing can be expected to have a different feel and look than the former Summer Celebration, event promoters say.

Although details of the 10-day event that will include the Fourth of July are not going to be released until early March, the general philosophy and direction of the major new event are taking shape, according to the promoter and community group working on the details.

Expect Heritage Landing to look and feel more like the Michigan Irish Music Festival or the Unity Christian music festival, according to how Tim Lipan and Kevin Meyer explain what is being planned.

Lipan is the spokesman for the local organizing committee associated with the Community Foundation for Muskegon County and Meyer is a principal with Meridian Entertainment Group from the Lansing area, which has a 10-year contract with the community foundation to create and produce the new music and arts festival.

“Hopefully the experience will be different … we want it to be,” Lipan said of the new event as compared to the former Summer Celebration, which ended last year after 19 years due to financial difficulties. “We will have music that appeals to a broad cross-section of the community. We will expand the musical options.”

The event will feature national musical acts on the Heritage Landing Johnson Pavilion main stage but like the Unity and Irish Music events, there are expected to be multiple stages or tents for a variety of entertainment each night, Lipan and Meyer said.

“More music and of a wider variety will bring out a larger audience,” Lipan said. “Music is art and each genre has an interest to a different group. An oldies act that is a has-been to one might be someone else’s most profound live performance. And a new, hip contemporary act that will thrill some might just be a horrible experience for others.”

Art will be expanded as the festival develops, Lipan said. The initial event this year is expected to include the popular Art in the Park event one weekend in Hackley Park and the corresponding crafts show on adjacent streets.

But in the future art could include dance and theatrical performances, Lipan said. And the festival is expected to be expanded to include other venues throughout the downtown.

The fate of the popular and profitable Summer Celebration midway and carnival is up in the air, Meyer said, whose company will make the final determination on festival elements, their location and schedule. MEG is taking the financial risk on the new event but will share excess revenues with the foundation through a “tiered formula,” Meyer said.

A midway may or may not be part of the final festival plan and if included it could be produced at Heritage Landing or in another location in the downtown, Meyer said.

“The vision is to have the centerpiece Heritage Landing, but we are not holding back on a willingness to look at other venues to showcase the music and the art,” Lipan said.

Lipan, who is part of a new 17-member festival board being created by the community foundation, was also a member of the Summer Festival Task Force group that studied the community’s event options with the end of Summer Celebration. MEG and Meyer – professional entertainment booking agents and festival event producers – will be given the flexibility to bring a variety of acts to Muskegon that will not only excite music fans but also need to be financially prudent, Lipan said.

“There are no bad shows, just bad deals,” said Lipan, executive director of the American Red Cross in Muskegon and longtime Summer Celebration main stage committee chairman. “We have to have an eye toward fiscal responsibility. We will appeal to a wider audience and allow people to explore different musical talent. There might be 15,000 people watching a national act on main stage but 250 people at another stage having the time of their lives discovering a new, regional act.”

Meyer and MEG have been in the entertainment booking and event management business for more than 30 years and have created the Common Group Music Festival in Lansing along with work on the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. The business that has been the book agent for Muskegon Summer Celebration for more than 15 years also works on events in Sturgis, S.D., Rockford, Ill., Prince Edward Island, Canada, Los Angeles and Grand Rapids with the WSNX Party in the Park.

MEG is willing to quickly take on the task of creating a new event in six months because of the history of successful festivals in Muskegon and the regional draw that Heritage Landing can be, Meyer said. During the summer months, Muskegon has a primary market of more than 1 million people in the West Michigan region, he said.

“From a business perspective, this is a good market,” Meyer said of Muskegon. “We want to continue the tradition of having national acts on that stage. But our goal is to have other venues featuring other artists.”

Andrew Haan – the director of Downtown Muskegon Now!, the promotional and development agency – was a member of the Summer Festival Task Force and will be a member of the new festival board. Festival volunteers are stressing that this is a new event with a new philosophy and promoter.

“It is important that the community have an open and positive attitude,” Haan said, adding that a major summer music and arts festival is critical to downtown Muskegon and its businesses. “This is a fresh start. The management company is open-minded and wants community involvement.”

Lipan said one element that MEG brings to the table is the idea of “community share” when it comes to including a variety of non-profits who can use the event to raise funds.

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