A Great Opener for the Cherry Festival (And a Side Trip to the Cedar Polka Fest)

Looking North Through the Cherry Festival Main Gate
Looking North Through the Cherry Festival Main Gate



What a great opening weekend for the National Cherry Festival! Perfect weather, wondferful events, and great fun! People were out enjoying the air shows and the Fourth of July fireworks, swimming in the Bay – which is now warm enough for swimming after a long, long warm-up – and wandering around eating the junk food of their choice. (Hey, what harm is an order of chili fries gonna do you if you don’t eat them every day?)

 We wandered back into town from Old Mission after mass on Sunday to check out the arts and crafts fair on North Union Street and roam around the various pavilions at the Cherry Festival where farm markets and food makers were displaying and selling various local eats. (I was enjoying the samples of beef jerkey from Deering’s Market – they actually have to spell it with an extra “e” because it’s so moist that it can’t legally be called jerky. Go figure.)

Selling Sweet Cherries to a Visitor from Hoosierland
Selling Sweet Cherries to a Visitor from Hoosierland

 After getting our weekend helping of Cherry Festival, we drove a few minutes west of town to the little village of Cedar, tucked away in the interior of the Leelanau Peninsula. This area was largely settled in the late 19th century by farmers from Poland, and their national pride is still evident in the many Polish flags flying from local flagpoles, some excellent smoked sausages (this is the birthplace of the now ubiquitous cherry/pecan bratwurst  invented by Cedar butcher Ray Pleva) and a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose image is displayed in front yards, side yards and back yards throughout the village and its environs.

 But Cedar really displays its Polish-ness in  early July, when hundreds of people gather under an enormous white tent for their annual three-day Polka Fest, a celebration of beloved music, food and folkways combined with some extremely aerobic dancing and a lot of multigenerational fun. My daughter Liz got me out on the dance floor a couple of times, and think we worked off our day’s ration of beer, kielbasa and pierogies in the first 15 minutes.

Two Dizzyingly Energetic Polka Fans
Two Dizzyingly Energetic Polka Fans

 But how can you not dance when the band starts playing polka music? I’m not even Polish, but I attended a lot of wedding receptions for my mom’s side of the family in northern Wisconsin, and those Germans can throw down a good polka, too. It’s just happy music – a sort of Eastern European cousin to Mexican mariachi music — and nobody cares if you’re a terrible dancer. Which I am.

 But what I found really interesting was the number of young people – even some fairly hipsterish types – who were getting intro it.  When I was a teen, polka bands were about the least cool things imaginable, but there seems to be a real polka underground going on. Maybe it’s something to do with Weird Al Yankovic.

 Anyway, it was huge fun – and we still have a whole week of Cherry Festival stuff to look forward to. We’re coming into town Wednesday to hear Kansas. And there’s two parades up ahead, the Cherry Idol talent contest, those great Ultimate Air Dogs, lots of music, MORE fireworks, and some excellent food events. Me, I love strolling the midway after dark, surrounded by all the colored lights and blaring music, and imagining that I’m a character in a Ray Bradbury story.

It’s going to be a splendid week.  And I think I need to sign up for polka lessons.

About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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