Keeping Hope Alive for the 2012 Vasa and Winter Wow!fest

Beautiful winter weather at Sleeping Bear Dunes, but not much Snow!
Beautiful winter weather at Sleeping Bear Dunes, but not much Snow!

By MIKE NORTON

Putting together any kind of outdoor event — whether it’s a family camping trip or a week-long community festival — will keep you humble. You can plan and organize as much as you want, but you can’t control the weather. All you can control is how you respond to it.

This winter’s unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of snowfall this year have forced many Midwestern communities to cancel their winter festivals. This past weekend, the White Pine Stampede ski race in Bellaire had to be called off at the last minute because the trail was nearly obliterated by sun, rain and melting.

Here in Traverse City, fortunately, things are looking a bit better. The big North American Vasa Festival of Races is still scheduled to take place Feb. 10-12, thanks to some lucky breaks (the course is through deep woods, which protected the snow from too much melting) and some hard work from festival volunteers, who’ve been out shoveling snow onto the trail wherever it’s too thin. And since temperatures are starting to drop again, they think they’ll be able to hang on to what they’ve got.

No Snow for Wow!fest? Not to Worry -- the Show Must Go On!
No Snow for Wow!fest? Not to Worry — the Show Must Go On!

It’s the same story with the Cherry Capital Winter Wow!fest, which will also go forward as planned. Festival planner Trevor Tkach says organizers have devised a host of contingency plans for the Feb. 17-19 festival, and have been stockpiling their own snow supplies in anticipation of just such an eventuality.

“We’ve got snow – and come rain, come snow, come shine, we’ve got a festival,” said Tkoch.

Now in its sixth year, Winter Wow!fest is  a wintertime celebration of competitions, music, games, food, wine, entertainment and fun. It includes such events as the Soup’r Bowl soup contest, a Frozen Bed Race, a Winter, Wine & Wow!  food & drink reception, a Cardboard Classic downhill race, a Monster Dog Pull and fireworks, as well as new features like the Curb Crusher Rail Jam and the Soup r’ Chili 5K run.

Officials at  nearby Shanty Creek Resorts have been storing hundreds of cubic yards of clean white snow that will be hauled to Traverse City to supply what Mother Nature hasn’t provided.

For a full schedule of events and online registration for races, dinners and other reserved events, go to www.winterwowfest.com.

One event that may reap a little extra benefit from the warmer temperatures is the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival which will be held this Saturday evening on the Historic Lawn of our 19th century mental asylum, the Grand Traverse Commons. Billed as a “winter wonderland of craft beer, live music and local food,” the festival will feature beverages from over 50 microbreweries, meaderies, cideries and wineries, a “silent disco,” and nearly a dozen live bands. (In a silent disco, dancers are issued wireless headphones through which music is broadcast via an FM transmitter – nobody else has to listen.)

The events will be held in a small city of heated tents: three main heated music and microbrewery tents, a silent disco tent with a full roster of DJs, a snow fort-building competition among local businesses — and for the first time, a polka-themed tent hosted by local comedian Marti Johnson.

Performing for the event will be several acclaimed musical and entertainment acts including Funktion, beatbox champion Heatbox, The Crane Wives, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Dragon Wagon, Rootstand, Laith Al-Saadi, DJ DomiNate, DJ Wulf Pak (and his popular laser show), the non-profit Grand Traverse Pipes & Drums and local fire dancers.

Celtic Dancing at the 2011 Winter Microbrew & Music Festival
Celtic Dancing at the 2011 Winter Microbrew & Music Festival

The polka tent, a promotional partnership with the Cedar Polka Fest held nearby during the first week in July, will feature popular polka bands (including Squeezebox and The Kielbasa Kings) with dancing, authentic food and special activities celebrating polka culture.

Already well-known as a food and wine destination, Traverse City is also making fans in the burgeoning microbrew community; Draft magazine just named it one of Americas’ three newest Emerging Beer Towns (along with St. Louis and Oklahoma City).The Grand Traverse Commons lawn has long been the home of Traverse City’s Summer Microbrew & Music Festival, which is held there each August, but the winter event has been more nomadic – the first one was held on a local golf course, and last year’s was in downtown Traverse City.

Festival promoter Sam Porter said the move to the Commons made good sense, but he regretted that downtown businesses won’t reap as much of an economic benefit from this year’s festival. To take some of the sting out of the move, his company — Porterhouse Productions — will host a pre-festival concert Friday night in Traverse City’s historic downtown opera house, featuring Grammy-winning band Blues Traveler.

Renowned for their high-energy live shows, Blues Traveler is behind such massive pop hits as “Run-Around,” “Hook” and “You, Me and Everything.” Their album “Four” reached triple-platinum status, and “Run-Around” was the longest-charting single in Billboard history. The Feb. 10 concert marks the band’s second return to Traverse City after their sold-out appearance at Porterhouse’s Paella in the Park festival in 2010.

“Our hope is that we’ll have a great sold-out show with Blues Traveler the night before the festival, with concertgoers eating, drinking and shopping downtown before and after the concert,” said Porter. His company is also planning several “after-parties” on Friday and Saturday nights at downtown establishments (including Union Street Station and the Loading Dock) to further connect festival attendees with the downtown district.

The festival will offer free shuttle service to attendees between the Commons, downtown, the Old Town parking deck, and participating hotels.

General admission tickets for the Traverse City Winter Microbrew & Music Festival on February 11 are $30 in advance or $35 at the door and include all festival entertainment, musical acts, shuttle service and five (5) 7-oz pours. Additional pours will be available for purchase on-site for $1 each. Tickets can be purchased online at www.porterhouseproductions.com or at Oryana, Blue Tractor and Left Foot Charley in Traverse City.

Attendees are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, as the festival has sold out in past years. Ticket buyers must be at least 21 years old. Attendees are encouraged to carpool, use the shuttle service or walk, sled or snowshoe to the event. Festival proceeds will benefit the non-profit Bay Area Recycling for Charities.

Reserved seating tickets for the Blues Traveler concert at the City Opera House on February 10 range from $29-$45. Tickets can be purchased at the City Opera House box office, by phone at 231-941-8082 or online at www.cityoperahouse.org

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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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