Only you can save Heritage Fest

A letter went out yesterday from the organizers of Ypsilanti’s Heritage Fest, encouraging new people to get involved with the planning of the annual event. According to an article on, Barry Marshall, the chairman of the festival’s Board of Trustees, has said that without the influx of new people and energy, the event, which has been held every summer since 1979, could be at its end. Those interested in helping lead the event forward are asked to meet the evening of October 18 to discuss what needs to be done in order to get things on track for this coming summer. The meeting will take place at 7:00 PM, at SPARK East. Here’s Marshall’s letter:

The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival has come to a crossroads in its legendary history and is seeking support from Ypsilanti and the surrounding communities in helping to plan and provide for future Festivals.

The Festival’s co-coordinators and many of the Steering Committee members have announced that they will not return for the 2012 Festival, largely due to the fact they have been organizing Festivals for the last 13 years. Without people in these key roles, next year’s Festival is uncertain and likely will not occur. The leadership of the Festival recognizes the need for new, community-minded people to bring new ideas to the Festival to keep it as one of the premiere events in Ypsilanti.

In response to this and to engage the community in the future of the the Festival, members of the Board and Steering Committee are hosting a Heritage Festival Community Gathering on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 7 p.m., at the Spark East, 215 W. Michigan Avenue, in downtown Ypsilanti.

Besides providing a “state of the Festival” update, information will be provided on the various positions on the Steering Committee that need volunteer help, as well as other duties members of the community can sign up for. The Festival is seeking two coordinators that oversee the Festival. The coordinator positions are paid positions. Volunteers are also needed to serve as treasurer, food vendor coordinator and many other positions to help with operations during the Festival in August. Those who attend the Community Gathering will have the ability to sign up that night for duties and positions that interest them.

The Heritage Festival is one of the few remaining “free” festivals in Michigan. The Steering Committee has worked tirelessly to keep it that way. Identifying new funding sources is a priority and new ideas will be explored at the Community Gathering.

The Festival has enjoyed great success largely due to a committed Board of Trustees, a hard working Steering Committee, a vast troupe of volunteers–all of whom have worked to bring us great Festivals since 1979. The Ypsilanti Heritage Festival is by the people and for the people of Ypsilanti and surrounding communities. Many community organizations rely on the Festival for exposure and revenue. Every community needs a Festival to bring everyone together once a year to be entertained, eat good food and recognize our own residents and organizations. The Festival needs your support. Please plan on attending the Community Gathering.

My thoughts on Heritage Fest, for better or worse, are well documented. Regardless of what I may have said in the past, though, I do think that it’s imperative that a diverse community like ours have a big summer festival if for no other reason than to bring our often warring City and Township factions together, even if it means watering down the “heritage” component to some extent. Yes, as I’ve said before, I’d love for it to be more about the history of our community than about funnel cake and moonwalks, but I’m not so naive as to think that thousands of people would come out to see folks demonstrate various fruit canning techniques and hear about how our first homes were built, but I do think there needs to be balance. And I think things could be a little… for lack of a better term… edgier. I probably wouldn’t go so far as to encourage people to dress in blackface, as they did during Ypsilanti’s 1923 Centennial to commemorate the arrival of escaped slaves in the City’s early days, but I think it might be cool to have something like a battle of the bands performing songs by former Ypsilantian Iggy Pop. And I think it might be interesting to focus on some of the not so celebrated parts of our past. How about, for instance, a recreation of the “hobo jungle” that existed in Frog Island Park during the Great Depression? Or, how about shedding some light on this commonly held belief that, during WWII, Ypsilanti was home to the greatest number of little people in the United States? (According to legend, they worked at Willow Run, manufacturing bombers, working in the tighter areas that taller people couldn’t.) Or, how about a Vaudeville show at the Martha Washington Theater? With the new baby coming, and having just signed up to serve on another board, I don’t anticipate having much time to contribute to the effort, but I’d be happy to brainstorm ideas, and I’d encourage the rest of you to do the same. The bottom line is that we need to save Heritage Fest. We can quarrel about the content later – the important thing now is to ensure that it not go away.

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  1. EOS
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    The Heritage Fest is one of the premier events in Ypsilanti? Sad fact is you may be right.

  2. Edward
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Before this conversation descends into unnecessarily harsh criticism of Heritage Fest, I’d like to thank the men and women responsible for making it happen these last several years. We can quibble on the finer points, but I don’t think anyone can disagree that pulling something like this off every year is a huge undertaking, and I appreciate the work of the volunteers who put in the time to see it happen. It’s a thankless task, and, if we’re really going to keep it going, we should find a way to address that somehow.

  3. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    I would love to become involved, but I’d want to see something along the lines of arts beats and eats, with a $2-3 entry fee, some first class entertainment, and some local art. And, I’m not going to lie, I love the fact that you can walk around Pontiac with an overpriced beer. Maybe we could work a lot of the historical aspects into a free family area, that includes activities for kids, even getting some of the local high school sports teams into the mix. Get things “edgier” (read: more interesting for the 21-35 set) try to bring those troublesome kids into the program, but still try to retain some of the original aspects that have made Heritage Festival such a great tradition.

    But I’m just talking here. And no, I don’t think we can instantly become what Arts Beats and Eats is. I am going to try to make the meeting next week, though.

  4. EOS
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Arts, Beats and Eats left Pontiac for Royal Oak a few years back.

  5. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I mean, really, isn’t it all about the beer tent anyway? I’m just proposing a REALLY BIG beer tent.

  6. Eel
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I’m all for putting the city of Ypsilanti under a giant beer tent for the duration of the summer. Could someone please make that happen?

  7. Bob
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Isn’t the problem going to be the usual suspects who run Depot Town? New people and ideas are not exactly welcomed. And isn’t Depot Town already a giant beer tent?

  8. Elf
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    What about a giant bong at the intersection of Michigan Ave and Washington, and a doctor on hand to ask people if their feet are tired, before allowing them to take an enormous hit. That’s basically our only growth industry in Ypsi these days. Historically speaking, I think it’s significant.

  9. xyz
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    I hope Steve Pierce steps forward and offers put together an exhibition on the white slaves that were brought to Michigan from Kentucky during WW II.

  10. Tommy
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Putting on this event is a huge undertaking and I agree with Edward on comending all those involved. This festival has kind of run its course in my opinion. Actually it jumped the shark when a 3 on 3 Soccer tournament was taking place on Frog Island at the same time some Lumberjacks were cutting shit up in Riverside Park; or was it the Flying Walindas (sp?)?

    I don’t see the purpose in having a few rows of bad arts and crafts, some crappy food, engines on display, and booths for every political cause that both lefties and righties seem to care about.

    The only unique Ypsi-ness left is the Rubber Ducky race and the Save the Huron booth.

    Mark – you need to plan something better! Forget the new baby; let the old lady take care of the brat! This is your calling

    Find a way to bring together the Beer fest, the Elvisfest, the Mitten fest, the Shadow Art fest, the hillbilly music fest (oh yeah, roots, I forgot), the defunct Frog island Jazz and Blues fest, the bicycle powered cinema fest, and any other fest that takes place in Ypsi. Call it the Ypsifest – the Biggest Freak Show on Earth.

    You can do this!!!!!!

  11. anonymous
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    xyz, Steve stopped caring about our white slave population when he got his Japanese butt cleansing robot. He doesn’t leave the house much anymore.

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