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Best American Music Festivals - Touring the Festivals of Michigan

Updated on February 16, 2015


In the 2000s, friends helped me discover dozens of large outdoor musical festivals around the state of Michigan. Here are three favorites.

Chesaning Show Boat

Chesaning, MI, USA

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1) Chesaning Showboat Music Festival

I discovered the music festivals of Michigan in my first visit to the WHNN-FM 96 Oldies Palooza in Frankenmuth Michigan, the all-year Christmas City. Celebrity rockers from the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s appeared every June to present new music and classic numbers for the huge crowds gathered in the showplace on enormous stage and field in the amphitheater beside Frankenmuth High School.

Baby Boomers gathered for the fun, but that did not keep members of the Greatest Generation from attending and getting up to dance in the aisles! Younger music lovers were there as well, including teens. Concessions were great and prizes were awarded hourly via ticket stub drawings. WHNN's Johnnie Burke and Blondie were always on hand to meet the revelers and introduce acts.

The scene of this festival has changed in 2010, moving to the west of Frankenmuth and just beyond Saginaw. The Palooza has morphed over to the WHNN-FM's Summer Celebration and Showboat at the larger festival in Chesaning, Michigan. The full festival is held across three days in the middle of July, July 12-14 in 2010 This larger event began in 1937 to fight the low morale of The Great Depression and grew over the decades to include Rock 'n' Roll and most other forms of music that people love. The festival’s outdoor amphitheater is located in the Chesaning Showboat Park. The Chesaning Showboat Music Festival has always featured its own sternwheeler showboat and musical chorus.

Before and after the main show of any event at Showboat Park, there is a pre- and an after-show of talented local bands in the River's Bend Hospitality Tent, where food and drinks may be purchased. Performers at the main Showboat scene have included Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Rare Earth, and Grand Funk Railroad as well as novelty acts like Weird Al and the newer bands like Buckcherry and the controversy-drenched and dramatic single Adam Lambert from American Idol.

Neal Tiemann

Weird Al at the Showboat

Ypsilanti, Michigan

Ypsilanti, MI, USA

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2) Ypsilanti - Michigan ElvisFest

This notoriously popular two-day music festival is billed as including the best professional Elvis Tribute Artists in North America. The fest is held over a Friday night Saturday and draws 1,000s of fans. In 2010, the dates are July 9-10.

Some of the tribute performers are uncanny in movements and voice which which they portray Elvis Presley. You can have a look at ElvisFest in Historic Depot Town in mid-July yearly.

One of the most effective tributes is performed by the eerily Elvis-like Stephen Michael Krabakos (Steve Michaels) from Ontario, Canada. He is an award-winning Elvis Tribute Artist known globally for having won tribute contests. You would swear you were in the presence of Elvis Presley during his themed performances - Hawaii, Las Vegas, Come Back Special, and others..

Not to be left behind, Hilliard, Ohio sends their one-named KAVAN and his tribute to Elvis. he specializes in the 1950s and early 1960s career span of the King.

Several other award-winning Evis Tribute showmen regular perform at ElvisFest, but another close resemblance is present by Matt King from Leslie MI. People of many ethnic backgrounds enter the concert schedule as well, including Asian- and Hispanic Americans that also present top notch Tributes to Elvis Presley. Many of all of these men are making full-time livings from performing as Elvis Presley and are thankful for the opportunity to do this while thanking Elvis for his contribution to American Music.


Additional performers entertain the crowds at ElvisFest as

  • Tom Jones
  • Buddy Holly
  • Gene Pitney
  • Johnny Cash
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Patsy Cline

One additional group of three women, the Whatabouts, sing the hits of all the girl band singers of the 1960s.

The setting for the Elvisfest is gorgeous, along the banks of the Huron River in Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.The agenda for the two-day event are packed with special activities for Elvis fans and the curious:


  • Two Days of Tribute Performances.
  • Children's activities
  • Raffle and giveaway of a big scree TV.
  • Two documentary films scheduled for shoot
  • Vendors, memorabilia, and concessions


  • The Gospel Hour - From 2-3 PM, Elvis's love of Gospel Music is celebratedwith his Grammy-awarded numbers.
  • Car Shows - Elvis loved cars and giving them away to people. Two car shows are held on site.
  • Costume Time - On Saturday, guest are invited to dress up in 1950s attire to attend the events.
  • Candlelight Vigil - Saturday night, a candlelight vigil honors the death of Elvis Presley in 1977.

ElvisFest: Steve Kabakos

Swingin' Chariot

Concert of Colors

Max M. Fisher Music Center:
Max M. Fisher Music Center, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201, USA

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Detroit Institute of Arts:
Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University, 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202, USA

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3) Detroit Concert of Colors

The year 2010 marks the 18th free annual edition of this event as a musical celebration of Metro Detroit and its cultural diversity. it appears in two venues that include the Max M. Fisher Music Center and the newer second site at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

Musical acts include a wide range of musical genres, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Asian rock, Native American numbers, R & B and soul, African, Mexican, and other global genres. In addition to song, groups and individuals perform dance from a number of cultures. Films are also a part of the event, the 2010 edition offering a film of classic 1931 Mexican-acted Dracula in Spanish with English subtitles. Activities for children are also well-planned in order to install a love of music and appreciation of other cultures.

In the late 2000s, the attendance at this annual event has risen to over 100,000 people.

One of the groups performing at the Concert of Colors has been one with whom my friend in Bay City is well acquainted, since he played the pening act for him a few years in the past - Question Mark and the Mysterians.

Mitch Ryder - Colors 2008 - What Becomes of the Broken Hearted


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