Listeners crowd into Riverfront Park to listen to a concert at the 2015 National Blueberry Festival. (file photo by Kelly Weber)
53rd Annual National Blueberry Festival packed with events
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Get ready to enjoy four days of free outdoor entertainment, children's activities, an arts and crafts fair and lots of blueberry pancakes, pies and even blueberry-flavored barbeque when South Haven celebrates the National Blueberry Festival.
This year's salute to the Blueberry Capital of the World, will take place Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 11-14, in the heart of South Haven's maritime district.
“Other towns have blueberry festivals, but we are the only one that has status as the National Blueberry Festival, and we're very proud of that,” said Kathy Wagaman, executive director of the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce. South Haven's festival earned that status in 1969 and is ranked among the top 10 blueberry festivals in the world, along with ones in such diverse locations as Poland, Iceland, and Nova Scotia, according to Gadling, a leading travel Blog.
Now in its 53rd year, the National Blueberry Festival features more than 40 events that attract upwards of 50,000 people to South Haven.
“There's such a wide variety of activities for people to enjoy,” Wagaman said, regarding the festival's popularity. “We have a craft fair, musical entertainment, children's activities, a parade, blueberry-pie eating contest, airport fly-in, a 5K run, basketball tournament, pancake breakfasts, dinners, a lawn tractor pull...you name it, we've probably got it, and a lot of the events happen right in our maritime district, which overlooks the city's harbor and Lake Michigan.
It literally takes several hundred volunteers to help make the festival a reality each year, according to Event Coordinator Rosalie Plechaty.
“There's at least 100 during the festival that I manage,” she said. “But that's not counting the individual events like the Rotary pancake breakfast, the Kiwanis pancake breakfast, the AAUW book sale, the Steelheaders fish boil, Al-Van's Bark-B-Que dinner, the Chamber's craft fair, the Health System's 5K/10Kun, the Tractor Pull, etc., etc. I wouldn't shy away from saying between 200-300 in total.”
Even though Plechaty has 100 volunteers at her disposal, keeping track of all the events and making sure they run smoothly is no small fete.
“I love the festival itself, the people, the components that make it successful. It is a million details though,” Plechaty said. “Everything from 'Gosh, we need more brochures at Blueberry Central,' to 'Where are the crowns for the pageant' to 'The porta potties need cleaning.' We are blessed with many, committed volunteers. You simply cannot do this without them. Nor can this be as successful as it without the efforts and support of the city, the police department, county officers, emergency services, the Chamber and of course, an awesome board of directors.”
Of course, the festival wouldn't have its name if it weren't for the blueberries that grow in abundance throughout southwest Michigan.
The United States is the world's largest producer of blueberries with Michigan leading the way, harvesting 92 million pounds of cultivated berries in 2015. Many of the state's blueberry growers are located right in Van Buren County, which leads the state in the number of acreage devoted to berry production.
To further support the future of South Haven and Van Buren County’s role in the blueberry industry the National Blueberry Festival awards scholarships to high school and college students who want to pursue degrees in agriculture. This year, three $1,000 scholarships were given to local students.
Festival Fly In features airplane and tethered hot air balloon rides
By KIM INGALLS
For the Tribune
If you like planes, old cars and pancakes, then head to the South Haven Area Regional Airport for its annual "Fly In," Sunday, Aug. 14.
The day will start with South Haven Rotary Club's pancake breakfast. A fundraiser for the organization, the all-you-can eat morning meal will last from 7 a.m. to noon. Cost is $8 per person, $5 for children under 12 and free for kids under 4.
Dozens of airplanes, from Warbirds to experimental craft, are expected at the Fly-in, which gets underway at 10 a.m. If you've ever wanted to fly in an historic plane - there will be two lengendary ones for visitors to ride.
The North America B-25D "Yankee Warrior" is one of those planes. The bomber, named after Gen. “Billy” Mitchell, was the most effective medium bombers of World War II. Probably best remembered for the carrier-launched Doolittle Raid against Japan in April of 1942, the Yankee Warrior is the only flying B-25D-35 and one of very few aircraft with documented combat history. Cost is $400 per person.
Another historic plane that will be available for rides is the open cockpit biplane. Built to hold four passengers in a large, open cockpit, the bi-plane was instrumental in introducing hundreds of thousands of people to their first airplane ride when aviation was in its infancy.
Helmets, goggles, and scarves are provided for the bi-plane flight, which will take place from 10 a.m. to dusk. Maneuvers include lazy-eights, steep and shallow 360 degree turns, and possibly a few "whoopty-dos." Guests of all ages and heights are encouraged to fly, but must not weigh more than 275 pounds. Cost is $75 per person.
If a ride in a hot air balloon is more your style, you can do that too. The rides are tethered, says Dave Johnson, airport manager, and contingent on the weather. Cost is $20 for adults, and $10 for children under 12.
In addition to plenty of planes to see and ride in, a vintage car show will be part of the Fly In.
Parking and admission is free. For more information, contact the airport at 269-637-7343.
'Antique Fleas' returns to Blueberry Festival
By KIM INGALLS
For the Tribune
National Blueberry Festival visitors who love to shop for antiques should head straight to the Church of the Epiphany for its "Antique Fleas" market.
Held on Saturday, Aug. 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the market is returning to the festival this year after a six-year absence. The event was first held in 2004 as a fundraiser for the church. Lack of volunteers resulted in the market being cancelled.
"After seven very successful years, the vestry decided that we would not continue," explained Suzie Blair, co-founder of the event. "The fundraiser takes a great deal of time, organization and workers. Many vendors and customers were disappointed that we gave it up."
The fundraiser was the brainchild of the late Mary Reames and Blair. They wanted a market filled with not only antique dealers but sellers who offered upscale flea market items.
"In previous years this event was a great fundraiser for the church and we wanted to bring it back," added Vicky Kerr, current market organizer. "Our intention this year is to get it up and running and continue to build it in the coming years."
This year, she said, sellers will be offering items such as collectables, memorabilia, vintage jewelry, vintage toys, glassware, furniture and knick-knacks. There will also be original artwork and photographs. The church will sell donated antiques and flea market items, as well, as part of its fundraising effort.
As an added bonus, there will be chair massages, face painting and music. Ron VanLente will play acoustic oldies from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. followed by Pete Wehle doing Frank Sinatra cover songs from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
There is no admission charge to the outdoor event that will be held rain or shine. Vendor applications are still being accepted and can be obtained by contacting email@example.com or 405-353-2710. The church is located at 410 Erie Street.
The New Odyssey Band is scheduled to perform Friday night, Aug. 12. The three-member band from Chicago plays all types of music, including today's top hits, on 30 different instruments,
Ten free, outdoor concerts lined up for Blueberry Festival
By BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Country music? The National Blueberry Festival's got it.
Blues? You bet.
Classic rock? Yup.
Even patriotic songs.
“We try to offer a great blend of music that appeals to all ages...a crowd-pleaser if you will,” said Kathy Wagaman, a member of the Blueberry Festival board of directors and executive director of the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce. “Classic rock and country rock are always crowd favorites. This year our lineup includes country, classic rock, pop, party favorites, gospel and patriotic...clearly something for everyone.”
Ten musical acts, ranging from ZZ Top Eliminator tribute band to the 126th Army Band, plan to perform at this year's festival, which starts Thursday and continues through Sunday at Riverfront Park's mainstage.
Lining up the performances is a year-long undertaking, according to Wagaman.
“We collect media kits, demo CDs and videos from bands all year long and any that really stand out are the ones we either go see in person or get detailed references from other event planners that have hired them. We also try to incorporate a few local bands when appropriate. If there is a specific genre' or even a specific band we are interested in we seek them out.”
Two of those bands that will be featured Friday night during the festival are the New Odyssey Band and Dick Diamond and the Dusters. The two Chicagoland groups perform a variety of popular cover songs, but remain quite unique
New Odyssey bills itself as three guys playing 30 instruments, and they aren't kidding, while Dick Diamond and his entourage of performers incorporate wacky characters as Polly Ester, Walter Melon and Vito Testosteroni with music from the 1960s to now.
“They have developed a loyal following who love to dress up with them and sing along at their shows,” Wagaman said regarding Dick Diamond and the Dusters. “New Odyssey Band has performed at over 6,000 venues and gives the audience, whether kids or grandparents, an energetic combination of humor, audience interaction and fun combined with outstanding musical talent.”
Saturday's headliner group is Eliminator, a ZZ Top tribute band from Chicago, while Sunday's musical entertainment will wrap up with a performance by the 126th Army Band of the Michigan National Guard.
PHOTOS: Eliminator, ZZ Top tribute band; Dick Diamond & The Dusters
A schedule of the festival's entertainment follows:
Thursday, Aug. 11
7-9 p.m. — Jared Knox and the Hagar Bombs. This popular South Haven-based country rock band has built a strong following throughout Southwest Michigan. It features lead singer Jared Knox and Hagar Bomb members Travis Hanko, drums; Jayson Bussa, bass; and Jeff Ankney, guitar. Knox released his latest album, “Crank It,” Aug. 6 at the Summer Jam in St. Joseph.
Friday, Aug. 12
5:45-7:15 p.m. — Alison Albrecht in concert. At the young age of 16, singer and songwriter Albrecht is starting to make a name for herself. Born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, she received her first guitar on her 9th birthday and then began performing every week at local open mic nights at coffee houses, cafes and music stores. At 13, she opened for the Steve Miller Band and this past year she recorded her debut EP.
7:30-8:45 p.m. — New Odyssey Band. This three-member band from Chicago plays all types of music, including today's top hits, on 30 different instruments, including a pocket trumpet, accordion, sousaphone, melodica, banjo and bass trumpet.
9-11 p.m. — Dick Diamond and the Dusters. Listeners can take a musical trip down memory lane with a cast of Chicagoland characters sporting such names as Polly Ester, Walter Melon, Winston Stetson and Vito Testosteroni, who perform pop dance favorites from the past four decades.
1-5 p.m. — Blueberry Jam. Local bands will get a chance to show their musical talents throughout the afternoon.
6:15-8:15 p.m. — Tynan. Led by Tom Tynan of Chicago, this 11-piece, horn-driven party rock band performs hits primarily from the '60s and '70s.
8:30-11 p.m. — Eliminator. This ZZ Top tribute band is celebrating its 25th anniversary of performing the classic rock group's famous hits.
11-:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. — Pentecostal Church of South Haven singers will perform
1-2 p.m. — All God's Children. The choir consists of children and teens, ages 4-18, from 10 communities in Southwest Michigan. Led by a multiethnic team of directors, the Choir is now in its 11th year, inspiring audiences with its message of brotherhood and sisterhood, unity, friendship, peace and respect for all people.
2-4 p.m. — 126th Army Band. This 35-piece Michigan Army National Guard band has been considered the Governor's Own since 2013, and has been entertaining the citizens of Michigan for more than 50 years. Under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer Jon Montgomery, the group of musicians has performed throughout the United States, London, Italy, Australia and Latvia, and plays various types of music ranging from symphonic to country to pop.
Festival debuts shuttle service to ease parking congestion
Bt BECKY KARK
Editor and general manager
Do you enjoy the National Blueberry Festival but hate trying to find a parking space in downtown South Haven?
You're not alone, which is why festival organizers are providing a trolley service that will shuttle festival-goers to the city's downtown business and waterfront districts, where many of the events take place, Aug. 11-14.
“This is the first year we'll be offering the trolley service,” said Kathy Wagaman, executive director of the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce, which helps coordinate the festival events.
Van Buren Public Transit is being contracted to bring its old-fashioned looking red and gold-colored trolley, which will pick up people at South Haven High School's parking lot and shuttle them to various locations downtown.
The free shuttle service will be offered from 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 12-13, which are the busiest days of the four-day festival. Stops include the high school, South Haven City Hall, the Warren Center and Eagle Street where Blueberry Central (festival headquarters) is located.
“The plan is that it will be no more than a half hour for the loop,” Wagaman said. “Folks can get on and off at those various stops as space permits. With this being the first year, we will be learning whether we may need additional buses next year.”
To help ensure safety of vehicles parked at the high school, the South Haven High School Band Boosters will be parking vehicles for a $5 donation. The boosters will be at the high school from 3 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 12 and 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 13.
“They will be able to monitor for vandalism, pass out brochures, and let people know approximately when to expect the next trolley, but their primary purpose is to collect the parking fee to raise funds for the band program,” said Susan Diepen, assistant director of the Chamber.
In addition to the shuttle service, festival organizers are also introducing a new 16-page brochure detailing festival events and other information that people will find useful, especially for people attending the festival for the first time.
“The 16-page brochure will be very informative, and will provide detailed maps and schedules, show event sites, pictures, information on where to find blueberries, festival T-shirts, first aid, restrooms, parking, etc., and sponsors recognition,” Wagaman said. “There is also a QR code to scan for smart phone users to obtain more information.
The brochures will be available at the Chamber of Commerce, 606 Phillips St.; the South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 538 Phoenix St.; and at various businesses throughout South Haven.
National Blueberry Festival Schedule of Events
Thursday, Aug. 11
Friday, Aug. 12
Saturday, Aug. 13
Sunday, Aug. 14