Best of the fest: Michigan fall festivals return with a bang

click to enlarge Arts, Beats & Eats returns Labor Day weekend with some big changes.  - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Arts, Beats & Eats returns Labor Day weekend with some big changes. 

The word festival comes from the Latin festivus, from festum or festa, meaning "to feast" — and good goddamn are we ready to feast on this year's many end-of-summer and fall fests throughout metro Detroit.

Though we are far from what people keep insisting is some kind of post-pandemic "normal," the world continues to spin, which means that, yes, unfortunately summer must end. Instead of feeling down and out about what may have been yet another bummer summer, look up and ahead at the next two months of festival fun.

Feeling downright Medieval? There's a festival for that. Maybe you're a comic connoisseur? Well, you're in luck because there's a festival (or two) for that. Do you like the disturbing combination of dairy and carnival rides? What jazzing out to jazz music from the comfort of your own home? Are you one for cars? Beers? Cigars? Funky art? LGBTQ+ celebrations? If you said yes to one or more of these eclectic interests then you might want to grab a pen, your calendar, and locate your nearest vaccination site (if you have not done so already) because we're about to trip, stumble, and fall into fall. Just hold off on the pumpkin spice for a little longer, please.

Detroit Month of Design

Sept. 1-30; various venues around metro Detroit; Many events are free and open to the public.

Detroit: The Motor City, Detroit Rock City, and, since 2015, a City of Design. Detroit earned a coveted designation as a "City of Design" from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — making it the first such city in the United States to get the distinction, which has spawned Detroit Month of Design, where a number of design-related events have united under one banner. Returning for its 11th iteration, Detroit Month of Design will host a whopping 80 events spanning panel discussions, open studio tours, exhibitions, workshops, and design experiences and will feature more than 175 designers and 13 installations throughout the entire month of September.

Michigan Renaissance Festival

Weekends through Oct. 3; 12600 Dixie Hwy., Holly; Tickets start at $21.95 for adults, $13.50 for children.Huzzah, bitches! The plague, er, pandemic, may rage on, but we hath access to safe and free'th vaccinations, which means the Michigan Renaissance Festival is bringing all the turkey legs, jousting, beer wenches, and chainmail our peasant asses can handle.

The Holly-based role playing festival known for its elaborate 16th-century pageantry, rivalry, revelry, and royalty draws upwards of 280,000 visitors during its eight-weekend run. The 17-acre village hosts 18 stages as well as reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns, and more than 150 artisans across eight themed weekends, including Viking Invasion, Wonders of the World, Shamrocks & Shenanigans, Harvest Huzzah, and others.

AB&E organizers have ditched the old food and drink ticket system. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
AB&E organizers have ditched the old food and drink ticket system.

Arts, Beats, & Eats

Sept. 3-6; Royal Oak; Admission is $3-$7.

For 23 years, Arts, Beats & Eats has served as a satisfying send-off to summer. The four-day Labor Day celebration continues to flex hard on the belief that the best things come in threes. Oh, and sonic nostalgia.

Friday will see performances by the Guess Who and Detroit's Thornetta Davis, as well as headliners Stone Temple Pilots, formerly led by Scott Weiland and, later, replaced by the late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. STP is now led by Michigan native and X-Factor runner-up, Jeff Gutt in 2017. Fun fact: He also performed at AB&E in 2014 as a solo act.

Saturday's main stage will be occupied by Beatlemania Live!, "We Built This City" arena rockers Starship, and headliners Neon Trees. And, on Sunday, following performances by Mac Watts, Frank Ray, Justin Moore, and Chicago-based punk band Rise Against, who will close out the night. Meanwhile, on Monday, Michigan's Laith Al-Saadi will perform, followed by '90s hit-makers Gin Blossoms, and the festival closer, ex-husband to the late Whitney Houston and "My Prerogative" performer, Bobby Brown.

As for eats, this year, the AB&E organizers have ditched the old food and drink ticket in favor of allowing guests to buy food and drink directly from the festival's 40+ vendors via cash and credit card. (Not only will this limit contact points during a pandemic, but now you won't have any of these pesky leftover tickets at the end of the fest.) Also new to the eats lineup are Tequila Blue and ImaginATE, while favorites like Crispelli's bakery and pizzeria, Sedona Taphouse, Gosia's Pierogies, Wahlburgers, and Beans & Cornbread are returning.

Beyond the '90s jams and burgers, the festival will once again host a juried art show and dozens of artist booths offering a range of handcrafted works from artists from all over the country, including painting, photography, blacksmithing, glassworks, leather, jewelry, wood, and sculpture.

Michigan State Fair

Sept. 2-6; Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi; Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children, wristbands available for $30.

This almost sounds like a Saturday Night Live Stefon skit. The hottest new club is called the Michigan State Fair, where you'll experience the following: produce, baking contests, beer garden, livestock giving birth, people giving blood, a cow made of butter, a dog circus, trick ponies, very large pumpkins, "endless milk," racing pigs, monster trucks, high divers, carnival rides, and Detroit Wheels guitarist Jim McCarty. OK — so the Michigan State Fair is actually, like, 170 years old (there was a hiatus when Gov. Jennifer Granholm pulled the plug on the Detroit-based event in 2009, but it found a new home in Novi a few years later). And there's so much milk. Like, almost too much milk. Anyway, the five day of family-friendly festivities is a beloved Michigan tradition and, as long as you're not vegan, lactose intolerant, or Jared from Subway, the Michigan State Fair is where memories — and baby cows — are born.

Romeo Peach Festival

Sept. 2-6; Romeo; Free.

If you're like Nicolas Cage in Con Air, then you, too, could eat a peach for hours — and now you can. The 85th edition of the Romeo Peach Festival will bring the sweetness to Labor Day with five days of peach-centric entertainment. In addition to, well, peaches, the Romeo Peach Festival will host everything from live music, a used book sale, crafts, a classic car show, pancake breakfast, beer garden, carnival rides, parades, and fireworks.

Mussel Beach MusicFest

Sept. 2-7; Cadieux Cafe, Detroit; Tickets are $25.

If you're like us then you probably don't have any muscles to show off after a year of, like, staying indoors. Thankfully, Mussel Beach MusicFest is all about celebrating mussels as in, the thing you eat once they've been submerged in butter, making it so that we may never have a single ab.

This five-day music event will take place at Cadieux Cafe where mussels and feather bowling are king. Each day will host multiple local bands, including Handgrenades, Eastside Elvis and the Motor City Mafia, the Beggars, Connor Dodson & Quick Draw, the Scrappers, the Muggs, and more.

Detroit Jazz Festival

Sept. 3-6; virtual event via or DetroitJazzFestLIVE! app.

Man, this sucks azz. But we toot-ily get it. Jazz is built on the foundation of improvisation which is exactly what Detroit Jazz Festival organizers have been forced to embrace when planning the 42nd iteration of the world's largest free jazz festival.

Previously announced as an in-person event with some pandemic changes, this year's jazz fest will be 100% virtual. Why? Well, there's a few very obvious reasons.

First, the delta variant. Period. Second, the festival's open layout makes it difficult for staff to enforce COVID-19 testing, proof of a negative test, or proof of vaccination from festival goers. Also, Hart Plaza, which hosts the sprawling festival each year, is under construction, which isn't expected to be completed until later this fall. While organizers entertained the idea of moving the festival to Campus Martius, due to inevitable overcrowding (can you even imagine the nightmare?), they decided t0 return to a similar format as the 2020 livestreamed event.

The festival will once again be held without live in-person audiences, and will instead be streamed and broadcasted live for free from indoor sound stages at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which will be closed to the public. However, jazz heads will be able to watch and/or listen to performances via the festival's social media channels and website, as well as on public radio and public television. There is also a DetroitJazzFest LIVE! App. Anyone excited to bask in the greatness of this year's Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater, you're in luck because she is still scheduled to headline multiple performances during the festival. Previously announced performers — like Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, Keyon Harrold, Omar Sosa and the Havana-Detroit Jazz Project, and others — will also perform as part of the festival's weekend-long livestream.

Detroit City Dance Festival

Sept. 8-12; virtual events; Free.

Dance like no one is watching ... because literally no one is watching. At least that's the case with this year's Detroit City Dance Festival, which is pivoting to a virtual format for all of 2021's performances, workshops, masterclasses, films, and more.

This year, DCDF urges folks to subscribe to their YouTube channel where all of the festival's programming will be made available. Normally, the event serves as a networking event for dancers and choreographers of all skill levels and genres, however, due to the virtual format, this year's DCDF is all about dancing on our own. The four-day event will feature 101 performers from across 12 states and 20 countries around the world, with lots of love focused on Detroit dance styles, like the jit. There will be ballet performances, as well as contemporary floor work, modern dance, classic dances of India, tap, as well as college and choreographers showcases. Don't forget to stretch!

click to enlarge Carnival rides will return to the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. - Jay Jurma
Jay Jurma
Carnival rides will return to the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival.

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival

Sept. 4-6; Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; Free.

Entering its 41st year as the wettest and wildest way to celebrate the end of summer is the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. Returning to everyone's favorite cultural watering hole known as "the world in two square miles," the Hamtramck Labor Day event attracts thousands of people thanks to the festival's working-class realness. And, well, like, the event-packed event. Once again, the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival will play host to the annual Polish Day Parade, so much food, carnival fun, live music, art vendors, and [insert drum roll] the Hamtramck yacht race, which finds Hamtown bars competing against each other in personalized push-carts aka "land yachts" as spectators dump, spray, and hurl water at the speedy racers.

Plymouth Fall Festival

Sept. 10-12; Kellogg Park; Free.

The annual family-friendly Plymouth Fall Festival will kick summer to the curb and welcome children back to school and autumn back to Michigan. But who are we kidding, it's the Midwest and most likely it'll still be 80 degrees (and/or snowing). The first Plymouth Fall Festival took place on Sept. 11, 1960 and brought in an estimated 3,500 people serving roughly 2,800 barbecue dinners. Today, the festival has expanded to offer an array of entertainment and food. Aside from ticketed events, like the pancake breakfast, spaghetti dinner, and the annual Rotary Club chicken barbecue, festival events throughout the weekend include bingo, a car show, craft show, pet show, carnival rides, community vendors, dance performances, a magician, and more.

click to enlarge Though June is traditionally Pride Month, Motor City Pride sashayed its rainbow-powered Hart Plaza-centered festivities to September. - Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Though June is traditionally Pride Month, Motor City Pride sashayed its rainbow-powered Hart Plaza-centered festivities to September.

Motor City Pride

Sept. 18-19; Hart Plaza, Detroit; Free.

Don't be a drag, be a queen. Though June is traditionally Pride Month, Motor City Pride sashayed its rainbow-powered Hart Plaza-centered festivities to September due to the pandemic. But, if we've learned anything it's that LGBTQ+ pride cannot be limited to a single month. This year's Motor City Pride has yet to reveal a schedule of events and performances, but we recommend fluffing your wig in anticipation: the higher the wig the closer to Jesus, henny.


Sept. 18; Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit; Free.

Held in the Detroit area for the first time, this spooky-themed art fair will be held from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on the grounds of Historic Fort Wayne. FrankenFest will feature more than 75 artists and vendors including original illustration, paintings, photography, jewelry, literary works, ceramics, apparel, novelties, and more. Events include a "Frankenstein Monster In Pop Culture" exhibit presented by Roger Scholtz, presentations by Southern Michigan Paranormals, Strange and Suspicious Podcast, adoption opportunities from Saving Scales Reptile Rescue, and more.

Smoke on the River

Sept. 19; West Riverfront Park, Detroit; Tickets are $75-$150.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em — and if you don't got 'em, buy them from one of 20+ featured premium cigar brands along the scenic Detroit River. Returning for its second year is the Smoke on the River cigar tasting event. Once again, West Riverfront Park will get downright smoky when Smoke on the Water returns, offering guest access to premium cigars, exhibits from cigar manufacturers, cocktails, food, and live music, all to benefit the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. Cigar lovers have a few ticket options: For $75, folks can gain entry to the event, as well as two drink tickets and two food coupons, and a commemorative bag. However, for $150, folks can get all of the above plus 15 cigars from premium brands. There are additional VIP packages available, too.


Sep. 24-25; Various locations, Midtown, Detroit; Free.

The light has to be at the end of the tunnel, right? Well, organizers of DLectricity, the on-and-off biannual outdoor nighttime Midtown-based art festival that has held several iterations since 2012, is turning the lights back on for 2021 — and the future is looking bright. The event attracted an estimated 250,000 visitors in 2017 and will once again offer free video, light, and interactive art installations from renowned artists from around the world, as well as from Detroit. This year's event will also expand art to downtown's Beacon Park. The event lends itself to remaining flexible regardless of where we're at with the pandemic. Much of the weekend's programming is accessible to view for pedestrians and can be viewed from a car, but getting up close and personal is fine, too.

Funky Ferndale Art Fair

Sept. 24-26; Ferndale; Free.

It might seem confusing but really, it's just super funky. While DIY rages on, the art-focused, less rowdy Funky Ferndale Art Fair funks up the other side of Nine Mile with more than 100 juried artists, spanning all mediums, disciplines, and styles. Not unlike DIY, Funky Ferndale also has food and live entertainment, as well as demonstrations, but new to the longstanding fair is the authors' tent, where visitors can meet with local authors and purchase their signed titles.

DIY Street Fair

Sept. 24-26; Ferndale; Free.

If last year taught us anything, it's that we can do-it-ourselves ... together. From needlepoint (ouch) and imperfect sourdough bread (awww) to hacked up home hacks, as much as we may have attempted to get in touch with our inner-DIYer, we might want to leave the making and creating to the local master crafters and makers who will display their wares at the DIY Street Fair in Ferndale. Championing the DIY spirit since 2008, the community-centered volunteer-run free DIY Street Fair is returning for three days of shopping, eating, dancing, and drinking. In addition to the DIY marketplace, the fair will host an eclectic local music lineup, a gaggle of food trucks, and all the booze. (Thanks, Woodward Avenue Brewers!)

American Speed Festival

Sept. 30-Oct. 3; M1 Concourse, Pontiac; Tickets are $125+.

While we may have missed out on the North American International Auto Show this year (fuck you pandemic!), Michigan's love of cars is full throttle, which is why we've been given some non-NAIAS events to quench our thirst for speed, baby. The American Speed Festival invites car lovers to witness race cars of all eras partake in a speed showdown. The three-day event will include two days spent at the speed ring track where racers will compete in 10 different classes and one day dedicated to exhibiting unique cars, from Can-Am to historic stock cars, and more.

Motor City Comic Con

Oct. 15-17; Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi; Tickets are $30+.

It comes as no surprise that we turned to creature comforts to help us navigate the past year ... and a half ... and counting. And for many of us, that means cracking open a familiar graphic novel, turning on a favorite flick, or surrounding ourselves with our most beloved collectibles. (Not us stroking our limited edition Frasier Funko Pops still in the box.) At Motor City Comic Con, there's room for all of us weirdos, fanatics, freaks, geeks, gleeks, and everyone in between.

For 31 years, Motor City Comic Con has grown into a niche fascination into a must-attend event for more than 60,000 guests each year. There's gaming areas, a marketplace, panel discussions, cosplay contests, and more. In addition to an impressive roster of more than 250 comic writers, illustrators, creators, and the Jim Starlin (the artist and writer who co-created Marvel's Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Shang-Chi), this year's Motor City Comic Con has some major celeb star power. This year, actors Elijah Wood, Breckin Meyer, David Koechner (Anchorman), Catherine Tate, Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), wrestler Britt Baker, Ice-T and wife Coco, N'Sync's Joey Fatone, and Saved By The Bell star Mario Lopez are among the 40-some celebs paying a visit to Motor City Comic Con, all of which have autograph/meet and greet options available for purchase.

Detroit Fall Beer Festival

Oct. 23; Eastern Market, Tickets start at $50-$60.

Where does the time go? One minute we're baking on the sands, er, rocks of Belle Isle Beach, and the next, it's pumpkin spice season. While we may feel like mourning a far from normal summer, there's lots to look forward to in October, including the 12th annual Detroit Fall Beer Festival. Considered one of the largest all-Michigan brew tasting events, well, anywhere, the Detroit Fall Festival is returning for one day, rather than the previous two, for the hoppiest day of your life.

With each ticket purchase, drinkers are awarded 15 drink tokens, and each one allows for a 3-oz. beer sample. Presented by the Michigan Brewers Guild, DBF will feature more than 800 craft beers from close to 120 Michigan breweries. Food will be available for purchase which might as well be a legal requirement when tossing back so many tasty brews. Remember, drive responsibly, or better yet, buy a $5 designated driver ticket.


Oct. 28-31; Cobo Center and Renaissance Center; Tickets start at $65.

Something anime-zing is coming to Detroit. For its 15th year, the heavily costumed Youmacon celebrating Japanese animation, compics, video games, and culture will return to Downtown Detroit after taking a hiatus last year.

Thousands will attend, many of whom will cosplay, or dress as their favorite characters or as their own unique creation. When it debuted in 2005 at the Troy Hilton, Youmacon drew an initial crowd of a little more than 1,000 attendees. The four-day event, which will take place at Detroit's TCF Center, now attracts more than 22,000, making it one of the largest anime cons in North America.

Though the full roster of events has yet to be announced, fan favorites like Live Action Mario Party, tabletop gaming, Clara Cow's Cosplay Cup, a Youmacon Dance Competition, and the Maid Cafe will return to this year's schedule.

Per the event website, organizers are working with the TCF Center to finalize safety protocols, which include mandatory face masks so you may want to get creative and work your mask into your cosplay.

Pig & Whiskey

Oct. 29-31; downtown Ferndale; Free.

Metro Times' and Woodward Avenue Brewers' annual block party is back! Pig & Whiskey features some of Michigan's top barbecue joints, food trucks, live music, craft cocktails, beer, and, of course, whiskey. All ages are welcome — and even vegetarians!

Stay connected with Detroit Metro Times. Subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Google News, Apple News, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit.

Scroll to read more Festival Guide articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.