It’s official: The state’s biggest Labor Day weekend festival is canceled – but will be replaced by a series of drive-in concerts, online performances, food truck events and appointment art viewing.
Soaring Eagle Arts, Beats & Eats was to have marked its 23rd year this September, but as the coronavirus pandemic rolls on, organizers have pulled the plug on the Royal Oak fest.
“We said all along we’d need six weeks to put together an event,” said director Jon Witz. “With the complexity of both the safety protocols needed and the lack of certainty that state policies will be changing, there was no other path for us. It’s just not meant to be for us and other large events in 2020.”
AB&E will instead roll out a slate of activities led by “The Beats Go On,” which aims to present more than 400 local performers and generate up to half a million dollars for area musicians whose work has dried up in recent months.
“We just want to take the resources of our event and our promotional partners to continue the spirit of not only art, music and food, but to make an impact on people that have participated in the past and are in significant need right now,” Witz said.
Most participating artists will stage streaming shows on social-media platforms Aug. 27-Sept. 3. Bands will seek individual donations from the performances, and further benefit from a broader public fundraising campaign being seeded with $10,000 from the Arts, Beats & Eats Foundation.
Details on the distribution of revenue to musicians can be found .
The public fundraising will likely be supplemented by matching funds from Oakland County, said Dave Woodward, chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners. He said he expects to announce precise details about the county’s contribution during the next week, and is reaching out to peers in Wayne and Macomb to collaborate on direct assistance for affected artists across the region.
“We know that musicians particularly have been hard hit during this pandemic because venues have been closed or operating at reduced capacity,” said Woodward. “We want to lean in, in a significant way.”
The second phase of “The Beats Go On,” Sept. 4-7, will feature 40 acts in drive-in concerts at 6th and Main streets in Royal Oak, traditional site of AB&E’s main music stage. Admission will be $30 per vehicle, with a variety of distancing protocols and other safety guidelines in place.
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Artists will include AB&E mainstays such as Thornetta Davis, the Reefermen, Orbitsuns, Your Generation in Concert and Larry Lee & the Back in the Day Band.
The fest’s traditional juried arts show will give way this year to “Art By Appointment,” with 20 artists showcasing their work online and scheduling in-person visits with patrons Labor Day weekend – again involving a series of health protocols.
As for food, “Eats on Your Streets” will feature food trucks situated Labor Day weekend in neighborhoods in Royal Oak, Clawson, Berkley, Huntington Woods and Ferndale.
The weekend will also include a 100-person fitness dance (Sept. 5) and 100-person hot yoga class (Sept. 6).
AB&E officials worked with the Oakland County Health Department to craft guidelines for the various gatherings.
Witz, who founded the festival in 1998, has spearheaded a committee of more than 100 Michigan event producers, concert promoters and venue operators, working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office to devise guidelines for gatherings as Michigan moves through its reopening phases.