Cherries have been my favorite fruit for as long as I can remember.
That’s why I get excited each July when the National Cherry Festival takes over Traverse City.
Last year, for the second time, I was lucky enough to experience the annual cherry mania first-hand. And it was just as much fun as the first time around when the kids were little.
This time, we were able to spend more time sipping cherry wine and cherry-infused beer with our 22-year-old daughter and, admittedly, a little less time watching some of the three cherry-themed parades so beloved by the locals.
We also got to sample tasty cherry treats — which are everywhere — from cherry beef jerky and cherry brats with cherry mustard chutney to cherry salsa, cherry ice cream, cherry lemonade and cherry-studded brownies. An estimated 40,000 pounds of cherries — that’s 20 tons! — are consumed during the eight-day festival, which typically draws about a half-million visitors.
For us, a festival highlight was watching the U.S Navy Blue Angels perform amazing maneuvers over sparkling West Grand Traverse Bay from the patio of the Blues, Brews and BBQ event at the Hagerty Center.
This year, crowds may thrill to the flying derring-do — and ear-piercing sounds — of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who will take to the festival skies, for the first time in 25 years, on opening weekend, July 4 and 5. A full practice drill is set for July 3 for early arrivals.
Tickets are available for the July 4 blues and barbecue event or a Great American Picnic buffet on July 5; both feature many locally-sourced products. A combination ticket, $70 per adult, is offered for airshow and culinary fans who want to attend both events — and enjoy prime bayside viewing seats — at the Hagerty Center near downtown.
Kicking off the festival weekend on July 4 will be the family-friendly Very Cherry Pancake Breakfast showcasing the crazy flippers of Clare-based Chris Cakes of Michigan, who put on a fun-filled pancake-flipping show. They flipped 3,500 pancakes last year and have their sights set on 4,600 this year. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 for children 12 and under and free for babies 2 and under.
Nearly 80 percent of the festival’s 150 events are free, according to executive director Trevor Tkach. But the fastest-selling ticket in festival history, he says, is for “Weird Al” Yankovic. Tickets are flying out the door for his 8 p.m. show on July 5 at the 5,000-seat Bay Side Music Stage. Other headliners during the eight-day festival include Joan Jett, Gloriana, the Charlie Daniels Band, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Tonic. For a full schedule of events, check www.cherryfestival.org.
And start practicing now for the cherry pit-spitting contest. The festival record to date is 54 feet.
You’ll find craft brews from several Michigan breweries, including special cherry-infused beers by Petoskey’s Bravo Zulu Brewery and Petoskey Brewery, in the Michigan Tap Trailer, along with Cherry Riesling from Chateau Grand Traverse winery and apple cherry cider from Uncle John’s Hard Cider near Lansing.
Cheers to cherries!