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National Cherry Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, Horse Show by the Bay Information

Big Questions for the Big Three Festivals

May 13, 2013
Big Questions for the Big Three Festivals

Traverse City's "big three" festivals are coming soon, each facing its own unique challenge in 2013 and beyond. One needs to appeal to a more upscale audience, another needs more "connections" to locals, and the third is finding its identity among its peers. Here's the lowdown:

NATIONAL CHERRY FESTIVAL – June 29-July 6, 2013
What's in Store for 2013: Now in its 87th year, the National Cherry Festival (NCF) is putting a modern twist on some of its traditional components, introducing the first-ever night air show and ramping up the Bay Side Music Stage with acts like Foreigner and Montgomery Gentry. The Global Wine Pavilion is gone this year, but culinary classic Cherries D'Vine is back.

Can It Go Upscale? Part of NCF's broad community appeal is its endless array of free or inexpensive entertainment, from parades to carnival rides to cheap eats. But for those seeking a more upscale experience, high-end options at the festival have historically been limited.

Cognizant of the opportunity to diversify its customer base, NCF has taken a number of steps in recent years to offer premium experiences for attendees looking to indulge. Special Air Show Galas at the Park Place Hotel, reserved seating at festival concerts, and elegant epicurean events like Cherries D'Vine are all designed to appeal to audiences seeking out more swank offerings.

“Our theme is 'Generations of Fun,' and for us that means appealing to as many different groups of people as possible,” says NCF Executive Director Trevor Tkach. “It's a balancing act. We've got a great lineup already...but we're always looking for ways to bring new demographics into the fold.”

HORSE SHOWS BY THE BAY – July 3-28 and August 2-4, 2013
What's in Store for 2013: The prestigious equestrian festival returns to the 84-acre Flintfields Horse Park in Williamsburg for a nearly five-week series of events, bringing in an estimated 1,500 horses and some 3,000 competitors and support staff. In celebration of the festival's tenth anniversary, organizers have added six new $10,000 awards to this year's event.

How Will It Engage Locals? Horse Shows by the Bay contributes an estimated $12 million annually to the local economy. Yet due to its niche focus, many area residents have never experienced the festival – or are even aware when it's underway.

Show owner and operator Alex Rheinheimer says increasing local engagement is a complex undertaking. While community sponsors underwrite the festival and spectators add to the atmosphere and help sustain the sport, equestrian events – which prize distraction-free environments for competitors – also demand special crowd etiquette. A sudden noise or movement in the stands, even if unintentional, could dangerously throw off an animal or rider.

To help spread awareness of show etiquette and engage more locals with the event, Horse Shows by the Bay is hosting a community Kids Day on July 6 and a Family Day on July 20. The festival is also increasing promotion for its weekend Grand Prix events, where competitors and animals are more acclimated to crowds. “We want people to come out and enjoy the events, but we also have to protect the environment for the competitors,” Rheinheimer explains. “These events are a perfect way for us to do both.”

TRAVERSE CITY FILM FESTIVAL – July 30-August 4, 2013
What's in Store for 2013:
Most of the well-known elements of the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) will be back in 2013, including the filmmakers panels, festival parties, film school and Open Space movies. One major new addition: TCFF recently received approval to use the City's Con Foster Museum in Clinch Park as a year-round, 150-seat movie theater called Bijou by the Bay, which will open in time for this year's event.

What's Its Identity? TCFF has grown exponentially each of its past nine years, enjoying widespread local support and undeniable success. But how does it rank against other renowned film festivals, such as Sundance and Tribeca? Answering that question (along with key others, such as whether booking celebrities or first-time filmmakers is a bigger priority for the event, and whether staff will continue to hand-pick films or convert to an open submissions process) poses a number of challenges for organizers. But tackling them promises to help TCFF refine its identity in the years ahead – and ensure its long-term sustainability in the process.

“We're coming up on our tenth anniversary (in 2014), which tends to be a time when many festivals come into their own and figure out...what makes them special,” says TCFF Executive Director Deb Lake. She notes that while TCFF will never be an “industry festival,” such as Sundance, organizers are ready to consider new possibilities going forward, including formally assisting films in finding distribution and taking on more submissions.

“It's a special time for us. We're on the brink of self-identifying,” says Lake. “I think our tenth anniversary will be a really big year for us.”

Posted: Monday, May 13, 2013 12:05 PM by Jon Becker

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