Venetian festivals contain a wide variety of events, but are usually centered around a beachfront, boating community. Since Michigan is full of boaters and surrounded with waterfront, we have a few Venetian festivals throughout the state—from Charlevoix’s Venetian Festival further north (which was featured on the awesome mitten!) to St. Joseph’s huge Venetian Festival further south, which occurred earlier this summer.
A committee was formed ten years ago by Don Karaus, the main festival organizer, to begin planning a Venetian Festival for the Saugatuck area. “Officially we started doing some stuff eight or nine years ago and it’s been going on, on and off, since then,” according to Karaus. Don and two other directors organize the annual event, while 50-60 volunteers help run it each year. He also explained how the festival has grown over the years. Beginning as just a one night event, since last year the Saugatuck Venetian Festival now spans three days and includes a much wider range of events.
The festival began yesterday in Coughlin Park at 5:30p.m., with a balloon clown, face painting, and games for kids. Tents serving wine, beer and liquor, along with food from local restaurants were in full swing. A costume contest centered on this year’s theme of “Cartoons and Superheroes” also took place, with kids and adults adorned in cartoon-y garb. Near 8:00 p.m. the East Lansing based band Star Farm took the stage and played all the favorite 80s songs, dressed appropriately in brightly colored jumpsuits. If you missed the kickoff party last night, you still have a chance to see the festival’s highlights today and tonight.
From 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, downtown Saugatuck will host local and out of state artists for an art fair. Booths offering fine arts and crafts will be scattered about downtown. Saugatuck has a vibrant community of artists and art admirers, so it should be a good showing.
If you get hungry from walking around town browsing the booths of art, check out Old Wilkins Hardware store at 439 Butler St. (Saugatuck’s main downtown street), where a chicken BBQ begins at 11a.m. and serves great food until 5p.m.
At 1 p.m. the Dinghy Poker Run launches from Coughlin Park. Saugatuck is located on Kalamazoo Lake and spread out across the lake’s shoreline are seven locations, each with an envelope containing one playing card. The dinghys (small rubber motor boats) “run” from stop to stop, collecting a total of seven cards. Whichever dinghy has the best poker hand by the end wins and prizes will be unveiled at the end of the festival. Karaus expects there to be over 200 dinghys competing in this year’s run!
More live music begins at 6 p.m. in Wicks Park, which ushers in the annual lighted boat parade at 9:15 p.m. Around 20 boats usually participate in this parade along Saugatuck’s waterfront, using Christmas and neon lights, balloons, paint and whatever else boaters can find to decorate their boats in line with the theme “Cartoons and Superheroes.” There will be official judges to pick the best decorated boat. The designs tend to get pretty extravagant and onlookers get very enthusiastic and vocal in cheering on their favorite parade entries—an enthusiasm likely aided by all of the great waterfront bars, such as the Butler, Coral Gables and the Mermaid. Following the boat parade is a spectacular fireworks display over Kalamazoo Lake.
Sunday’s events are a little more low key, beginning with a classic car show on Griffith St. from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At noon in Coughlin Park there will be more kids activities—face painting, snow cones, a moon walk, balloons and arts and crafts. The festival will be rounded out around 2:30 p.m. when the judges will present the awards for the dinghy run and boat parade at the Coughlin Park Gazebo. ~Mike Guisinger, Regional Director
A condensed schedule and more info can be found at saugatuckvenetianfestival.com.