Ford Arts Beats and Eats fest brings summer to close

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

The nearly 200 bands that will play Ford Arts Beats and Eats this weekend are about a third of the almost 600 musical submissions the festival received this year.

The festival runs Friday through Monday, marking its seventh year in downtown Royal Oak and its 19th year overall. As the name suggests, the event includes both a juried art show and offerings from more than 40 Metro area restaurants. But the most robust element of the event, and arguably its biggest draw, is the music.

That’s thanks to a painstaking music selection process dedicated to showcasing a broad spectrum of new and established local artists. Festival organizers solicit online music submissions and actively scout talent at other local events for several months each year.

Working from that pool of talent, festival music liaison Jaime Martin says the event’s music committee listens to every single submission. The committee’s 10 to 12 members are plucked from various corners of the Detroit music scene, including producers, sound engineers and stage managers.

“We want to have a good, round perspective coming into this,” Martin says.

From there, the committee rates each act and slowly comes to a consensus as to which will make the cut. The festival rules out metal and hardcore rap acts, but otherwise the genre boundaries are wide open. The festival includes dedicated stages for rock, country, jazz and R&B and international music. Out-of-state submissions usually don’t make the cut.

“We really want to keep it local,” says festival music coordinator Lori Witz. “We want to employ local artists, in and around Detroit.”

Martin says organizers usually try to keep a healthy blend of both well-known acts and up-and-comers. But she says she and her colleagues made a special effort to bring in new blood this year, estimating that about 40 percent of this year’s acts are newcomers.

“The music scene in Detroit is amazing and it’s really solid, but it’s also growing,” Martin says. “So we’re trying to open it up.”

One of the freshest acts this year is the electro-tinged indie-rock band Lilac Lungs. The group formed just last year and scored a set at Detroit River Days earlier this summer. Three of the group’s four members are just 20 years old.

Lilac Lungs will be among the fresh faces to take the stage.

Lilac Lungs guitarist and vocalist Johney Birrell says it was “kind of a shock” when Martin scouted the group after their River Days appearance.

“We were really, really stoked,” says the Grand Blanc resident. “Everyone knows that’s the festival of the end of the year, the end of the summer.”

Even for performance veterans, the festival holds special excitement. Ferndale-based singer-songwriter Jill Jack played the very first Arts Beats and Eats and is one of the few performers who have returned almost every year since then. Jack describes the event as an end-of-summer tradition for the band.

Ferndale-based Jill Jack played the first festival and has returned almost every year since.

“We’ve always had a blast playing it,” Jack says. “We’re all really burnt out from all the festivals, and we know it’s probably the last one we’ll be playing outside, so we all just dive into it with that mentality: Let’s just really make it fun.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Ford Arts Beats and Eats

11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sun.; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.

Downtown Royal Oak

Admission: Free before 5 p.m., $5 after 5 p.m. Fri; $3 before 3 p.m. and $5 after 3 p.m. Sat., Sun. and Mon.

(248) 541-7550