'The long wait is over:' Soaring Eagle Arts Beats & Eats returns Labor Day weekend

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

One of Michigan's hottest four-day summer festivals returns Labor Day weekend after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus and organizers say to  expect some big names in music along with hundreds of artists and new food vendors.

The Soaring Eagle Arts Beats & Eats festival, presented by Flagstar Bank, kicks off Sept. 3 and will feature more than 200 performances on nine stages, a juried fine art show with roughly 120 artists and dozens of local restaurants and food trucks spread over an 18-block area in downtown Royal Oak. This year's festival -- previewed at a press event Tuesday -- runs through Sept. 6.

“The long await is over,” said Raul Venegas, executive director of marketing, entertainment & sales for Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, which marks its third year as the festival's title sponsor. "We’re eager to come together to enjoy live music, amazing art and mouthwatering cuisine. It feels good to be back and we’re looking forward to giving back to the community that has stepped up tremendously in the fight against the pandemic so we can all return to normalcy."

Lead guitarist Nick DiStefano catches some air during 'If Walls Could Talk' at Arts, Eats and Beats.

Thousands flock to downtown Royal Oak for Labor Day weekend every year to check out new bands, sample foods and see the art at Arts Beats & Eats. This year's festival, which will operate at full capacity, marks a return to normal after organizers canceled last year's event, instead creating a drive-in concert type format with limited capacity.

Festival-goers will find one convenient new change this year. For the first time since 1998, tickets won't be required to purchase food or drinks. Instead, attendees will buy food and drinks directly from restaurants and bars with cash or credit cards.

“It’s less waiting in line and less touch points," said festival producer Jon Witz. "This is a one year experiment for us. We’re going to see how it goes. It’s interesting from a business model to not to be able to monitor how our businesses and vendors are doing. It’s also a safety piece, to not have as much cash around. I think the consumers will enjoy it."

This year's music acts won't be announced until early August but expect some big names. Witz said the opening night band will be one of the biggest in the festival's history.

Attendees "will see a little step up in our music talents," said Witz. "That’ll be new."

Arts Beats & Eats draws thousands every year to downtown Royal Oak.

As far as COVID protocols, Witz said they'll have hand sanitizing stations set up throughout the festival along with increased cleaning efforts but masks aren't required. Signs will posted asking unvaccinated attendees to wear masks.

"It’s voluntary," said Witz. "We’re not testing people, we aren’t asking for (vaccine) cards. We’re going to put up signs that say if you chose to enter and aren’t vaccinated, we’re going to ask you to wear a mask."

Another new component this year will be the House of Dank Lounge at 6th and Center Streets. Presented by one of the festival's new sponsors, House of Dank, it'll feature special seating, strolling entertainers and the performance pit stage. 

Between 300,000 and 350,000 people typically come out for Arts Beats & Eats each year. Witz said it's the kind of festival that's perfect for people-watching and "hits all all demographics, all music tastes, food tastes, art tastes and we’re only a small fee to get in."

But even as the festival returns to normal, sponsorships are down. Witz said they're still looking for about $200,000 in sponsorships before Labor Day weekend.

Still, it's back, Witz said.

"We usually bill ourselves as the end of summer celebration," said Witz. "I‘m hoping we can bill ourselves as the beginning of life celebration" after COVID.

For details about Arts Beats & Eats, go to artsbeatseats.com.