As Summer Events Return to EL, Here Is an Overview

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Visitors enjoying the art at a previous East Lansing Arts Festival.

Summer time is in full swing, and East Lansing is bursting with free, outdoor events – everything from live music, dusk-time movies in the park, children’s events, a farmers’ markets, art festivals, and yoga. Here’s a rundown of some free, fun, and local events to mark down in your calendars.

The City of East Lansing’s Community Events & Park Stewardship Specialist Justin Drwencke spoke about the variety of upcoming outdoor events.

“We’re incredibly excited to bring back the full slate of community events this summer,” Drwencke said. “It was really disappointing when we had to cancel last summer, but obviously, maintaining the health of the community was our number one priority.”

Summer Concert Series

The return of live music is here, and it’s got us humming!

Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

People listen to a concert in the Ann Street Plaza.

The East Lansing Summer Concert Series kicked off July 9, and runs through Aug. 27 (excluding Aug. 6) on Friday nights from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in downtown East Lansing’s Ann Street Plaza. Attendees can bring their own lawn chairs or soak up the free entertainment while dining from various local restaurants in the Albert EL Fresco pedestrian area between Abbot Rd. And M.A.C. Ave. The area features tables, rocking chairs, hammocks, large outdoor games, and shaded areas for the daytime and lighting for the evening.

Drwencke said the concerts feature local and/or Michigan-based artists. “It’s really important for us to highlight Michigan-based performers for the summer concert series, and showcase the local talent that we have,” he said.

The musical lineup of Michigan-based artists includes:

  • Jordan Hamilton on July 16.
  • Taylor Taylor on July 23.
  • Monte Pride on July 30.
  • Matt Gabriel on Aug. 13.
  • Z Collective on Aug. 20.
  • Cross Eyed Strangers on Aug. 27.

Moonlight Film Festival

Outdoor movies are a staple for many families’ summer staycation plans and were greatly missed last year. Pending weather, the Moonlight Film Festival offers residents the chance to see their favorite movie on the big screen, while enjoying views of Valley Court Park. Movies start at 9:30 p.m. in July, and 9 p.m. in August. Chairs and blankets are welcome to this all-ages event.

Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

Movies will be shown this summer in Valley Court Park.

Drwencke said they use a built-in stage on the former BWL building that’s right in the middle of the park, and the films are projected on the side of the building.

The film lineup includes:

  • Raya and the Last Dragon on Thurs. July 15.
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010) on Wed. July 28.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Thurs. Aug. 12.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) on Wed. Aug. 25.

Drwencke said the 2010 version of the “Alice in Wonderland” movie will be shown to tie-in with the All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre production of Alice in Wonderland on July 30, Aug. 1, and Aug.6-8.

Play in the Park

This one’s especially designed for younger folks and is quickly becoming a local favorite for East Lansing families with children. Play in the Park is billed by the City as an “interactive children’s entertainment series,” and attendees are invited to bring a picnic, blankets, and chairs to enjoy free, family-friendly educational entertainment in Patriarche Park at 7 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

Play in the Park is a newer event but a family favorite in many households.

Drwencke said the event, previously held in Valley Court Park, moved locations. “This year, we’re taking advantage of the soon-to-be newly renovated pavilion at Patriarche Park. That is targeted to be complete at the beginning of July, and we’ll be showcasing that updated facility to the community by holding “Play in the Park” there, which should provide an excellent opportunity for families as well, given the playground and all of the other amenities provided in that park.”

Talent lineup includes Michigan Science Center on Wed. Aug. 4 and another yet to be confirmed event on Tues. Aug. 17.

Yoga on Albert

This one’s to get your body moving and your blood flowing, all while enjoying a fresh, outdoor workout. Sara Joy Yoga will host Yoga on Albert on Sat. July 17 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Albert EL Fresco pedestrian area. All bodies, genders, ages, and abilities are welcome. Participants should bring their own mat or towel.

Farmers’ Market

Also a local fan favorite since 2009, the 2021 East Lansing Farmers’ Market season includes a weekly event every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Valley Court Park, now through the end of October. This open-air market features 100% Michigan homegrown produce, fruit, bread, cheese, meat, coffee, flowers, and more.

East Lansing Art Festival

After a successful virtual event last year, the 2021 East Lansing Art Festival (ELAF) is proud to host the annual festival in-person on Aug. 7 and 8. What began as a sidewalk street fair has grown to one of the state’s most popular art events with over 180 artists and vendors on display. It usually attracts 60,000 to 70,000 people over the two-day weekend event.

ELAF Festival Coordinator and Art Initiatives Coordinator for the City of East Lansing Heather Majano spoke about her excitement for the festival, considering she’s been planning it for years now. Postponing the event from May to August was a gamble, but since most Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the City is now able to host an in-person event.

Photo courtesy of the City of East Lansing.

People enjoy the East Lansing Art Festival in pre-pandemic times.

Majano spoke about a few things that are different within this year’s event.

“We wanted to reduce the footprint so that we could have more space to spread out and have social-distancing options. It’s less important now because restrictions are lifted, but we still maintain that smaller footprint so our visitors have room to spread out,” she said.

Usually, the artists are on either side of the street, but this year, they’ll be on the Northside of the street. On M.A.C. Ave., artists will be on the south side between Albert Ave. and Grand River, according to Majano.

“We’ll have lots of table areas and EL Fresco will still be open, and we’ll have places to catch up without gathering at the artist booths and blocking the art,” Majano said.

The festival will feature 85 artists, a smaller number than typical, but designed to ensure enough distancing space is available. In 2019, the festival hosted 150 artists, but Majano said the 2022 event is slated to surpass that with 200 artists. The artist performer and artist demonstration lineup is on the ELAF website. Food trucks will also be present for attendees to taste-test local cuisine.

“We’re really excited we can have this in-person event, but we’re also working to have some virtual offerings so you can still be a part of the festival and not come downtown if you don’t feel comfortable with that yet. We’re looking at having some artist interviews behind-the-scenes, and we have a volunteer who is going to be recording some of the performances and artist demonstrations and livestreaming them to our Facebook page as well,” Majano said.

“In years past, we had a poetry reading in the evening of the first night, and instead of doing that live, we actually had all the poets reading their poems and recording them on YouTube. We’ll have a poetry reading schedule on the ELAF Facebook page over the weekend as well.”

Typically, the event is organized to take place in-tandem with the MSU Spring Arts & Crafts Fair, but the University made the call in February 2021 to cancel this year’s festival.

Those interested in volunteering for the 2021 ELAF can sign up here.

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