Right on the heels of America’s biggest block party comes the best beach party on Lake Huron. The Harbor Beach Maritime Festival takes place the weekend after the Independence Day festivities in the small town nestled along the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan’s Thumb. It’s four days filled with music, sand, water and sun – combined with some of the friendliest and welcoming people in all of the Great Lakes State.
The Maritime Festival is most known for its open-door policy: concerts on the beach with no cover charge. That’s right, you heard me right, no cover charge! This is not a limited time offer (although operators are standing by) and has been that way since the festival began in 2001. What began as a celebration to commemorate the transfer of ownership of the Harbor Beach Lighthouse from the federal government to the City of Harbor Beach, it has now turned into a city-wide party with some of the biggest talent in the Midwest.
This year’s festival features 13 different music acts on two separate stages. The Hooligans kick off the music Thursday night during the self-proclaimed “largest bocce tournament this side of the Mason Dixon Line.” Whether that is considered Fake News or not, it doesn’t change the fact that there are 64 four-person bocce teams playing on 20 courts just feet from a Great Lake.
Friday pushes the Maritime Festival into full gear with both music stages underway, the weekly Farmer’s Market on the Murphy lawn, a 64-team corn-hole tournament (this is the Midwest after all…) with the party going all the way until Midnight. Imagine yourself on a beautiful sandy beach, enjoying a cold beverage (that you brought yourself and didn’t have to purchase on site), listening to some excellent live music, conversing with friends, admiring the World’s Greatest Man-Made Harbor, the Harbor Beach Lighthouse and suddenly Mother Nature reveals a massive constellation and star galaxy right above your head. ALL OF THIS COULD BE YOURS IF…. you’re in Harbor Beach July 6th through the 9th (the author of this post is a game show host…). It truly is a remarkable sight and every band that has performed at Maritime over the 17-year history says the same thing “this is truly the best place we have ever played.”
If you didn’t have too much fun Friday night, you can join the 300+ runners and walkers for the Harbor Beach Community Hospital 5k. Considered one of the most beautiful courses in the state, it begins beach-side and follows the shoreline on the Harbor View Trail (paved) all the way to the Marina, onto the break-wall and back to the beach for the final push. If a Great Lake can’t motivate you to run faster, nothing will (that’s my excuse at least).
Shortly after, the H&R Block Jet Ski Invitational gets underway on the same course the professionals used to race on; and if you really feel like putting your body through the ringer, sign your team up for the beach volleyball tournament, beginning at 10am. Music begins at 1pm and officially starts the all-day beach party. The beach and water is open to the public and be sure to take advantage of our hidden gem. A small village of inflatables is available for everyone to enjoy (free of charge) and the Harbor Beach Conservation Club display is next door.
At 1pm the fast-paced world that we live in comes to a screeching halt as the world-famous Maritime Festival Frog-Jumping Contest begins. Imagine living in the time of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer while watching contestants get their favorite amphibian to jump the furthest (collective length after three jumps). This event is definitely a crowd favorite. Due to eligibility issues of some of the international competitors, the hot dog eating contest is taking a one-year sabbatical (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – actually the host has a wedding out of town…).
All the while on Saturday, music continues to fill the light offshore breeze from the stage underneath the tent and the mainstage, featuring our freshly-completed mobile stage. This has been three years in the making and gives Harbor Beach the ability to have a pop-up concert, whenever and wherever we so choose. It is definitely an added benefit to the community.
The music acts continue into the night and keep getting better, leading up to the best fireworks in the state of Michigan…after the 4th of July. But for real, as David Letterman used to say “call the dog, wake the children, call your neighbor, because this is an extravaganza you don’t want to miss!” A spectacular spectacle of American Patriotism lights up the summer sky over the harbor just after dusk (typically 10:15pm). Any spot from the beach or water is a great way to view the 25-minute fireworks show. Immediately after the last shell, Brett Mitchell and the Giant Ghost retakes the stage and rocks out until the cows come home (actually much later than that).
Sunday brings a wrap to the festival with an ecumenical service in the morning, a fish fry, car show, dueling pianos and the community big money cash raffle. It truly takes an army to make this festival happen and we are extremely grateful for those who make it a reality. It is an expensive venture, but is made possible by very generous businesses and sponsors so that the Maritime Festival can remain a free and fun event for all to enjoy.
So tell your friends, clear your calendar and turn your iPhones to “Do Not Disturb” because everything is happening down at the beach, in Harbor Beach.
For more information and to register for events, go to www.TheMaritimeFestival.com
Harbor Beach: Life’s at ease, with an offshore breeze!
Clark Ramsey is a former Chairman of the Harbor Beach Maritime Festival and remains on the festival committee presently. He was born and raised in Harbor Beach and chose to make it his home after graduating from Michigan State University in 2011. Clark is the vice-chair of the Harbor Beach Parks & Recreation Commission, sits on the Harbor Beach Planning Commission and hosts various events throughout the area – most notably, The Harbor Beach Gameshow Series which takes place every Mother’s Day weekend at the Harbor Beach Community Theatre. It is his goal in life to spread the gospel of the great things Harbor Beach has to offer, and bring Harbor Beach up in conversation as much as possible (eight times in this profile alone). His day job is the Director of Marketing at Scheurer Hospital, while moonlighting at his own production company, Clark Ramsey Productions; sports broadcasting with The WLEW Sports Network, and is the founder of a non-existent business, The Clark Ramsey Manor. He enjoys boating, porch-sitting, tennis, Spartan Athletics, reading books, candle-lit dinners, long walks on the beach and complaining about the weather.