COVID-19 cancels Michigan’s largest free festival

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Jillian Felton / Michigan State University

The Lapeer Days website sharing that the event has been cancelled due to COVID-19.

The aromas from vendors that travel from all over the country and crowds filled with people that come from near and far won’t be present in Lapeer this year. 

Michigan’s largest free festival since 1902, Lapeer Days, will not be happening this year because of COVID-19. Neda Payne, director of the Lapeer Chamber of Commerce, said that everything for the event is run through the chamber office. There is a committee of about 25 people, and everyone handles a different aspect of the festival. Payne said that the festival  fortifies the economy in Lapeer County and estimates the event brings in 300-400 thousand dollars each year. 

“Our hotels are always full, the restaurants in the downtown area are very busy, the gas stations usually are making a ton of money,” Payne said. “The businesses were very sad that the festival was cancelled because that’s their biggest venue generating weekend of the year.”

Not only is this an economic loss for the businesses in the City of Lapeer, this is a loss for the vendors that rely on events like Lapeer Days as a source of income. A vendor at the festival for the past 23 years travels from North Carolina to share his cooking. William Robson, better known as Bayou Billy, expected the event to be cancelled and has lost a lot of income this year from festivals being cancelled due to COVID-19. 

“When all the COVID-19 stuff started happening I thought to myself where there goes a lot of my income,” Robson said. “We are still trying to put something on for Lapeer this year where we set up a stand at a business so our supporters can come and see us.”

Robson said that he really enjoys the Lapeer Days Festival and that’s why he has come back to the festival so many years in a row. This is the first year since he started coming that the event has been cancelled. The reason that he’s come back so many times is for his fans. 

“After being at this event for as long as we have I’ve watched somebody’s 6 year old grow up, and that 6 year old grew up and brought his girlfriend, and then they started a family and brought their kids.” Robson said. “The reason we keep coming back is because people keep coming back.”

Not only do the vendors do a lot of work to make the festival the way it is, so do the live musicians. One band that was supposed to play for their third time at Lapeer Days is Frame 42. The band is made up of multiple young musicians: Ben Dalgeish, 17, is a rhythm guitarist. Lucas Jacobs, 15, plays the drums. Brock Morris, 15, plays the bass guitar. Ava Morris, 17, and Arianna Smith, 19, are both lead singers, and Michael Farmer, 17, plays the lead guitar. The festival being cancelled came as an upset they said.

“We were promised the main stage and a late time slot on the weekend this year,” Smith said. “Last year we remember they gave us an 11 a.m. time slot on a Friday and the audience just wasn’t the best.”

The crowd energy is something that Fame 42 all agreed on is important to them. Songs like “Barracuda” by Heart and “Highway Tune” by Greta Van Fleet are two of the typical crowd favorites. The band said they are eager to get back on stage again soon and they are excited to bring the music to the Lapeer Days crowd next year they said.

Jillian Felton / Michigan State University

Members of the band Frame 42 during the Zoom call interview.

“A lot of people in Lapeer are into local music so it’s always good for us to play in our hometown,” Smith said. “We will be back to play next year.”

Whether it’s the music that people will miss hearing this year, or the taste of the famous sample platters from Bayou Billy’s, Payne said that Lapeer Days being cancelled this year means that people will be chomping at the bit for the festival next year. 

“Lapeer is not a wealthy county, for a lot of people coming to this festival it’s the equivalent to going to Cedar Point for the weekend, and for some families it’s the equivalent of going to Disney World,” Payne said. “I’m looking forward to bigger and better next year and am hoping the community will see Lapeer Days in a different light and appreciate it more.” 

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