Ann Arbor Summer Fest and Highland BBQ Competition

Now that summer is really and truly here (and I’ve become such a Michigander that 85 and humid is feeling SUPER hot…words that would have never left my mouth in any other Baltimore year), Ann Arbor is seriously busy.  Knowing that there is a limited amount of time when being outdoors will be physically comfortable (I had a dream the other night that it started snowing and summer was over and I started crying…just kidding…but I was sad), Ann Arborites (and all Michiganians – also acceptable nomenclature) jam as many activities as possible into that time.  The Huron River is literally PACKED with kayakers and tubers…I don’t know how a river can be packed, but it is.  You can’t even get the oar in the water without hitting someone in the face.

The number of potential activities one can partake in is kind of overwhelming, but don’t even think about trying to sit outside for dinner because all those seats are already taken.

There are tons of festivals and fairs – at least one a weekend – and some, like the Summer Festival, last almost a month.  The Summer Festival comprises outdoor movies, concerts, workshops, beer-gardens and more, mostly concentrated on UMich Central Campus, but with certain events taking place elsewhere around town.  Mark and I had wandered around one morning before anything got going.

A2SF stage beer gardenLight installationThis was an inflatable light installation that you walk around inside of, but when we tried to go last weekend, the wait was about an hour and a half, so we gave up.  But we heard it was cool.

Mark and I went with some friends Friday night to the Summer Fest with a picnic to listen to a folk band and take in the scene.  And the scene was kids.  Granted we went at 7pm and didn’t stay for the late-night DJ that started after 11, but it was like strollers-on-parade.

band bell tower The sun hitting the bell tower made the lines look so sharp and like the clock was floating off of the wall.

The evening started amicably enough…we sat on the lawn and chatted…watched the costumed French drum-line as they marched around after the band’s set.  And then as the sun was starting to set, things started to get a bit more tense.  An overabundance of excitement, missed bedtimes and ice cream came back around, and everywhere we looked, kids were crying, screaming, kicking and furiously straining on their stroller belts.  Parents realized they had pushed the limit and started packing up, while toddlers ran off in the other direction, tried to pour water on one another, or clawed at the sugary dregs of that purple sno-cone.

While I’m sure things would have calmed down again after the familial set retreated and the adults-only groups took their spots, we had sat on the ground long enough and so also took our leave to the comforts of faux-leather chairs and adult beverages at Knight’s, a new branch of an old steakhouse downtown.

The next day, Mark and I set out north to Highland, Michigan, where one of his co-workers, James, was competing in a bar-b-que contest.  This was James’ first competitive cooking challenge, which he entered because he just wanted to cook out and no one took him up on his offer to come chez lui for a backyard bbq.  Whatever works.

highland garden Cute community gardenjamesJames

James, originally from Georgia, now of Ypsilanti, is building his own grill in his backyard, but since that wasn’t transportable, he purchased a new grill for the occasion.  When we arrived, he had it fired up, and was just prepping the beer-can chickens to go on.  He made three kinds: jerk chicken, Creole butter, and Hawaiian (which we didn’t get to taste since it didn’t cook all the way through by the time it started raining and we had to pack up).  He entered the jerk in the competition, along with pork ribs and his vinegar-based BBQ sauce (which tasted like a delicious BBQ-Bloody Mary mix).

stuffing chickens Prepping the chickens with beer cans (apparently the beer steams on the grill and flavors/moistens the inside of the chicken…my college roommate used to do this with Coke or Dr Pepper I think).shoveling coal Shoveling coals in the grillour grill chickens coals chickens on the grill

Although he didn’t win in any of the three categories, everything turned out really well, and one of the judges brought his whole family over to taste “the best chicken.”  The judge said he was disappointed James didn’t have a restaurant or anywhere he could place an order!!  So that’s a great vote of confidence!

chicken and ribs on grillCooking the ribs and chicken

chickens cooking Chicken’s almost done!

cut ribs Sliced ribsCreole butter chickenCreole butter chicken

There were 18 entrants along “BBQ Row” many of whom had campers or trailers with full kitchens.  People had smokers, rotisseries, charcoal or wood-fired grills.  I don’t think I saw anyone else doing whole chickens like James; a lot of people chose just to do thighs or drums; so lots of credit to him.  It definitely came down to the wire in terms of cooking time!

smoker2 smoker The guys across from us had this big BBQ/smoker and a mobile home

ribs close up ribs peppers in rotisserieSome competitor’s ribs that had a nice kick to them (no one was allowed to sell their food due to health code, but if you were friendly, you’d get some tastes).  Some peppers cooking in a rotisserie (aka one of those raffle spinners) over wood.

horseshoe This lucky horseshoe/grill door handle must’ve work because these folks placed in a category or two.

grill1 Gas-fired

gingerbread churchHard to see the architectural detail on this gingerbread church

copa di vino If anyone watches Shark Tank, remember Copa di Vino (single serving peel-the-lid wine glasses)?  Well here it is.  Didn’t try it though.

A huge storm rolled in which forced everyone to pack up a little faster and make their way over to the beer tent to await the winners announcement on the main stage, where bands had been playing all afternoon.  Fireworks were set for after 10pm, but there was no way we could hang around for another 5 hours to wait for that.  Apparently this was the first year of Highland’s “Red, White & Blues” festival and BBQ competition, and while the weather definitely kept some people away, I think it will get bigger year over year given the number of BBQ entrants already.

It was nice weekend to get outside and take advantage of some local festivities.  Since we’ll be in town for 4th of July weekend, anyone have any suggestions of local activities taking place that we should check out?

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4 thoughts on “Ann Arbor Summer Fest and Highland BBQ Competition

  1. Top of the Park (Summer Fest) is great! I miss it! My friends and I always liked to go a little later in the evening, after dinner…I don’t remember kids being such a huge thing, so maybe if you go a bit later it’ll be a little calmer? I wish I had suggestions for the 4th, but I would always go back home and take the boat upriver for the Portage Lake Fireworks, so I didn’t stay in A2. And if you want to eat outside, make like a senior citizen and go at 5/530.

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