Just in time for Cherry Festival 2014 comes The National Cherry Festival in Traverse City: Blessing of the Blossoms, by Brooks Vanderbush. This book’s subject matter and bright cover are bound to attract the attention of locals and visitors to the Grand Traverse region. It is neither a scholarly historic treatise nor a literary meditation but a people’s account of an immensely successful, longrunning festival. The style is breezy and folksy, with puns, asides and digressions on almost every page. In fact, “fun” is really the heart of this book, as the author presents the Cherry Festival in that context.
Readers will find old photographs and will even spot familiar buildings with long-ago business names. There is a lot to be learned, too. For instance, those who think the Cherry Festival has become “too commercial” might be surprised to realize that marketing was integral to the festival right from its beginning. Marketing cherries isn’t “forgetting the farmer,” but aiming to ensure farm product sales. Promoting tourism for the region was also a Cherry Festival focus as early as 1928.
How many people today who object to the militarism of the Blue Angels air show remember or know that in 1967 the Seabees put on a simulated nuclear attack at the old Grand Traverse fairgrounds, a “show” designed “to stimulate interest in civil defense?” Can you believe it? Duck and cover!
As the Cherry Festival grew over the years, disappeared a couple of times, came back, and was transformed, the author believes that change has kept it always fresh, while traditional elements ensure the survival of a family-friendly event for locals and visitors alike. Traverse City’s Cherry Festival, Vanderbush tells us, is among the top ten in the United States. The number of free events, about 85 percent of the Festival total, make it a natural destination event for budget-conscious families looking for summer fun. Change and tradition are two more themes in the book.
What is the role of the Cherry Festival Queen, and how have queens been chosen over the years? Who was the first invited U.S. president to actually attend? How was the first festival financed, and how much did it cost? Read to find out.
The last chapter features stories and reminiscences of attendees from the age of six to the age of 83, and here exclamation marks abound in the paragraphs written by children. “I went to the Cherry Festival!” “The Cherry Festival has a lot of floats!” “I will have so much fun!” “It’s going to be awesome!” Their enthusiasm is unabashed.
You can tell Vanderbush absolutely loves the Cherry Festival, and it’s hard to fault a writer for boosterism when a man wears his heart on his sleeve so shamelessly.