LivelyLands music festival launches in Leelanau, with Austin pulse


Local virtuoso Patrick Niemisto will play Saturday at LivelyLands

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

It was a late night in Dallas in 2016, and Burdickville native Emily Lively and her friend Shannon Holt were reminiscing about how idyllic northern Michigan is in the late summer. They began planning a trip to Leelanau County for their Texas friends. Next thing they knew, they were organizing a music festival for their friends, local musicians, Austin virtuosos and all. Lively lives in the hot music town and has worked at the famous music and film festival, South by Southwest (SXSW).

A year later, the first annual LivelyLands is about to kick off, Aug. 25-27, at the 5-acre Lively farm off Bow Road, just one mile south of Big Glen Lake. Headlining acts include Austin favorite The Deer and northern Michigan songster Seth Bernard. Other musicians include Rebecca Loebe and Amy Rosalyn from Austin, Heather Styka from Chicago, Nicholas James Thomasma from Grand Rapids, and the familiar Leelanau presence of Patrick Niemisto. A full schedule of events and tickets are available at

LivelyLands will actually take place in four different locations: the family farm, the Empire beach, the Empire Town Hall and the Empire Eagles’ campground on M-72. The festival kicks off Friday with a 6 p.m. preview concert and dinner for those with VIP tickets, followed by a free “Sunset Serenade” at the Empire beach, nightcaped by a bonfire at the campground. Saturday’s events at the Lively farm run from noon until 11 p.m. The festival closes Austin style on Sunday with Bluegrass & Breakfast tacos at the Empire Town Hall from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“I’ve been working for festivals since leaving Michigan for Texas in 2005,” said Lively. “I always dreaming of using my experience to create my own festival. Finally, I approached my dad, Jim Lively, with the concept. While leery of throwing a festival on his property at first, the innate planner came out in him and he’s been instrumental in helping us make this happen from so far away.”

Her dad Jim (program director at the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities) and mom Kelly (who works for Cherry Capital Foods) have spent years cultivating the land to accommodate large groups of family and friends, said Emily. “With rolling hills and expansive skies and a group of Lively girls, I couldn’t think of a better location for our first, intimate, pilot event.”

Emily confirmed that LivelyLands was inspired by mobile model festivals like SXSW and smaller festivals like Viva Terlingua in West Texas.

“We wanted to incorporate the local community as much as possible so we decided to bring some of the music to them and show our out-of-town attendees some of our favorite places in Leelanau County. The historic Empire Town Hall couldn’t be a better location for our Bluegrass & Brunch concert on Sunday and what better way to open a festival than with a concert as the sun dips into Lake Michigan?”

While Emily may call Austin her home, she’ll always have one foot in her native northern Michigan.

“The northern Michigan music scene is intimate, giving, fun, and there is so much organic talent,” she said. “From an early age as a budding songwriter, I was never short of advice from my lifetime music teacher and mentor Pat Niemisto who brought me to Lambs Retreat for songwriters for the first time, lent me my first guitar, and let me plan all the Glen Lake North by Northwest concerts and trips my senior year of high school.”

“The Northern Michigan musicians offer so much to the area and to each other. It’s not about the money or the fame, it’s about creating music together.”

Do Leelanau County and Austin have anything artistically in common?

“The Austin music community is so similar to the Northern Michigan scene but it moves a little faster,” said Emily. “Upon moving to Austin in 2008 I was blown away by the sheer number of live shows you could see in a night. From Folk/Americana to jazz to hip-hop, Austin has it all.” 

“The beautiful thing about the Austin community is the drive to support each other. Whether it’s recording backup vocals on your friend’s new album, going to shows, housing a friend’s band on tour, or backing a Kickstarter with the last 5 dollars in your pocket, Austin musicians thrive on collaboration.”

If LivelyLands sounds a little like the late Dunegrass Festival, a staple annual August music festival in downtown Empire through the 1990s and early 2000s, that’s no accident.

“Dunegrass was my first music festival,” said Lively. “I loved every moment I spent at Dunegrass from grade school to graduation. While we don’t intend to grow to the size of Dunegrass, I definitely channeled the early festivals when creating LivelyLands.”