Northport comes UnCaged

Photo by Julie Weeks

By Chris Loud

Sun contributor

On Sept. 29, Leelanau County will host the “biggest and longest free festival of the north.” About 35 performance groups and 100 artists will dot the shut-down streets of Northport. That’s right, lower Leelanau skeptics: the village at the top of the county has been hosting the ever-growing end of summer bash for six years now. Where have you been? Well, truth be told, most of you have already been; it’s one of the most popular events in the area, matched only by Northport’s famous Fourth of July celebration. If you haven’t been yet we’re all jealous of you, because your first “UnCaged” only happens once.

Leelanau UnCaged was inspired by avant garde artist John Cage, an American composer and philosopher who was known for his original interpretation of rhythm and music. He once said, “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”

Founder Andy Thomas describes the event. “It is an exciting venue and the event is free. Shops, restaurants, and bars are all open and filled with people. If you want to hear rock and roll, jazz, opera, blues, soul, or Bavarian brass, it’s all here. There is live coverage of two stages on WNMC Radio. UnCaged is unique, because Northport and Leelanau County are unique. We think we have broken a few molds as festivals go. To create is a deeply human need is the well of energy that we draw from.”

Organizer Susan Ager talks about some of the key components that make Leelanau UnCaged unique. “We are able to keep Leelanau UnCaged free because of the generosity of dozens of donors. Our event sponsors are: the Leelanau Township Community Foundation, Thomas & Milliken Millwork, Coldwell Banker/Schmidt Realtors, Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, and the Philip S. Harper Foundation. Beyond that we have big donors sponsoring each of our five stages, and many smaller donors helping to pay performers, rent tents and chairs, and pay for publicity.”

One other thing that makes us special is our ever-popular Kids’ Tent, which is open from noon to about 4 p.m. This year Northport arts teacher Jenny Evans will be running the kids’ events, which will include a Popeye Regatta, where kids can make and design their own sailboats then huff-and-puff them on to victory. Prizes are coupons for free ice cream at The Tribune, one of Northport’s favorite eateries.”

There will be five stages across the village of Northport putting on shows for everyone. Thomas breaks down some examples of the music and performance art that will set the stage. “Detroit, Michigan’s #1 Entertainer of the Year for 2018, Denise and the Motor City Sensations, is returning to the Waukazoo Stage. They packed the tent last year and will again this year, with people flocking in to dance and listen. Crispin Campbell of Interlochen will play his cello with fellow jazz musicians on the South Stage, Northport’s own Amanda Kruk will light up Center Stage with operatic numbers a few hours after the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians sing and dance their ceremonial dances. Closing out Mill Street Stage at 9 p.m. is Organissimo, a jazz trio of keyboard, guitar, and drums. At the Willowbrook Inn we have returning from Minnesota after a one-year hiatus Sweet Rhubarb, a folk trio that won us over with beautiful harmonies and songs. There is more going on than you can possibly take in, but in every direction there is color, song, and action.”

While putting on this impressive festival attended by thousands of people, they’re still staying conscious of the environment. Ager talks about their environmental efforts. “This year we’re also working with Bay Area Recycling for Charities (BARC, a partner in the past) to make this our first zero-landfill event, requiring food vendors to use recyclable or compostable serving utensils. They will also have a booth promising ‘everything you always wanted to know about recycling but were afraid to ask’.”

Food vendors this year will include Rocco’s Old World Pizzeria, Pleva’s Meats, Northport Lion’s Club (burgers), Meredith Family Kettle Corn, Tom’s Market, Rockwich Food Truck, The Tribune Ice Cream & Eatery, Uptown Dogs, and Breakaway Cafe and Coffee Bar.

Music, entertainment, food, fun, and some local environmental and business education efforts—it’s the whole package, and it’s Sept. 29, from noon until 10 p.m. (And beyond!) Mark your calendars, and plan your trip to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and the beautiful village of Northport.

For more information on music and performance acts, vendors, and other happenings at Leelanau UnCaged, visit