Howell Melon Festival: Memories and a look forward

It was a hot August morning, and I was standing with my sister somewhere on the north side of Grand River Avenue near the Main Four in downtown Howell, each of us wearing a toddler nephew on our shoulders to afford them a view of the Melon Festival Parade.

Things went well until the fire trucks rolled by and blasted their horns. I didn’t realize it until then, but the sound of a fire-truck horn is scary and tough on tiny ears, and both little guys screamed in terror and wailed.

Back then, I drove a Volkswagen Super Beetle, and Michael Jackson, Prince, the Eurythmics and Duran Duran ruled the airwaves. Today, those nephews are now grown men, both tall enough to see well over any crowds.

What struck me back then was the sheer mass of humanity squeezed into downtown Howell for the festival to honor the sweet melon; I had never been part of such a huge small-town event.

When my sister moved to a cool old house in downtown Howell, visiting her during the Melon Fest became an annual ritual for my then-boyfriend and me. We’d drive in from Ann Arbor, meet up at Silverman’s (now Brunner’s) for breakfast, and the man I would eventually marry would order the peanut-butter-and-jelly omelet off the menu to fortify himself for a long day of Melonfesting.

We’d watch the parade and spend the day enjoying the rest of the event.

Each year, the festival changed just a bit.

I remember one year perusing the arts and crafts on the lawn of the Howell Carnegie District Library, and another year taking a trolley to see them at Page Field. My husband always enjoyed the used book sale at the library, as well as the historic paraphernalia and antique and old junk that was sold near the Howell Depot.

Then, after we got married, we decided Howell would be a fine place to put down roots. It was centrally located to our family: my husband’s parents in Lansing, my parents in Brighton Township, my sister in Howell.

Every year, we enjoyed the Melon Festival.

Almost as if a victim of its own success, the energy of the event began to sag a few years ago. It felt smaller and smaller as the Howell Jaycees, the group that worked so hard to put it on each year, shrank in numbers. Anyone who’s been involved in putting on public events of any size knows that the larger the event, the more volunteers necessary to make things run smoothly.

Then, the Jaycees turned the reins of the event over to the City of Howell and the Howell Downtown Development Authority. In turn, these groups partnered with organizations throughout the community to re-invent the festival. This year’s event — the 50th annual, in fact — is full of fun attractions, some old, a lot new.

The ramped-up energy surrounding the Melonfest is palpable.

New this year is the first-annual Howell Melon Ball, set for Thursday on the lawn of the McPherson Mansion on Michigan Avenue, north of Grand River Avenue. There will be dueling pianos, munchies, a cash bar, and the crowning of the Melon Festival King and Queen.

This year’s event has gone both green and local-vorish. The Festival Tent will feature a sampling of micro-brews and food from Michigan, and a juried Michigan-made arts & crafts show will be open in the Livingston County lot, directly north of Clinton Street and the historic Livingston County Courthouse.

The Grand Princess River Boat will be touring passengers around Thompson Lake for lunch, dinner and moonlight cruises.

There will be shuttle service available, and what would a Melon Festival be without melon ice cream? You can get yours on the lawn of the historic Livingston County Courthouse throughout the weekend.

While there won’t be a parade, there will be bed races on State Street.

The weekend is shaping up to be a wonderful affair, the kind that will create memories for old and new residents, visitors, and kids of all ages.

For the complete schedule of events, click here.

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