BY KATHY GIBBONS
TRAVERSE CITY — The Winter WowFest name goes away and the Traverse City Winter Comedy Festival returns for Presidents' Day weekend 2013, Feb. 14-17.
Presented by the Traverse City Film Festival in partnership with the National Cherry Festival, the comedy extravaganza will feature still-to-be-announced nationally-known comedians in concert each night. Mike Birbiglia will return with his film, "Sleepwalk With Me." Other entertainment will include up-and-coming comics, an improv group or two, comedy films, family comedy and comedy filmmakers.
The Comedy Festival will also incorporate the family activities of the Winter WowFest and then some. Front Street will be transformed into a free skating rink. Also look for a ferris wheel, sledding hill, ice sculptures and outdoor laser light shows after dark. The Williams Brothers, long known for their spoof National Cherry Festival parade entries featuring queens from all spectrums of the rainbow, are expected to figure in the festivities.
Film festival founder Michael Moore, who with comedian Jeff Garlin will host the comedy events, said there had been a question whether the comedy festival would return for next year. After two successful annual runs, the comedy festival was canceled in 2012 because of a scheduling conflict with Porterhouse Productions' Winter Microbrew and Music Festival. That event is set for Feb. 9 in 2013.
"We thought about it for a long time and I came up with the idea basically that, why don't we approach the downtown people and visitors bureau and the Cherry Festival?" Moore said. "I think the other people at the table including us decided we have to do what's best for the community, so we would work together to create a great weekend and make this an annual thing.
"We (the film festival) said we'll be in the driver's seat and we'll be the engine for this, and we'll do these other things so that people can come up for the comedy, just to enjoy the weekend, or maybe some family members will go to comedy shows and others will do outdoor activities."
Moore said activities will range in price so that there's something for everyone, regardless of income. He and Garlin donate their time, and the comedians who come do it for no or low pay.
"It's important to us that people of all economic strata are able to come to this," he said.
Comedy Fest venues will include the State Theatre, City Opera House, Old Town Playhouse and InsideOut Gallery.
The key headliners should be announced before Christmas, Moore said. Tickets go on sale in January.