By Jef Rietsma
Well, Vicksburg, you really know how to throw a party.
The inaugural IceBurg Festival Feb. 11 drew an estimated few thousand people. An allocation of 500 tickets for grilled cheese and soup tasting sold out in 48 hours. It was a gorgeous and sunny day.
And all indications are that those who took part are looking forward to a follow-up in 2024.
“A fantastic event and fantastic turnout,” village President Tim Frisbie said afterward. “We have spoken with several businesses that said it was the best sales day on record, even better than the (2022) Christmas parade.”
Frisbie said the downtown gathering took an inordinate amount of coordination and cooperation. He acknowledged the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the event, for its drive and dedication in organizing the festival along with village staff.
With Prairie and Main streets limited to pedestrian traffic, downtown was vibrant over the course of the four-hour, Saturday afternoon gathering.
Nearly a dozen local businesses sought bragging rights for best grilled cheese sandwich. Tyler Berry was feverishly manning a grill outside Village Hideaway. He said the spin on a grilled cheese offered by the Hideaway was his creation.
“It’s a play on French dip, it’s a secret sandwich that we sell but it’s not on the menu now,” he said, noting that in addition to cheese, the sandwich includes a slice of roast beef, an oval-shaped hashbrown, grilled onions, mayonnaise and ketchup. “I can say with a degree of confidence it’s probably the most unique grilled cheese sandwich anyone will ever see.”
The festival included eight ice sculptures, placed at various locations throughout downtown.
Beau Fairman works for a Grand Rapids-based company called Ice Sculptures Limited. With steady hands and the eye of a talented artist, Fairman labored intently, putting the finishing touches on a Bulldog sculpture at Oswalt Park.
Fairman, who enjoyed a throng of onlookers, said he does his work with an angled drill and a V bit. He explained the difference between working outdoors in sunny weather versus blustery, 10-degree weather.
“Well, a day like today is nicer for me, of course, but not as nice for the ice,” he said. “Obviously, the sun is its worst enemy.”
Further east on Prairie Street, Vicksburg resident Jen Glaser-Price said she learned about IceBurg Festival on Facebook postings through the village and Mackenzie’s Bakery. Glaser-Price had no regrets about attending; it provided a fun outing for her and her kids, Delaney and Ray.
“Vicksburg has really turned the corner and events like this are what make it such a special place,” Glaser-Price said. “We were here for the Christmas parade. We like to support these kinds of special events and we should be proud that Vicksburg cares enough to put together family-friendly things like this.”
A pair of Kalamazoo residents, Ethan Monroe and Arylin Brouwer, said they were encouraged by Brouwer’s sister – a Vicksburg resident – to attend. They quickly confirmed there were no regrets.
Monroe said the social district concept added to the merriment. Being able to have a drink and enjoy downtown at the same time led to it being a positive experience.
“Events like this build community and I think people who don’t live here will leave with a positive feeling,” Monroe said. “I mean, take a look around and you can see people are smiling, having fun, talking to other people. What’s not to like about this?”
Village council members during their Feb. 20 meeting spoke highly of the inaugural IceBurg Festival, calling it a proud day for Vicksburg.
“Thanks to the incredible and exceptionally talented Chamber of Commerce for the IceBurg Festival,” council member Ryan Wagner said. “The folks there are committed to Vicksburg … and everything they’re doing is with passion, excitement and integrity to move things forward.”
A panel of judges and a people’s choice vote regarding best grilled cheese were in agreement that Main Street Pub was the winner.
“I asked Mike what he was going to do to win it again next year and he said he’s already in the kitchen coming up with ideas,” Wagner said. “So, that’s the bar we’ve set and I think we’ll have even more restaurants involved next year.”
By Jef Rietsma