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Friday, September 17, 2021

Bret Michaels Returns to Fort Thomas' Merchants & Music September 25

Bret Michaels performing at the 2015 Merchants & Music Festival. He returns this year to headline the 2021 festival. 

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by Robin Gee

After a hiatus last year due to Covid concerns, the Merchants & Music Festival is back, and with it, headliner musician Bret Michaels returns as promised. The festival is set for Saturday, September 25, in Tower Park, starting with a Kids’ Zone at 2 p.m. with music from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Michaels vowed to return this year after his appearance and the festival itself were cancelled in 2020. This will be the 16th year for the event that will also feature the return of several other acts including David Tucker, Borderline and Fort Thomas’ own The Leftovers. The after-party will feature returning band Mad Costanza.
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"We are very excited to be able to host Merchant’s & Music this year," said Mayor Eric Haas. "It is a great way for folks to enjoy an afternoon and evening of entertainment and experience the wonderful aspects of Tower Park."

Excitement running high

Katie Walters, a Fort Thomas native and owner of Katie Walters Events & Entertainment, will emcee the event. She has been involved with Merchants & Music from the beginning and said she is excited to be back this year.

"I have worked in front of and behind the scenes at Merchants & Music since its inception at the Tower Park Amphitheater. I help book the bands and emcee the event, so it’s very personal to me," Walters said. "I am so proud to be part of a team that brings our community together for such a great celebration. It has evolved and grown over the years to a 'must attend' event for all ages."

She also took the opportunity to thank the community and those working to bring the event to Fort Thomas. "The support the fest has received has been amazing. Thank you to the Fort Thomas Renaissance Board and everyone who has contributed and continues to contribute to its success."

Chanda Calentine is the new head of the Renaissance Board, joining the city as economic development director in July. "The event is going to be fantastic. We’ll have some of our local businesses participating, and some of our longtime vendors are coming back...We are excited to have all five of the bands back...and we’re happy to have St. Elizabeth with us and doing the sponsorship for Bands Against Cancer," she said.

"Overall, the biggest thing, is we’re offering a free event for kids and for the community, and it’s really about bringing everyone together in a safe way while having a blast."

With that said, she said organizers are paying close attention to CDC guidelines and doing all they can do to keep people safe. In addition to adding more porta potties, trash cans and other amenities, they are bringing in 400 bales of hay to help keep people separate and protected.

"We’re following all the protocols to keep people safe so they can truly enjoy the event," Calentine added.

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Food, fun and the Kids’ Zone

Calentine outlined what’s in store. The free Kids’ Zone, located near the Amphitheater, opens up at 2 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. This year, the Cincinnati Circus will bring stiltwalkers, balloon animal making, face painting and more, she said. Children and the young-at-heart can have fun with yard games, carnival games, inflatables and a visit or two from favorite Disney characters. There’s even a misting area for quick cool down if it gets too hot. 
Merchants & Music, 2018. FTM file. 

Food vendors and trucks open at 3 p.m. There will be a wide variety of choices including pizza, Thai food, barbecue, pretzels, cupcakes — something for every taste, she said.

Sponsors this year are St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Braxton Brewing and First Financial. Proceeds from some of the drink and food sales will go to benefit Bands Against Cancer for the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center.

Midway Cafe will offer a special pink drink with part of the proceeds to benefit the cancer center. Braxton will also donate some of the proceeds from its sales. Grassroots & Vine will serve red, white, prosecco by the glass + Frose’, Sangria and Cocktails. 

Braxton is also partnering with the Fort Thomas Education Foundation to raise money for its programs.

About the bands

Michaels, famed frontman of Poison, is a singer songwriter who has continued his musical career as a solo artist as well as tv personality and actor. He headlined the show in 2015 and made a strong impression on the community, not only at the event but at an offsite visit to the VA Hospital where he took the time to meet with every patient personally.

Country singer David Tucker is originally from Bracken County and now lives in Nashville. He released a well-received debut album this year. He noted on his Facebook page that the Merchants and Music show marks his first full band show since the pandemic.

Borderline (aka Borderline 360) is a Campbell County favorite returning to the stage. The Leftovers are well-known and well-loved in the hometown as well. Mad Constanza is a fun ‘80s era cover band made up of Fort Thomas residents (and Highlands grads) who will round out the night.

Again, the Merchant and Music Festival takes place at or near the Tower Park Amphitheater on Saturday, September 25. The Kids’ Zone is open from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., vendors open at 3 p.m. and music runs from 5 p.m. to midnight. The event is free and proceeds from some of the vendors and sponsors will benefit Bands Against Cancer for the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center. The festival is hosted by the Fort Thomas Renaissance Board, the city’s economic development and business support group.

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