As my old adage goes: So many bands on so many stages, and so little time.
That’s the quandary at Grand Rapids’ Festival of the Arts every year, though there are some rules of thumb for success when you’re heading downtown this weekend to fill your ears, eyes and stomachs.
For one thing, it’s hard to go wrong on just about any stage after 7 p.m. or so on Friday or Saturday night: That’s when some of the savviest and most established acts (aka, Festival vets) tend to crank things up, so it really depends more on your musical tastes than your finicky, overly demanding standards.
Then again, it might depend on whether you want to put up with a chance of rain and chilly temps.
Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong on FRIDAY with sets by familiar names after that time on the City Stage by rock’s Valentiger, Mr. Whooha and The Rockit King, or on the giant Calder Stage by The Schubert Male Chorus (choral music), Mind’s Eye (jazz) and The Outer Vibe (rock/pop), not to mention performances by 13th Hour (rock/pop/country) on the Fountain Stage and The Blue Water Ramblers (folk) on the Outer Fringe stage.
Same goes for SATURDAY, with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Kent Philharmonia Orchestra and Conklin Ceili Band (Celtic) on the Calder Stage; the Steve Anzivino Electric Band (jazz), Alexis (super-fun electro-pop), Deadwood Stone (hard rock/metal) and Union Guns (country) on the Clock Tower Stage; rock’s The Mines and A.G. Silver on the City Stage; Left Hand Daisy (alt-rock/pop) on the Circle Stage or Amy Young & Friends (folk-rock) on the Fountain Stage.
So, I thought I’d just toss out a few under-the-radar picks for your evening weekend visits to Festival: artists with whom you might not be familiar but really should get to know, complete with links to their website or Facebook pages so you can preview their music. (Check out the full Friday-Sunday Festival schedule here.)
Afro Zuma, 5:30 p.m. Friday, Circle Stage: This 12-piece Afro-beat ensemble will knock your socks off, or at least get those socks bopping. (And if you’re more into progressive blues, then you should swing over to the City Stage for the Steve Hilger Band.)
Colin Tobin, 6:15 p.m. Friday, Fountain Stage: I went online to give a listen to this acoustic artist and former Kenowa High School student who won “The American Idol Experience” at Walt Disney World a couple years back and was duly impressed. Great vocals.
The Water Clocks, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Fountain Stage: I can’t help but hear vestiges of The Church when I hear this dreamy, melodic pop-rock group, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
Mr. Mammoth, 9 p.m. Friday, Circle Stage: I’ve listened to the debut rock album by this seven-piece band of Rockford 18-year-olds and its inventiveness alone makes them worth checking out.
The Pistolbrides, 6 p.m. Saturday, Fountain Stage: I recently hosted the Pistolbrides on my Local Spins Live show and this pop-hued rock band creates truly infectious music.
The Jukejoint Handmedowns, 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Fountain Stage: Intriguingly, it’s described as “big tent country & western” music. But it’s also wildly entertaining retro-country stuff as their hook-filled debut album, “Everything But the Squeal,” proves.
Neil Jacobs, 9 p.m. Saturday, Outer Fringe Stage: It’s a shame more folks around here haven’t heard of Neil Jacobs, because this West Michigan musician is a world-class 12-string guitarist who will quite literally blow your mind. He’s a master at his craft, from folk to world music to classical to modern fingerstyle.
And for your post-Festival watering-hole entertainment, I got this Facebook message from Fred DeVries regarding veteran Grand Rapids musician Hal Beveridge playing Jukes on Leonard Street NW on Friday: “Hal Beveridge is … inviting all the bands that are playing Festival down to jam after they get done with their sets. I think he’s going to try and break his previous world record of 184 for the amount of musicians he can fit on a 10-by-14-foot stage.” Sounds like a record that might be fun trying to break at least. (And get to Jukes while you can before it closes. Read about that here.)
Another option: Traipse on across the river to Butterworth Street SW on the West Side for a real romp of a good time: Chicago blues outfit Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys play the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill starting at 8 p.m. ($7 cover).
On Saturday, it’s hard to beat this double bill, which also happens to be a double CD-release party: Singer-songwriter Karisa Wilson and her cousin, rocker Lucas Wilson, will be performing at Founders Brewing Co., 235 Grandville Ave. SW, starting at 9 p.m. ($5 cover).
And if you’re willing to make the trip to Eastown from downtown, it’s worth it to check out Billy’s Lounge both nights after the Festival hoopla has wrapped up: At 9:30 p.m. Friday, Blue Molly brings its soulful blues and more to the club, with Lansing’s Root Doctor blues-ing it up on Saturday. Admission to both shows is $5.
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of LocalSpins.com, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, with a preview at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays on WLAV-FM (96.9). He also hosts the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1).
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