With temps in the 40s, 3,500 fans warmed up Saturday with fiery performances at the striking outdoor venue in downtown Grand Rapids. Check out photos and recaps of Day 1 and Day 2.
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As bitterly disappointing as Friday’s meager turnout for the opening night of The Eddy music festival in Grand Rapids’ North Monroe district may have been, Saturday evening initially shaped up to be even more troubling with wind, rain, 45-degree temps and long lines of concertgoers waiting to get in.
But Day 2 wound up as a much different, much happier tale, especially when it comes to attendance and atmosphere – and the ultra-exuberant spectacle that is The Avett Brothers.
The triumphant, jam-packed outdoor concert starring The Avett Brothers, Brett Dennen and The Crane Wives took the edge off of the wintry chill of the weekend’s breezy weather, with 3,500 or so fans embracing the folk-rock faves amid the unusual-but-striking tented venue on an unusual riverfront site.
Whether that’s enough to rescue the inaugural ArtPrize-related festival that still has a full week of shows ahead – including Ozomatli with The Go Rounds on Friday and Charles Bradley with Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers and Vox Vidorra on Saturday – remains to be seen.
But for one night, it was a sight – and a sound – to behold, giving an upbeat throng something Grand Rapids has never experienced before.
THE CRANE WIVES PUMP THINGS UP, AVETT BROTHERS CLOSE THE DEAL BRILLIANTLY
It started with a 45-minute set from Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives, who may have been the perfect opener on a cold night by delivering their own peppy and buoyant folk-rock for a gathering throng of attendees – some of whom had waited in the rain at the gate – who were looking to dry off, warm up and get into the spirit of the evening. And they did. By the time The Crane Wives wrapped things up with “Safe Ship, Harbored” and “Sleeping Giants,” longtime devotees and new fans alike were clapping along.
And while the set that followed from California folk-pop singer-songwriter Brett Dennen and his band was a bit more laid-back, the singer and guitarist kept the mood sunny on a cloudy day, setting the stage for The Avett Brothers.
Simply nothing adequately describes the singularly triumphant, genre-spanning magic of North Carolina’s The Avett Brothers, who happily played 45 minutes past their scheduled end time to give fans a nearly 2-hour-and-15-minute retrospective of their career, including sing-alongs such as “I and Love and You,” “Morning Song” and an extended version of the ever-raucous crowd fave, “Kick Drum Heart.”
“It takes a certain kind of dedication to wait in the cold and rain,” guitarist Seth Avett declared at one point as he thanked fans from the stage.
That dedication – which also included frustratingly long lines for beer once inside the venue set up along North Monroe Avenue NW just north of the I-196 overpass – paid off with a brilliantly orchestrated performance by the seven-piece band which uncorked rollicking drinking-song anthems, gorgeously melancholy instrumentals and poignant vocal passages, sometimes all within the same song.
EPIC FEEL ON SATURDAY, TINY TURNOUT ON FRIDAY
It all had an epic feel, from the fetching dreaminess of “Bring Your Love to Me” to the bracing, rhythmic power of “Kick Drum Heart,” which at one point dropped several band members to their knees as they played – with violinist Tania Elizabeth literally bending all the way back so that her head nearly touched the stage – to roaring approval from the dancing, swaying crowd.
“Hopefully, they come back,” festival organizer Sam Porter of Porterhouse Presents said as he surveyed the audience. “This is the crowd we want.”
Stretching in what seems like all directions, with its curves of white canvas, splashed with colorful lights and molded by arching beams, The Eddy’s mobile tented venue certainly is a captivating structure, primed for big performances and big audiences. And festival workers have spent long hours getting this first-time fest under way.
But on Friday’s opening night – amid strong gusts of winds and cold temperatures – the state-of-the-art venue drew about 150 people for its opening Friday of country music with Brian Lorente & The Usual Suspects, Kari Lynch Band and Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys. For Lorente’s 7 p.m. set, just 30 people occupied the 3,500-capacity venue, though the band played with much exuberance anyway.
“I think it’s a really cool venue and a great location,” said attendee Kevin Schaffer, a country artist himself who has opened for Lynch. “I think they make great use of the riverfront. It’s just sad it’s not more crowded.”
Porter called Friday’s show a test run and “a soft opening” as workers braced for Saturday’s packed house.
“This weather is hard to work with, but tonight is more about giving Michigan bands a chance to play this stage. We’re just testing some ideas and seeing how things go. Some people are just saying it’s too cold but we’re trying to stay positive. … People just need to dress warm.”
Indeed, dressing warm – think October football and duck hunting – also was the order of the evening on Saturday (which started with a free lunchtime show by Grand Rapids’ Big Dudee Roo) as well as dodging occasional raindrops and splotches of mud on the grassy field. But for many Avett Brothers fans, the hair-raising moments sparked by songs such as “I and Love and You” made it all well worth it.
THE EDDY DAY 2:
AVETT BROTHERS, BRETT DENNEN, THE CRANE WIVES, BIG DUDEE ROO
Photos by Anna Sink
THE EDDY DAY 1:
GUNNAR & THE GRIZZLY BOYS, KARI LYNCH BAND
BRIAN LORENTE & THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Photos by Tori Thomas