Thursday night in Grand Rapids unfurled as a tale of two outdoor milestones: the first ‘Blues on the Grand’ show and another full house at Studio Park. Photo galleries, video.
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Three decades ago, it started as “Blues on the Mall” in downtown Grand Rapids.
In 2015, it became “Summertime Blues” when host WLAV (96.9 FM) moved the Wednesday night series to Walker’s DeltaPlex Arena parking lot.
Now, after a pandemic-imposed hiatus in 2020, “Blues on the Grand” debuted on Thursday night, with Memphis blues-rocker Eric Gales and Michigan’s own Chris Canas initiating a three-concert summer series for a crowd of several hundred fans at Grand Rapids’ Ah-Nab-Awen Park.
As Gales put it early on during his set, he was ready for “some damn good energy here in Grand Rapids, Michigan,” especially because he was celebrating being “clean and sober” for exactly five years on Thursday.
The crowd gave him plenty of that good energy, cheering his scintillating guitar leads and affable stage manner.
It was a welcome return to WLAV’s longstanding tradition of uncorking mid-week blues in the summer for West Michigan fans.
“It’s nice that they were able to do some more shows,” said Ron Harper, of Hudsonville. “We’ve always had fun at these.”
For others, the new riverfront location – with Grand Rapids’ downtown skyline as a backdrop – had its advantages.
“I’ve never been to a show here, but I like this place so far,” said Tamera Jene, of Grand Rapids. “The river view is really cool for concerts.”
Fencing around the site gave organizers the opportunity for beer sales (replicating service provided at the DeltaPlex location) and the overall mood was upbeat.
Worries about possible rain and limited parking at the new site for motorcyclists – with bikers comprising a major contingent of fans in past years of the WLAV blues series, especially at the DeltaPlex where they had ample parking – likely impacted overall turnout at the inaugural show.
But other opportunities for blues fans await: The free Thursday series continues with Ana Popovic on Aug. 19 and Marshall guitarist Jake Kershaw on Sept. 9.
MICHIGANDER CHARMS SOLD-OUT CROWD WITH ANTHEMIC POP
Not far away, another capacity crowd was reveling in the pop-laced, indie-rock strains of Michigander and Lipstick Jodi, with Michigan House hosting the Thursday night concert at Studio Park as part of Listening Room’s “Listening Lawn” series.
Indeed, unlike past shows in the cozy courtyard where social-distancing was once the norm, Michigander’s performance of its pop anthems sparked an up-close-and-personal connection with the audience: Fans flocked to the front of the stage to cheer Jason Singer and crew — standing and cheering throughout the set.
Michigander took the stage in a haze of indie-rock glory. The popular band brought the crowd to its feet as electric guitars rang out across the courtyard amid Aaron Senor’s airtight, in-the-pocket drumming.
Songs played included popular numbers such as “Better,” “Misery” and “East Chicago, IN.” The crowd joined in on singing on multiple occasions, following the lead of Singer, who’s uplifting demeanor seemed to spark the audience in a positive and hopeful way.
The adroitly delivered set served as a warm-up for Michigander’s upcoming July 29 debut at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, where the band will also perform a July 31 after-show with Band of Horses. The next Michigan date: Aug. 12’s “Sonic Lunch” show in Ann Arbor.
Lipstick Jodi had kicked things off with an energetic, dance-worthy set. Their synth-heavy rock and grooving bass lines were a definite highlight.
The band is preparing for a 6 p.m. Sunday “WYCE @ Wealthy” live-stream and an Aug. 7 vinyl-release show of its new album, “More Like Me,” at The Pyramid Scheme. (Read more about Lipstick Jodi and its new album later today at Local Spins, and tune in for Local Spins on WYCE at 11 a.m. at 88.1 FM or online at wyce.org when the band will be the on-air guests.)
Other than an Audiotree Live performance in May, Thursday’s show at Studio Park was the band’s first gig with its new lineup in front of a “real” audience.
Indeed, it was another week of firsts in Grand Rapids, with live music continuing to make new inroads after last year’s COVID-impaired “summer of silence.”
On Wednesday, Founders Brewing Co. in downtown Grand Rapids hosted its first-ever show in its outdoor beer garden and its first live music event since March 2020 when Kalamazoo singer-songwriter (and Founders sound engineer) Morgan Haner played an early evening show for a throng of approving fans.
Scroll down for photo galleries from all three shows.
PHOTO GALLERY: Eric Gales Band, Chris Canas Band at Ah-Nab-Awen Park
Photos by Derek Ketchum
PHOTO GALLERY: Michigander, Lipstick Jodi at Studio Park
Photos by Eric Stoike
PHOTO GALLERY: Morgan Haner at Founders Brewing
Photos by Kendra Petersen-Kamp