Tuesday’s kickoff to a driveway concert series is just one way West Michigan has returned to live music, with shows unfurling at parks, parking lots and farms. Photos, video and more.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, INFO ABOUT OTHER UPCOMING CONCERTS
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma couldn’t have asked for a more apropos – or more convenient – “stage” for an outdoor concert.
With his beloved, orange Volkwagen bus as a backdrop, the guitarist on Tuesday kicked off the first show in the “Driveway Concert Series” hosted by Grand Rapids’ Comprehensive Therapy Center, and he certainly didn’t have to go far to unload his equipment.
Between a smattering of self-written music and crowd-favorite covers, the early evening performance drew a standing ovation from fans who brought their own chairs to the front lawn of a home near Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
The concert series – which continues July 28 with singer-songwriter Chris Andrus — raises money through donations from audience members for the nonprofit CTC that serves children with disabilities. Get more info online here.
On Tuesday, the personable Thomasma – who just released a new studio album, “Rolling Home” – wove personal storytelling into an audience-engaging set featuring a handsome array of music that included a song about living in that aforementioned VW bus.
“I have to say that’s one of the best things about being a musician — having the ability to do what I love and also do something good for the community at the same time,” Thomasma said. “That’s a passion for me to do that, so when they asked me about this, it was a yes, and I didn’t need to know any details.”
CTC Interim Executive Director Summer Wright’s nephew, Danny Wright, made a surprise appearance at the tail-end of the concert, with his debut performance including a small collection of self-written electric and acoustic guitar pieces.
From seasoned veteran to budding performer, attendees said it was refreshing to welcome back live music while supporting an integral nonprofit organization.
“It feels so good to have live music again,” Wright said. “My family is a big fan of going to concerts and festivals in the summertime and we were bemoaning the lack of music. I was worried that it was going to be more nerve-wracking than comforting because of the pandemic, but everybody did such a great job of keeping distant and wearing masks. It just feels really great.”
Driveway concerts, backyard shows, drive-in events and other small outdoor performances have become the norm across West Michigan in 2020 as artists and hosts attempt to find safe, socially distanced ways to promote live music.
Grand Rapids’ Vintage Parlor Orchestra, in fact, is playing “secret” shows at area parks, with fans who sign up for tickets online given info about the concert location so the VPO can control crowd sizes.
The VPO directed by Thomas Pike recently became the first orchestra in the region to perform publicly since the coronavirus outbreak, playing at Wyoming’s Palmer Park. (Watch video here.) The next concert takes place Aug. 10 in Rockford; get details, tickets online here.
VIDEO: Vintage Parlor Orchestra at Palmer Park
CONCERTS ON THE FARM, UPCOMING DRIVE-IN SHOWS
How about a “Farm Concert Series”?
Ed Dunneback & Girls Fruit Farm at 3025 6 Mile Road NW just north of Grand Rapids has announced precisely that, setting up a stage in the farm’s outdoor pond area for three concerts featuring local/regional acts.
It all starts at 7 p.m. July 29 with popular Grand Rapids cover band Funkle Jesse, followed on Aug. 19 by another cover fave Brena, and finally, finishing up on Sept. 23 with country/rock powerhouse Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys. Tickets are $10 and available online here.
Organizers say tickets for the all-ages shows are limited due to COVID-19, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. Food and drinks will be available. Get more information online here.
Of course, drive-in concerts in various locations across West Michigan continue to pop up, following drive-in shows in late June in Grand Haven and in early July at Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners.
The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College near Benton Harbor will stage four multi-band, drive-in concerts in August and September.
The series kicks off Aug. 9 with jazz/pop’s Jenna Mammina, neosoul jazz group The Andrew Fisher Quartet and cover band Doc Revolver. Gates open at 5 p.m., with music starting at 6 p.m.
Mike Nadolski, Mendel Center executive director, said organizers “wanted to find a new way for people to enjoy live entertainment” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ticket sales for the shows will be limited to 100. Tickets cost $60 per carload for “premium” spaces; $50 for standard parking. The shows will allow up to six people per vehicle. Tickets are available online here or by calling 269-927-8700.
Sponsored by the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, the series continues at 3 p.m. Aug. 22 with smooth jazz guitarist Bryan Lubeck, Sypian Family Band and singer-songwriter Dan Maxon; 6 p.m. Sept. 19 with jazz-rock’s The Big Payback, Sankota and Susan O’Rourke & Zig Zeitler; and 6 p.m. Sept. 27 with outlaw Americana’s Alex Holycross & Erin Zindle, blues artist John Lahti and singer-guitarist Mike Talbot.
As with other drive-in concerts, attendees can either sit just outside their vehicles to watch the performance or tune in to an FM radio frequency to listen to the live sets inside their cars, with performances projected on a large video screen.
The Mendel Center – which insisted the series “is set up to promote social distancing in accordance with governmental guidelines” with attendees required to wear masks when leaving their designated spaces – will also host prize giveaways, trivia contests and “family-fun activities” as part of the events. Get more info online here.
PHOTO GALLERY: Nicholas James Thomasma, Danny Wright for Driveway Concert Series
Photos by Nick Moran