Grand Rapids overflowed with outdoor stages and nearly non-stop live music this weekend from a mind-bending array of artists. Check out the story, Local Spins photo gallery and videos.
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As if six stages of music and dance performances at Grand Rapids’ 46th Festival of the Arts weren’t enough, downtown this weekend also offered up the separate Local First Street Party and Sun of a Beach festival.
It’s a far cry from that first humble Festival back in 1970.
While emceeing Friday night, musician and well-known former Grand Rapids DJ Aris Hampers recalled that inaugural affair amounted to just two stages and a few food booths on Calder Plaza. And no streets were closed down.
Fast forward to 2015 and it seemed like all of Grand Rapids was celebrating June’s first weekend.
If Friday’s turnout was lighter than usual for a dry Festival kickoff — perhaps the breezy, gray and cool weather kept a few folks away — then Saturday’s gloriously sunshine-soaked Day 2 may have made up for it with perhaps twice as many people enjoying the music and food, along with the addition of a bustling Local First Street Party featuring an impressive lineup of regional artists just outside Bistro Bella Vita west of Van Andel Arena.
An even bigger throng than last year reveled in beer from Founders Brewing and stellar sets from a top-notch lineup of diverse regional acts, starting with Heaters in mid-afternoon and followed by The Lippies, Molly Bouwsma-Schultz & Friends, The Concussions, Seth & May, The Accidentals (with special guest Rick Chyme) and Hannah Rose Graves, with the final two acts certainly causing a stir with animated performances. In spite of some long lines to get in at times, an upbeat mood pervaded the 12th annual street party amid perfect weather.
(On Friday night, the Sun of a Beach fest hosted by Channel 95.7 and Classic Hits 98.7 WFGR off Monroe Avenue NW a block from Rosa Parks Circle drew a jam-packed crowd with tons of sand creating an urban “beach” and sets by Parrots of the Caribbean and Zac Brown tribute band ZBTB, with beer and alcohol sales fueling attendance.)
Rain was starting to roll in on Sunday, but here are just a few highlights from the hectic weekend that preceded that, courtesy of Local Spins writers Taylor Mansen, Jordan McNaughton and Ethan Dombrowski:
• Taking the stage at the Festival’s Outer Fringe around 3:30 p.m. Friday, Blue Disciples brought undeniable passion into their high-energy performance of rootsy blues and rock, getting the crowd screaming for more by the end of the set. Later on the same stage, Olivia Mainville and The King Rats took over the stage around 5 p.m. Friday. Although there was a bit of a delay with set times, the experimental folk rock band played a full set including foot-tapping and “gypsy-swinging” songs off of Mainville’s EP “Full Steam Ahead.”
• The up-and-coming hi-ker delivered a concise performance Friday afternoon. Each song bled into the other with textured synths and pulsing drums leading the way. The group, which found itself slowly amassing a crowd throughout its set, uncorked an explosive rendition of “Quails” from its self-titled EP.
• What acts draw crowds quickly and fill up seats? Most Festival-goers are transient listeners, spending a few minutes at each stage before moving on. But some of the largest crowds on Friday night gathered to see rock acts, including Murder Party, Trixy Tang and Vertical Bridge. Obviously, rock is not dead. Indeed, rock/punk’s Murder Party unleashed a steamrolling set. At one point, an audience member was singled out as “biker” — an older man dressed in leather pants and jacket, spikes, and even a little license plate that proclaimed “IDOL.” The band then launched into its next song, “Motor Psycho,” from a 2013 EP.
• Some of the most unique acts were found at the Outer Fringe. One such group, Arlo and the Avalanche, featured a member playing what could best be described as a rhythm stick. The wooden post was held upright and adorned with a tambourine, temple block, bell and a set of strings played with a drum stick.
• Bigfoot Buffalo played an invigorating set of Americana-hued riffs and melodies at the City Stage Friday evening, owning the stage with its honest folk sound and setting the perfect mood for a cool summer evening. The Jukejoint Handmedowns followed, featuring a mashup cover of “Wagon Wheel” and Disney’s “Let It Go,” making it a perfect all-ages treat.
• On Friday, AOK hit the indoor stage at Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts — a bit of an out-of-the-way stop for Festival-goers — mesmerizing those on hand with an XX-esque distant and
heady, yet immensely powerful tone. The duo brought the venue to life with a guest appearance
from motivational rapper Rick Chyme on their EP track, “Paper Mache.” Regrettably, the
intimate nature of the UICA didn’t quite allow for getting up and moving around, but the crowd
was visibly immersed in the music.
• The Bruce Matthews Band nearly set their instruments ablaze at the Clock Tower stage on Friday with an onslaught of solos. Only drawing a small crowd, the hot-blooded band thrashed just as hard as they would have in a packed arena, with its drummer bringing his version of “Michigan Earthquake: Round 2” to Festival
• A moment that exemplified the community of Festival came halfway through Graffiti’s set on Saturday, when Michael Dause (of The Accidentals) was thanked for lending his drum kit to the cause. And band drummer John Artz seemed to adapt quite well to Dause’s custom kit.
• Don Benson, a Muskegon resident, showcased his folk originals at the Outer Fringe stage Saturday afternoon. Halfway through his set, a cavalcade of motorcycles roared down the street nearby. Trying to make fun of the situation, he commented that he likes Harley Davidsons “but they need better mufflers.” He also invited his granddaughters up to play a song called, “Grandma’s Making Dinner on a Saturday Night.”
• The 6 Pak, an all-girl ’60s cover band, shared an interesting back story before playing in front of a packed audience at the City stage on Saturday evening. Having originally formed in high school during the 1960s, the group reunited (sans a few members), to perform at a benefit. They enjoyed playing together again so much, they have been performing ever since. The cover group of 60-year-olds played hits such as The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” to an enthusiastic crowd.
FESTIVAL 2015, LOCAL FIRST STREET PARTY: LOCAL SPINS PHOTO GALLERY
Photos by Anthony Norkus, Taylor Mansen, David Specht and John Sinkevics
VIDEO: Friday Night at Festival 2015
VIDEO: Local First Street Party 2015
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC