The three-day celebration of the arts in downtown Grand Rapids couldn’t have ordered better weather or offered more diverse music. And it continues today and Sunday.
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In line Friday for souvlaki at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church food booth, a woman described for her daughter what makes Grand Rapids’ Festival of the Arts so special.
“It’s a real smorgasbord,” she declared.
Indeed it is.
With the four-letter r-word (rain) not even in the conversation, the 50th anniversary edition of Festival unfurled Friday under gorgeous blue skies with a true smorgasbord of live music, food and art that has long distinguished the annual celebration – a three-day event that this year boasts performances on 10 stages throughout downtown.
In just a 90-minute stretch wandering from one end of Festival to the other on Friday afternoon, attendees could have caught the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, a solo pop pianist (Paige Gold), a hip hop artist (Boss Ruff), a youth “drum clinic” (Josh Dunigan), an up-and-coming alt-rock/pop band (Mannhattan), karaoke performances at the WGVU Pop-Up Stage, a guitar-looping one-man band (The Brandino Extravaganza), an indie-rock outfit (Often Home) and the pop-hued St. Sinner Orchestra, a jaunty string ensemble that performed elegantly as a 12-piece band with a drummer, all led beautifully by singer Greg Scheer on acoustic guitar.
“I love the variety of music here. It’s a change from what I was used to seeing around Grand Rapids the last couple months,” said festival-goer and Western Michigan University student Olivia Novak who traveled to the event from Kalamazoo on Friday.
SPECIAL OPENING CEREMONIES AND ‘PERFECT SUMMER WEATHER’
Other highlights from opening day:
• Special evening opening ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of Festival were hosted on the Calder Stage by Rachel Ruiz of WOOD TV 8 and got under way with performances by members of Grand Rapids’ Circle Theatre. Festival’s history was recounted as Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss addressed the crowd, with the “La Grande Vitesse” sculpture, better known to locals as “The Calder,” as a backdrop. As the sun set, those ceremonies gave way to a long night-ending set from Grand Rapids’ own party-leading six-piece, Brena.
• Often Home performed its energetic indie-rock songs on the Circle Stage, along with a cover of “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. “We love this event, because it celebrates what this city means to all of us,” said lead singer Aaron Wienss.
• The ’60s-’70s-inspired folk band from Grand Rapids, Edison Kitt and The Strangers, performed at the Kendall Stage showcasing songs from their debut EP “Hello” as well as some unreleased songs. The crowd was fixated on the perfect fiddle performance, while Kitt’s distinct voice carried through the street.
• In mid-afternoon, many gravitated toward the Di Suvero stage as they heard guitars blasting some fast-paced lively solos. Skyking drew the attention of the crowd with its unique twist of rock and funk. The crowd’s excitement grew as the four band members from Grand Haven bobbed and grooved to the beat of their songs. “I think it’s so cool coming out and seeing all types of music in one area,” Jordan Barnette from Grand Haven said. “There is perfect summer weather too.”
• Raging heat didn’t stop the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony Orchestra from playing its mid-afternoon set on the Calder Stage. The young musicians impressed with their professional skill level while playing orchestral music. They began the concert with the “Academic Festival Overture,” finishing as the violins crescendoed elegantly. “I love coming and seeing the diversity of different music and art,” Doug Kliewer from Grand Rapids said. “You don’t get to see this type of thing everyday.”
• On the Kendall Stage, Deep Cover delighted crowds of all age, putting In Grade-A performances of a wide range of classics, including Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”
• Hazard took City Stage just before 6 p.m., wearing all black with long hair in the great metal tradition of defying the sun. Hailing from Sparta, the group of young cousins shred through some metal riffs like the most seasoned of pros. The band unleashed a blistering set for a crowd teeming with headbangers, Including its new single, “Can’t Stop It.”
Festival starts up again at 10 a.m. today and continues through early evening Sunday. Check out Local Spins’ “Best of Festival” picks to help guide you.
PHOTO GALLERY: Festival 2019 – Day 1
Photos by Kendra Petersen-Kamp, John Sinkevics and Molly Long
Click to enlarge image and photo gallery
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC