A lower turnout at Founders Fest amid steamy weather didn’t Dead-en enthusiasm for Saturday’s headliner plus five other acts who jammed on a relocated stage for the annual street party. (Photos, video)
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Founders Fest had a new look for 2018 with a revamped layout and relocated stage, but Saturday’s Grand Rapids street party still had all the appearances of an upbeat celebration of community, beer and diverse, energetic music despite steamy weather and a lighter attendance than usual.
And if festival headliner Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is going to give itself the label of “Grateful Dead cover band,” then they are the kings of Grateful Dead cover bands, no questions asked.
The five-piece, Brooklyn-based outfit led by drummer Joe Russo (Furthur), making their first ever appearance in Grand Rapids, closed out Founder’s Fest Saturday night, putting together a seven-song, two-hour set that had fans dancing in the street from start to finish.
There aren’t many bands that can stretch out so few songs over that length, but JRAD — relying on the talents of Russo, guitarists Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton, as well as keyboardist Marco Benevento and bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) — had no trouble at all keeping the crowd energized and entranced through the entirety of its set.
Opening up with an 18-minute “Good Lovin’,” sang by Metzger, the quintet smoothly segued into an upbeat, high-tempo “Shakedown Street,” then launched into the highly appropriate “Dancing in The Streets” all without missing a beat, reaching the 50-minute mark of the show in what felt like no time at all, before slowing things down with the Jerry Garcia-Robert Hunter classic, “Brown Eyed Women.”
The band then spaced things out during “The Wheel” before closing out the show with quintessential Dead staples “I Need A Miracle” and “Not Fade Away.”
“They just don’t bring music like this to Grand Rapids,” exclaimed Rockford resident Todd Wabeke, who has attended multiple Founders Fests over the past decade and been going to see live music for the past 20-plus years.
Prior to JRAD taking the stage, fellow Brooklyn act Antibalas entertained the crowd with a colorful set that was a little bit jazzy, a little bit funk and a whole lot of soul. Led by Duke Amayo on vocals, congas and percussion, the 12-piece afrobeat band came complete with a four-piece horn section, two guitars, a bassist, drums, keys and more percussion. Amayo, who noted that the act was celebrating their 20thyear together, sang of inner peace, detachment, living in the moment and unconditional love.
Performing earlier in the day was “psychedelic soul band” Monophonics, chamber pop outfit San Fermin and Grand Rapids’ own FBC All Stars and Desmond Jones.
The day began under overcast skies as attendees made their way into the reoriented Founders Fest site, with the stage this year set up on the north end of Grandville Avenue SW unlike past years.
And while throngs weren’t as thick as past years early on, the crowds certainly grew as the evening fell and the sun broke through the clouds, turning the street party into a truly tropical summertime spectacle with a large, uber-enthusiastic audience of Dead-heads for the party’s finale.
PHOTO GALLERY: Founders Fest 2018
Photos by Anthony Norkus
VIDEO: Founders Fest Highlights
Video by John Sinkevics and Ryan Boldrey
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC