With a jump in attendance from last year, Founders Fest 2019 drew thousands for a beer-propelled Grand Rapids street party with no shortage of dynamic sets by national and regional acts.
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A soulful and sunny Saturday culminated with some “Soulshine” at the 12th annual Founders Fest in downtown Grand Rapids.
“Mother Nature shined down on us once again,” shouted a jubilant Dave Engbers from the stage, following the FBC All-Stars early-afternoon set.
“Our dream started 20-something years ago and here we are at the 12thFounders Fest. We do what we love, and we couldn’t do it without all of you,” said the co-founder of Grand Rapids’ most popular brewery.
“I want to thank our production crew for making some of the best f***ing beer in the world.”
Volunteers and staff were pouring immense amounts and a dizzying number of styles and varieties of that beer in the festival’s beer tents as thousands of revelers took to the closed-off streets, playing cornhole and other games at the back of the grounds, browsing the artisan booths, indulging their palates at the nice variety of food trucks and gravitating toward the main stage for the festival’s main attraction — which, of course, was the music.
Grand Rapids’ resident Isaac Powrie, attending his fifth Founders Fest, compared the vibe to years past, but commented that “the beer lines seemed shorter.”
“Overall, Founders did a good job of providing a good day of live music and quality beer,” he said, adding that he is a fan of the one-stage setup that’s marked the festival the past two years.
MICHIGAN MUSIC AND MACY GRAY GET THE PARTY GOING
Following opening sets from Grand Rapids’ own Lady Ace Boogie and the festival house band, The FBC All-Stars, the fast-arriving crowd began to make its way toward the stage for a high-energy set from The War and Treaty.
Setting the tone early with their original jam, “Healing Tide,” Albion’s Michael and Tanya Trotter put on a classic W&T show filled with covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” a scorching version of the funk traditional “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the Jammie-winning “Jeep Cherokee Laredo” and a set-closing “Down to the River” that showed off every musical element of jazz, gospel, R&B, funk and soul, that makes this quickly emerging, nationally acclaimed band what it is.
The back-and-forth between the soulful couple was playful and fun throughout their set, but the two did take time to get serious, slowing things down to talk about suicide prevention and mental health awareness before launching into an emotional and passionate “Reach Out,” encouraging crowd members to turn to one another to listen and talk if they are suffering.
Keeping things soulful, the day’s next artist, Macy Gray, delivered a set that highlighted original songs such as 2010’s “Beauty in the World,” her latest single, “Buddha,” and her classic smash hit “I Try.” But it also featured a number of covers that likely surprised festival-goers — many of whom said they had no idea what to expect from the 51-year-old R&B singer, whose U.S. performances have been few and far in between in recent years.
Gray offered takes on Radiohead’s “Creep,” The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket,” Andrew Gold’s “Thank You for Being a Friend” and even toyed with Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” during the middle of her performance of “I Try” — raising the excitement level for the day’s next performer even higher than it already was.
ROOTS REGGAE AND HARD-DRIVING JAMS BRING IT HOME
Kicking things off with the classic “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” one of Jamaica’s favorite sons, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was no doubt ready to rock steady as his legendary band Toots and the Maytals fired up the crowd with slow and smoky grooves, skanky rhythms and call-and-response-driven numbers such as “Funky Kingston.”
Beach balls were flying through the air and arms were waving in celebration during what was likely the most energy-inducing set of the day.
The 76-year-old Hibbert came across as years younger as he led the crowd through his trademark change of pace jam “Pressure Drop” and a sing-along version of “Country Roads” that prompted more dancing than any other tune of the day.
The rock elements that work their way into much of the Maytals’ material may have also prompted a different type of call-and-response from festival headliner Gov’t Mule.
Frontman Warren Haynes (formerly of The Allman Brothers Band) and keyboardist Danny Louis interspersed their own style of skanky riffs on the original sequence of “I’m a Ram>She Said>Tomorrow Never Knows” the band’s somewhat recent “Revolution Comes,” and most notably on a mostly instrumental cover of the Marley classic, “Lively Up Yourself.”
Offering up a much different style than the day’s earlier acts, Haynes and company came out rocking with a hard-driving “Hammer and Nails” and later on sent old-school Allmans’ fans into fits of delight with an abbreviated “Mountain Jam.”
Fittingly for a day filled with soul music and sunshine, the southern jam rockers closed things out with Haynes’ classic “Soulshine.” (See video of “Soulshine” below)
PHOTO GALLERY 1: Founders Fest 2019
Photos by Anthony Norkus
PHOTO GALLERY 2: Founders Fest 2019
Photos by Anna Sink
VIDEOS: Founders Fest 2019
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