This weekend’s Grand Rapids festival will have fewer stages and performances, along with a revamped layout, but plenty of eclectic acts from which to choose. Local Spins can help on that count.
SCROLL DOWN FOR “THE BEST OF FEST PICKS” FOR 2017
For more than 45 years, Festival of the Arts has been a familiar fixture in downtown Grand Rapids in early June, boasting hundreds of performances on several stages over three days.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the “same old, same old” for 2017.
In fact, visitors and bands will see a host of changes for this year’s edition of the all-volunteer festival which kicks off Friday, including fewer performances because there will be only five outdoor stages instead of six.
“Probably the biggest change guests will see this year will be the layout. Due to construction around downtown, we moved a few things around,” said Stasia Savage, festival board president.
This year, that means the Circle Stage at Rosa Parks Circle is now part of “Kids’ World,” with the popular Paint-In and Glue-In stations moved to this location along with Mad Hatter and tents for children “to make crafts, learn dance and songs and more.”
A new Kendall Stage will host performances at the intersection of Pearl Street and Division Avenue.
The other outdoor stages for 2017 are the Outer Fringe (west of the Federal Building), Calder Stage (on Calder Plaza) and City Stage (at Ottawa Avenue and Monroe Center). Scroll down for the Festival map.
The reduction in stages due to various street closings and construction means there were fewer time slots available for bands seeking to play Festival 2017. But overall, time slots are longer for more of those chosen from performance applications, Savage said.
Savage stressed that the nonprofit, volunteer festival continues to depend on donations, grants, corporate sponsorships and a portion of sales from food and art to operate, so she urged festivalgoers to contribute to the cause. (Folks can donate online here.)
“Unfortunately, we have had a run of ‘liquid sunshine’ in the past few years, so we are running pretty lean (financially) currently,” she said, “but we fully expect to celebrate our 50th festival in 2019.”
Here’s another tradition: Local Spins making its picks for performances to check out during the three-day Festival of the Arts.
Consider these picks by West Michigan musicians and Local Spins writers as a good place to start as you plan your weekend. (Browse the full performance schedule online here.)
Guitarist-singer, Lipstick Jodi
(Lipstick Jodi plays the Kendall Stage at 7 p.m. Friday)
The Autumnatic: 7 p.m. Saturday, Kendall Stage – I’m really excited to see another set from The Autumnatic. We played with them at The Orbit Room recently, and our band really caught feelings for them. They have great dynamics and style, and we can’t wait for our future shows together.
Funny Girls: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Outer Fringe – We’re really looking forward to Funny Girls being featured at festival this year. Lipstick Jodi really admires them for striving to be inclusive and to grow our community of strong women.
Bassist, Bet on Rats
(Bet on Rats plays Mulligan’s Pub at 9 p.m. Sunday)
The Bitters: 7:45 p.m. Saturday, Kendall Stage – If you’ve been to a few local punk shows in the last 20 years, you know Jeff Baird. He’s the guy that’s always tearing it up on the floor, no matter how many people turn out. If he likes your band enough, he might honor you by tossing his empty beer can at you. What you might not know about Jeff: He’s a total ripper! Armed with three chords, a tiny Fender Amp and 30-rack of attitude, he is the boozy energy that fuels the vintage punk-rock stylings of The Bitters. The Bitters have a very stripped down, straight-ahead vibe with songs that are more groovy than spastic. This is a band that isn’t trying to change the shape of punk to come, but is an homage to the way punk has always been. Do not miss these guys.
The American Zombie Inquisition: 2:30 p.m. Friday, Kendall Stage – There isn’t another artist out there like Joe Henry. Imagine a heavy metal Utah Phillips singing apocalyptic hymns over spacey guitar loops. He sings with a rich, powerful baritone laden with expertly controlled vibrato. I promise you will get chills hearing this guy hit some of these notes. The lyrics tie together stories of one’s struggle with mortality and reflections on the origins and inevitable ends of the entire universe.
Guitarist, Steve Hilger Band
(Hilger plays unplugged with Dave DeVos at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at the Outer Fringe and with Steve Hilger Band at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on the Calder Stage.)
Evidence Jazz Group: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Calder stage – This quintet consists of five very talented and experienced jazz musicians who have been playing together almost a decade. This is sure to please any jazz lover.
Saxophonist, Cosmic Knot, Razzbone
(Cosmic Knot plays the Outer Fringe at 6:15 p.m. Friday; Razzbone plays the Outer Fringe at 1 p.m. Sunday)
Beer City Saxes: 6:15 p.m. Friday, Calder Stage – Grand Rapids is loaded with saxophone players. This group cooks. Great players of challenging jazz charts. They will not disappoint.
Steve Hilger Band: 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Calder Stage – These guys are the real deal. Steve holds this talented crew together with finesse. They will get you on your feet.
Fable the Poet: 2:45 p.m. Friday, Outer Fringe – A prolific performer, Fable the Poet delivers his lyrics with a fusion of rhythm and soul. A founding member of slam poetry open mic, The Drunken Retort, and recently elected as Grand Rapids’ Poet Laureate, Fable has his hands full with creative endeavors, yet still finds time to perform around the city. Listeners should brace themselves for energy, emotion and sincerity.
Conrad Shock & the Noise: 4:15 p.m. Friday, City Stage – Conrad Shock & the Noise is on fire. Having started only a few months ago, the band has catapulted to the forefront of West Michigan’s shimmering music scene. Funky, vibrant and fresh, the new collective captivates with its soulful performances.
Valentiger: 6:15 p.m. Saturday, Kendall Stage – The founding members of Valentiger — Brent Shirey and Scott Rider — have been at it for half a lifetime if you count the years they played under the useless-to-Google name Happy Hour. Now road-seasoned vets, the band continues to steadily produce workmanlike Midwestern rock seasoned with enough outside-the-lines weirdness (think early REM) to qualify them as a true Grand Rapids original.
The Frog King: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Kendall Stage – How do you know your city has made it? When it has its own Neil Diamond tribute band, that’s how. Submit to the bedazzled magic.
Fable the Poet: 2:45 p.m. Friday, Outer Fringe – Marcel Price, a.k.a. Fable the Poet, is a wordsmith like no other. Grand Rapids’ own poet laureate, he uses his talents and way with language to help break down barriers and social stigmas – to help us realize we all have more in common than meets the eye.
Hannah Laine: 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Outer Fringe – This talented singer-songwriter bridges the gap with versatility on her new EP, with a smooth, sultry jazz tune on one track and up-tempo R&B lyrics following every note of the beat on the next track. I can’t wait to see what she can do when she takes the stage at Festival.
The Underground Circus: Noon Saturday, City Stage – A band best experienced live, The Underground Circus’ skillful fusion of jazz, rock and funk is absolutely unique. Members of the band have become all-stars playing in groups across West Michigan and merge to create a dizzying display of musical chemistry.
The Autumnatic: 7 p.m. Saturday, Kendall Stage – For a band that is just over a year old, The Autumnatic has made quite a splash performing in the Grand Rapids area. The band’s catchy brand of powerful pop-rock can be heard on its debut single, “Taking Flight.” Seeing The Autumnatic perform live will leave melodies stuck in your head.
Lipstick Jodi: 7 p.m. Friday, Kendall Stage – Lipstick Jodi brings a fearless boost of happiness, joy, and pop fun to the stage. The four piece has a lead singer that is passionate and has a welcoming stage presence. Lead vocalist and guitarist Karli Morehouse engages the audience and makes performances seem intimate with help from Jamie Baarman (vocalist/keyboardist), Camille Hoom (bassist), and Luke Rockhold (drummer).
Avalon Cutts-Jones Music: 8 p.m. Friday, City Stage – Avalon has a powerful, mesmerizing, and beautiful voice. She has great range in her vocal octaves and it carries as far as the venue will allow. Avalon is a gem hidden that is a step away from folk, country, and jam bands. Her voice is rich, encompassing, and soulful that accompanies various musicians.
Fable the Poet: 2:45 p.m. Friday, Outer Fringe — If you go to Stella’s on a Monday night you’re likely to find Fable hosting the spoken word poetry slams held there. The newly appointed Poet Laureate is an expressive and moving poet, and for this performance, Fable will also have musical backing. This should definitely be on your list.
The Lake Effects: 4:15 p.m. Friday, Outer Fringe — This indie brass-pop band has been flying under your radar for too long. Their onstage wit and banter will fool you into thinking that they are a gang of happy-go-lucky, casual musicians. However, they are also collegiate students of music who have created incredibly well-crafted songs. You are going to get up and dance when you hear their horns.
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC