The Memorial Day weekend event that traditionally signals the start of Michigan’s festival season was wiped out by COVID-19. So, Local Spins decided to revisit last year’s celebration in words, photos and video.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTO GALLERY, VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2019
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Camaraderie, passionate performances and emotion-drenched sentiments all set amid West Michigan’s natural splendor.
Festivalgoers dodged raindrops early on, but much of the 2019 edition of the Buses by the Beach Bus Benefit at Camp Blodgett in West Olive was a sun-splashed affair that made Memorial Day weekend along Lake Michigan more than memorable when it comes to music, fellowship and Volkswagen bus-adorned, camping charm.
As many might put it: You’re not attending a music festival, you’re visiting family when it comes to the Bus Benefit, and 2019’s event was no exception.
And luckily, after a dreary start with rain Thursday night into Friday afternoon, the rain held off for opening performances on Friday evening, making for a warm night and a nice kickoff to a full weekend of festivities.
“It’s hit or miss,” said Robyn Gordon of West Olive, who was camping with friends.
“But in spite of the weather, it’s been great, spirits haven’t been dampened. The rain just forces you to get creative with how you set up.”
Gordon noted the rain also “provides unexpected opportunities for fun and meeting new people with everyone huddling under tents for shelter and fellowship.”
That sentiment was echoed by Matthew Porter of Grand Rapids’ B-Side Growlers, who officially performed Saturday night but could be found jamming with friends on Friday, too.
“We’ve been having a good time, singing a lot of rain and sunshine songs and we think we drove the rain away,” Porter said of the B-Side Growlers, who led fellow campers in a rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”
As is tradition, campers across the festival site could be found playing their instruments, cooking hot dogs on the grill and socializing by their Volkswagen buses.
Attendees make the trek to the festival each year from all over the country. Some were attending the affair for the first time in 2019, while others boasted 17 straight years of festival fun, including Cary Rea from Grand Haven.
“You’ve got to check out the rock-climbing wall and disc golf,” said Rea, standing next to his festive van and rainbow-dyed dog. “There’s also a competition of who drove the longest to get here.”
‘MAGIC HAPPENS’ AT CAMPSITES AND ON STAGE
Plenty of festivalgoers were accompanied by canine pals, but Kallie Walker of Holland brought along a different sort of four-legged friend: a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, Will, who was “super chill, super outgoing and loves food.”
Newcomers to the Bus Benefit were embraced by veterans such as Ollie Yutgen from Des Plaines, Ill., who made sure to greet people who looked a little out of place.
“The magic happens over here,” Yutgen said as he pointed toward a cluster of VW buses. “After the music at the main stage stops, people come back here and jam and hangout.”
Grand Rapids indie-folk/soft rock act Political Lizard got the music on the main stage started Friday, sporting different colored jumpsuits with animal embroidery and performing a set of original songs and covers as people slowly trickled over.
Some fans danced, some sang along, some talked quietly with friends, all enjoying the ambiance. The band even premiered a new song under the working title “Jack and Jill,” while also mentioning a new music video in the works.
Veteran festival performers Nicholas James & the Bandwagon followed, playing to a full crowd and a plethora of dancers and merry-makers, many of them outside the performance tent, soaking up the last of the day’s sunshine.
The Americana-hued six-piece band rolled out a nearly two-hour set of material, including “Eighteen” from the group’s 2016 album, “Tall Tall Tales.”
The night ended on a powerful note, with a bagpipe-led memorial procession for friends of the Bus Benefit — Kirt Weakman and Jim Weiderman — who recently passed away. Political Lizard, Nicholas James & the Bandwagon and Roosevelt Diggs re-entered the tent to lead the audience in an acoustic rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” that left not a dry eye in the house.
Main-stage performances by regional stars continued Saturday with the B-Side Growlers, Fauxgrass, Full Cord and The Go Rounds and on Sunday with Deerfield Run, The Gasoline Gypsies, The Legal Immigrants and Roosevelt Diggs.
And as always with this annual event — which raises money for the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and first revved up back in 2002 — much of the fun took place off stage in late-night jams at campsites or during the day on the Lake Michigan beach.
“It was an epic weekend with emotions running high,” said Todd Olson, a past Buses by the Beach board member and longtime festival attendee. “So much love and magical moments I will cherish forever. I love our Bus family and the memories we create together.”
Joe Bockheim, lead singer and guitarist for Grand Rapids’ The Legal Immigrants, said his first Bus Benefit experience was more than memorable.
“It was my first time kickin’ it with the VW bus hippies,” he said. “They are a tight-knit and welcoming community. We really felt the love.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Bus Benefit 2019 presented by Buses by the Beach
Photos by Anna Sink
PHOTO GALLERY: Bus Benefit Opening Day 2019
Photos by Molly Long
VIDEO: Bus Benefit 2019 (By FrankenBus)
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