Thursday’s official opening to the 2019 national concert series in the refurbished amphitheater offered a celebratory vibe amid perfect weather. Review, photos.
For fans of Nahko & Medicine for the People, the success of an evening at Meijer Gardens could only be measured in “vibe.”
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The term was invoked often by frontman Nahko Bear during the band’s set, which kicked off Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s summer concert series Thursday night.
The Portland native has become a beacon of positivity among avid festival-goers since the mythic band’s rise to prominence in 2013. Where there is Nahko, there is bound to be a strong message of peace and an even stronger scent of patchouli.
These colorfully dressed fans came out in droves (official attendance was 1,850, just 50 short of a sellout) to hear the band and brought with them the feeling of camaraderie unique to a some of Michigan’s woodland music festivals such as Blissfest or Electric Forest.
That’s the vibe, and that’s how I witnessed a jolly attendee parading around Meijer Gardens with a pet snake mere moments after arriving. Perhaps that’s a first for the newly renovated amphitheater.
A perfectly warm evening glow set in as country singer Jade Jackson took the stage to open the show. The California singer-songwriter’s sultry style skewed toward rock music due in part to her high-energy backing band. As each song drew more and more applause, it became clear that Nahko’s festival-adept following could as well have enjoyed hours of music from Jackson and company.
FESTIVAL VIBE IN FULL EFFECT
Even as Nahko & Medicine for the People opened its set to a bout of issues with a wireless microphone, the audience cheered loudly in support. The festival vibe was in full effect.
The crowd proved its mettle at singing along throughout the show, too, backing up Nahko for choruses on songs such as “Budding Trees” and the 10-minute epic, “Aloha Ke Akua.”
The band quickly matched that energy as it blended Nahko’s folk anthems with rock, hip hop and reggae. Rounding out that musical collage were sweeping cinematic melodies courtesy the horn section and violinist Tim Snider.
Snider would find no fewer than a dozen opportunities to wow the crowd throughout the evening with shrieking, wah-wah addled solos.
That Van Halen-esque fiddle work contributed to a sort of absurdist rebel spirit shared among the band. Whether they were running, jumping or dancing across the stage (or off stage, when Nahko joined the crowd for a song), it all seemed to promote peace and merriment.
One such joyous “middle finger in the air” moment came during “Take Back Your Power,” a brand new song which seemed to resonate with the audience on a visceral level. It was a wholly unique mix of revelry and harmony.
Overall, food and beverage sales went smoothly in the expanded new concessions building, compared to Tuesday’s “dress rehearsal” with May Erlewine & The Motivations entertaining a record audience of 2,200 in a special edition of the Tuesday Evening Music Club series.
FANS: IMPRESSIVE RENOVATIONS, SHORT CONCESSION LINES
John VanderHaagen, director of communications, said with Meijer Gardens offering half-price concession items to a huge crowd on Tuesday, the amphitheater ran out of food items quickly, selling more than double the amount of food in 90 minutes than it typically does in four hours of sales during a normal concert. “We were overwhelmed by the response and the amount of food that people were ordering,” he said.
By comparison, Thursday night’s lines amid glorious weather weren’t as long and food items were still available during the show, partly because more attendees brought their own food via picnic baskets, VanderHaagen observed.
“I liked that there were so many lines (to buy concession items) that there was hardly any wait,” said concertgoer Kyle Jelens of Grand Rapids. He and his wife, Lexi, noted that the revamped amphitheater “looks a lot more impressive” than it did previously.
Regular concert attendee Graham Thomas of Gobles praised the atmosphere of Meijer Gardens and called the amphitheater “one of my favorite places to see a show. I like the new renovations, especially how the lines are a lot shorter.”
For most fans, however, the remodeled amphitheater – with expanded entry plaza, new restrooms, merch sales booth and more – wasn’t the main attraction. Nahko Bear and band clearly drew a cadre of devoted fans who cheered, gyrated and danced near the stage all night long.
This was the first stop on the band’s “Take Back Your Power” tour, which will take them across the United States and Canada for the next six months. As the sun began to disappear, Nahko referred to the evening as “a damn good way to start it off.”
For its inaugural 2019 summer concert series event, perhaps folks at Meijer Gardens would agree.
PHOTO GALLERY: Nahko & Medicine for the People, Jade Jackson at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Anthony Norkus