Dozens of free summer concerts unfold every night across the state, spotlighting everything from rock to jazz to blues. Local Spins takes a deep dive into why these shows are so popular as a seasonal pasttime.
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There’s never a dull moment in West Michigan’s talent-saturated music scene, especially in the summer.
But well beyond the high-profile festivals and often-pricey concert series, the season is jam-packed with free outdoor shows featuring local and regional acts blanketing cities and hamlets across the state: Local Spins’ Free Outdoor Community Concerts Guide lists more than 140 concert series from Ada to Zeeland, St. Joseph to Northport, Rockford to Roscommon, Lowell to Ludington.
Those concerts numbering in the thousands not only give fans a relaxed, affordable, lawn-chair-lounging opportunity to experience the breadth of regional artistry, but offer bands and solo acts a chance to strut their stuff for generation-spanning audiences — not to mention giving them a welcome financial boost from compensation usually provided by sponsors and various organizations.
Many of these weeknight concerts — like Tuesdays’ United Bank Rogue River Blues Series in Rockford and Thursdays’ Sizzlin’ Summer Concerts in Lowell — attract audiences in the hundreds, if not thousands, for uber-popular acts such as blues-rock phenom Jake Kershaw and nationally acclaimed indie-alt-folk’s The Accidentals, who also happen to play Sparta’s Concerts in Rogers Park at 6:30 p.m. tonight (July 20) along with Treeskin.
Speaking of Sparta, the community’s Wednesday night shows create an ideal setting for an outdoor concert.
The shows are always lively, with the enclosed stage amplifying the music as children play on the playground and a variety of food trucks pack the parking lot.
“I live in the area so I always try to bring the family out to the local concerts, especially when they’re free,” said Sparta concerts attendee Carly Karasiewicz.
“The music is always fun and my kids love dancing and playing in the park.”
With diverse new artists featured each week, the music at Rogers Park never gets old: The Vinyl Bandits kicked off the series in June with a killer classic rock performance, The Fast River Big Band played timeless jazz pieces, and the Fast Hands Band brought the funk and blues last week.
CONCERTS THAT ARE ‘ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY’
A long-running free jazz series, meanwhile, takes over the beautifully scenic Millennium Park Meadows in Walker on Monday nights. Hosted by the West Michigan Jazz Society, “Jazz in the Park” runs from mid-June until late August, starting at 6:30 p.m. Mondays.
The Clifton Metcalf band recently uncorked an upbeat, instrumental swing performance, drawing spectators from all over West Michigan who gathered on blankets and lawn chairs in front of the stage. It was only a matter of time before people got up and danced.
“I’m a Jazz Society member and I just love being outside and listening to the music from these talented musicians,” said Caudia Raber of Grand Rapids.
Clifton Metcalf’s drummer, Jeff Shoup, may have said it best: “These kinds of events bring people out here, which really allows the community to support the local music scene. And jazz is all about community.”
Of course, outdoor community concerts are accessible at no cost thanks to event sponsors.
“Last year we sponsored Jazz in the Park just by running an ad in the paper,” said attorney Kristin Britt, of Grand Rapids’ The Britt Law Group. “But this year, we decided to sponsor a specific night because it’s so fun and important to have local, free events like this in our community.”
They also have a lasting impact on those communities: One fan of Rockford’s Rogue River Blues Series was still raving about June’s opening-night performance by renowned guitarist Paul Nelson and his band a full month later.
Yes, it’s all about music and community — and memories.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Accidentals at Lowell’s Sizzlin’ Summer Concerts
Photos by Eric Stoike
Seth Bernard at Tuesday Evening Music Club at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Local Spins
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