From pins and posters to vintage clothing and a snazzy board game, home-grown entrepreneurs have built a marketplace community that will fire up for Tuesday’s big arena concert.
While bluegrass phenom Billy Strings, his band and special guests load in gear and sound check at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena on Tuesday for a much-anticipated homecoming spectacle, Eli Bremer and more than 15 other vendors will be drawing the attention of fans in their own way.
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Touting Billy Strings-related merchandise – ranging from T-shirts to pins to plants to a clever new board game borrowing its title from a Billy Strings song – the vendors will roll out a marketplace of sorts on the second floor of downtown’s Courtyard by Marriott, just a block from the arena.
Call it part of the rootsy, home-grown “Billy Strings economy,” with all manner of products available to entice fans of the Michigan native and rising bluegrass superstar.
While official Billy Strings merchandise will entice fans at the arena (and continue to boast brisk sales online for everything from Billy Strings socks to special vinyl releases), a cadre of diehard “Billy Goat” admirers will unfurl their own artsy, collectible tributes to the Michigan-bred guitarist.
“I fell in love with his music and his message and the fact that he’s so humble,” says Eli Bremer, a fan and vendor from Eau Claire, Wis., who first saw Billy Strings at a festival in 2017 and later “started going nuts on Billy and I’ve been non-stop since. He’s so humble and caring.”
Billy’s mom, Deb Apostol, who also creates jewelry and classic Billy-related vintage clothing for sale, calls Bremer the “ringleader” of a tightly knit group of vendors who’ve followed Billy and his band on tour across the country.
Tuesday’s Halloween affair will mark Bremer’s 50th Billy Strings show and he boasts what’s probably the most unique merchandise of any vendor on hand: The “Meet Me at the Creek” board game inspired by Billy Strings songs and featuring striking metal goathead pawn game pieces.
Bremer, CEO of Goatful Games, said he’d been “sitting on this idea” of a unique board game for 10 years, but it took his fascination with Billy Strings to make it come to fruition.
The metal pawns – resembling musicians with goatheads – were manufactured in China, but the game boards, dice, instructions and boxes were produced by Delano Games in Battle Creek, “less than an hour from where Billy grew up,” Bremer said.
Although the games are available online for $75 via Etsy.com, Bremer said he’s enjoyed particularly robust sales at Billy Strings concerts ever since he started marketing them on an East Coast tour at the end of July.
“At the shows, I crush it,” he conceded. “It’s awesome.”
The board game is just one of many items fans attending Tuesday’s concert will find at the Courtyard by Marriott marketplace: Posters, pins, T-shirts, tie-dyes, artwork, plants, hats, glass blowers, vintage clothing, shoes and more have been part of the offerings at past shows. The vendors will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 31) at the Courtyard by Marriott, 11 Monroe Ave. NW.
“They put their heart and soul into it,” Apostol said of the artisans and vendors who comprise the “beautiful community” surrounding her son and his band.
Billy Strings’ “Van Andel Scramble” takes place at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena with an all-star cast (Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Mark Lavengood, John Mailander, Bill Nershi, Chris Pandolfi, Duane Trucks) playing a special Michigan homecoming show. Remaining tickets – $39.50-$59.50 – available online here.
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