Festival of the Arts rocks Day 1 with sunshine and lively music

The Festival’s return to downtown Grand Rapids on Friday after an extended COVID break drew families and fans of live music, food and art. Opening day highlights, photos and video at Local Spins.

Friday Night at Festival: Gorgeous Nightmare were one of the last bands to play on the Calder stage. (Photo/Chelsea Whitaker)

As the Arts Festival flags fluttered wildly in a strong breeze late Friday afternoon, the crossroads resurrection band tuned in for the Festival’s first evening of entertainment in three years.

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When the band finally unleashed their R&B-fueled funky blues, strains ricocheted off the downtown Grand Rapids buildings surrounding the Lyon Street Stage and quickly drew more fans to the sunny seating area, with dancers even in back.

Indeed, the thinner-than-usual crowds for a festival on Friday compared to previous years – especially given the sunny, rain-free weather – grew rapidly overall as night fell, with long lines of waiting at many food stalls at 6 p.m.

The live music on the four outdoor stages also seemed to be gaining in intensity and energy, from ultra-talented young jazz band Judah Guerra on the Calder Stage to rock ‘n’ roll duo FlyLiteGemini on the Lyon Street Stage to Chandler Reed & Musique catchy piano pop-rock of the Sticky Keys on the Fountain Street stage.

Chandler Reed & The Sticky Keys (Photo/Local Tours)

“We only have a few months of good weather, so when there’s an outdoor festival where we can enjoy the sun and the local arts, take advantage of it,” said festival-goer Hugh Kallen of Grand Rapids.

All in all, this was the triumphant return of a free, volunteer-run festival with a half-century tradition to Grand Rapids, returning from a crippling pandemic that stalled more than one summer event in the over the past two years. And there are still two full days of performances to come. Check out the preview and full schedule on Local Spins here.

Interestingly, Friday’s opening blast wasn’t the only live music to take place outside of downtown Grand Rapids. A few blocks from Studio Park, south of Van Andel Arena, Listening Lawn hosted the “pre-opening” of its summer concert series on the plaza, with Ann Arbor’s Djangophonique rolling out his gypsy jazz inspired by Django Reinhardt for delighted fans as the quartet promoted their new studio album, “Introducing Djangophonique”.

Here are some highlights from the first day of the Festival, along with a photo gallery and video.

Screenwriter Benjamin Blackburn
Kristal Kleer – Eight-piece band Krystal Kleer kicked off the Arts Festival on the right foot with a glorious ensemble of Southern blues. Performing on the Calder Stage under beautiful blue skies, Krystal Kleer delivered a performance that demanded the attention of any passing festival-goer.

Brian Morris (Photo/Holly Holtzclaw)

Brian Morris – Classical guitarist Brian Morris spent his set creating beautiful soundscapes and providing the interior stage of the Grand Rapids Art Museum with a cheerful atmosphere. Unfortunately, due to planned behind-the-scenes construction, some of the quieter segments were overtaken by raging hammers and saws. Morris was even visibly distracted at a few points during the show.

Karen Betz-Griewahn – Coming to the art museum with a handful of different wind instruments (flute, alto flute, piccolo), Karen Betz-Griewahn performed an assortment of songs by classical composers. Along with the music, Betz-Griewahn had a cheerful and friendly presence as she shared stories about her family between songs.

Writer Robert Novak
Tami Rene – Singer-songwriter Tami Rene performed a wholesome folk-rock set Friday night. His smooth vocals accompanied by his bluesy acoustic guitar playing drew a crowd to the diSuvero stage marquee.

Prickly pears (Photo/Holly Holtzclaw)

Eastern Town Swing – The five-person jazz ensemble, East Town Swing, played a variety of music from Miles Davis to Michael Bublé. The entire diSuvero stage featured multiple solos from each musician, showcasing each instrument present.

Prickly pears– The passionate lyricism and upbeat instrumentals of the Prickly Pears created a cathartic live musical experience. The local indie folk-rock band performed an emotional and cohesive set on the diSuvero stage that had audience members dancing.

PHOTO GALLERY: Grand Rapids Festival – Day 1
Pictures of Chelsea Whitaker, Holly Holtzclaw, John Sinkevics

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