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Music Cities: Grand Rapids, Michigan Community Music Cities Series 

Music Cities: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Skyline Photo by 22 North Photography.
Grand Rapids Skyline. Photo by 22 North Photography.

Michigan is no stranger to music. Hitsville USA a.k.a. Motown was founded in Detroit. Plenty of Michigan rockers came from the mitten state: Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Diana Ross (The Supremes) Glen Frey (The Eagles), Iggy Pop, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Jack White, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Grand Funk Railroad, The Romantics, Mike Posner, Sufjan Stevens, and the list goes on…

While Detroit Rock City gets plenty of high praises for its music (thanks for the 1979 shout-out, KISS), a Western Michigan city is also making a way onto the map of big music cities. Grand Rapids, also known as Beer City USA for its many breweries and pubs, is home to an especially vibrant arts scene, with a musical landscape that rivals Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Grand Rapids embraces the arts scenes and carefully curated a map of all the bars, restaurants, coffee shops and spaces that offer up-and-coming musicians their moment to shine. Check out the impressive map of the city, featuring a music trail of venues, open mic locations, performance arts, festivals and more here.

VENUES:

The Intersection, located right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, was recently voted one of the best venues  by Pollstar. In 2016, The Intersection was named among the Top 25 venues for ticket sales in the world: a #22 spot out of 200, with an impressive 114, 656 concert tickets sold.  Past artists have included Snoop Dogg, Luke Bryan, Fall Out Boy, Bassnectar, The Avett Brothers, Sturgill Simpson, Gavin Degraw and more. The secondary market venue even beat out bigger clubs like San Fransisco’s The Fillmore and The Neptune in Seattle.

Photo by Anthony Norkus.
Photo by Anthony Norkus.

Pyramid Scheme: A guy walks into a bar … you’ve heard the joke before. But this bar isn’t like the rest — the Pyramid Scheme is equipped with pinball machines, PBR and plenty of live shows night after night. Labeled as a neighborhood pub and music venue, the Pyramid Scheme helps support artists and musicians from just around the corner to worldwide-touring talent.

Photo courtesy of Pyramid Scheme.
Photo courtesy of Pyramid Scheme.

With the bar and games in front, some passerbyers might not even realize the back of the venue hosts some of the most up-close-and-personal shows in town. That is, until they see the windows plastered with show flyers and handbills at every ledge, table and nook within the bar. Plus, their t-shirts have dinosaurs playing pinball machines, so really, what’s not to love?

Photo by Anthony Norkus.
Photo by Anthony Norkus.

Van Andel Arena: You can almost always bet when the ‘big names’ are touring the country, that a stop in Michigan is included. If by chance, Detroit dates are inconvenient, Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena is absolutely the way to go. Given its smaller size than MI venues like Palace of Auburn Hills or Joe Louis Arena, Van Andel holds roughly 12,000 people.

Photo courtesy of Van Andel Arena.
Photo courtesy of Van Andel Arena.

National acts like Neil Diamond, Elton John, Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, The Who, the Eagles, Bob Seger, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Aerosmith and more have graced the stage here. It’s a smaller arena, compared to others, so the sound is superior and there’s no bad seat in the house.

Aerosmith performs at Van Andel Arena. Photo by Anthony Norkus.
Aerosmith performs at Van Andel Arena. Photo by Anthony Norkus.

20 Monroe Live: The newest venue, backed by LiveNation, is celebrating its grand opening Feb. 1 with Trombone Shorty, Orleans Avenue and Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers. Also on their impressive concert calendar is Lynyrd Skynyrd, Peter Frampton, Young the Giant, Dirty Heads, Shinedown and The Head & the Heart. The 2600 capacity venue is inspired by retro art deco clubs, and is sure to rival any ol’ House of Blues around. Plus, it’s brand new so no sticky floors or weathered seats!

20 Monroe Live venue. Photo courtesy of Live Nation.
20 Monroe Live venue. Photo courtesy of Live Nation.

Frederik Meijer Gardens concerts: The outdoor ampitheatre is surrounded by greenery, sculpture gardens and steps away from the greenhouse, setting the stage for a perfect summer show. The 1900 capacity venue boasts nearly-immediate presale sell-outs for previous years’ event series.  Artists have included Diana Ross, Gavin Degraw, Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, The Monkees, Los Lonely Boys, and more. Besides the lovely scenery, you’re even allowed to bring your own food and drink to the concert. Talk about a picinic of epic proportions.

Frederik Meijer Gardens outdoor ampitheatre. Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens.
Frederik Meijer Gardens outdoor ampitheatre. Photo courtesy of Frederik Meijer Gardens.

FESTS:

B-93 Birthday Bash:  Just ’cause this isn’t the Honky Tonk capitol, and you might not be successful in finding a cowboy boot shop or bull riding saloon at every corner, that certainly doesn’t mean G.R. can’t get down with a lil boot, scoot ‘n’ boogie. The B-93 Birthday Bash takes over a motorsports park, and fills the land with thousands of country concert-goers.

B93 Birthday Bash photo courtesy of On the Run Photography.
B93 Birthday Bash photo courtesy of On the Run Photography.

Previous performers have included Tim McGraw, Alabama, Martina McBride, Gretchen Wilson, Blake Shelton, Chris Young, Granger Smith, Frankie Ballard, Old Dominion, Kelsea Ballerini, and more. This year’s annual event celebrates its 25th anniversary, so be sure for an impressive twangy lineup!

Artprize: The world’s largest art competition is truly like no other, with interactive pieces, huge installations, paintings, photographs, multimedia collections, and nearly anything and everything you could ever think of deemed as art, scattered all throughout the vibrant city. The event is recognized as the most-attended public art event on the planet and was highlighted last year in the NY Times’ 52 places to go list.

Photo courtesy of Artrpize.
Photo courtesy of Artrpize.

New to the event last year, they added the “music hub” on the iconic Blue Bridge, offering live music “Blue Bridge Sessions” each day. As part of the artprize competition, awards are also offered for different musical categories, showcasing exceptional music talent to arise from Michigan.

The Accidentals michigan music band
The Accidentals perform downtown Grand Rapids during Artprize. Photo courtesy of Artprize.

Lamplight Festival: The DIY-style festival includes live concerts, stripped-down sets,  panels, discussions, photography, and artsy workshop classes from things like tea-making to fiber dying. The festival, aims to inspire, educate, and empower community members. The festival, perhaps the most close-knit, family-feel festival to attend, takes place in colorful historic homes on Benjamin Street. Hipsters unite.

Lamplight Music Festival photo courtesy of Laura Partain.
Lamplight Music Festival photo courtesy of Laura Partain.

Electric Forest: Though an hour-long drive from downtown Grand Rapids, this Western Michigan music festival draws people from all over the globe. The two-weekend multi-genre festival focuses on electronic music and jam bands, held at the scenic Double JJ Resort. Magical lights, bubbles, hula hooping, and hammocks help set the mood for this lighthearted, crazy colorful festival. Modern-day hippies, get the old VW bus ready to camp out at Electric Forest.

Electric_Forest_2015_aLIVE - 09
Photo courtesy of Everfest.

Programs/Series:

Planetarium Concert Series: Chaffee Planetarium hosts a brand new concert series, Concerts Under the Stars, where visitors can experience the cosmos, accompanied by local electronic, folk, funk, and jazz musicians. Seeing the stars with the perfect soundtrack? Count me in!

GRPM_Lego_Planetarium_0055_750x190
Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Public Museum.

GR Live, a live radio program is hosted each Thursday during the lunch hour, at H.O.M.E. at the B.O.B. (multi-level Big Old Building with bars, restaurants, comedy club, dance club and more). Broadcast on WYCE 88.1 FM, the radio program includes live music and interviews with artists, and community members vital to the regional music community. Drinking lunch? You bet.

img1484332839192-168-1-139
Photo courtesy of Local Spins.

 

There ya have it — a plethora of music venues, festivals, and a handy-dandy map of all things on Grand Rapids’ musical trail. This Midwestern town thrives from its support for the arts, and inspires plenty of Michiganders, and deserves national recognition for its thriving, vibrant, diverse musical scene. I strongly encourage you to consider Grand Rapids, Michigan to be added as a destination for your next trip.

 

 

 

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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