The Rapidian

Festival of the Arts highlights musicians on four stages

Festival of the Arts, happening this weekend downtown, hosts a wide variety of music from multiple stages over three days.
Stage preparations at Calder Plaza underway

Stage preparations at Calder Plaza underway /Richard Deming

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Local favorite Alexis will be performing again at this year's Festival

Local favorite Alexis will be performing again at this year's Festival /Terry Johnston

Festival of the Arts is known for its arts competition, the festival food and just as noticeably, its free entertainment on multiple stages for three days straight. Music ranges widely: acapella, gospel, pop punk, traditional jazz and blues, Americana, acoustic rock, indie-pop, roots, classical, pop, 70s rock, drums of the islands and Celtic are all featured… and that's just in the first four hours of this year's Festival.

"The beauty of Festival is that you have so many different types of art, and [the live music] sets the tone for all of that. As you go from one end of Festival to the other, you're walking through all this live music that's just setting the atmosphere for all the great food and art," explains co-chair of scheduling Shawn Bergsma.

Local favorites Valentiger, Mary Rademacher Reed, Big Dudee Roo, Alexis, The Mines and Ribbons of Song all have their turn on the stages. The Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra even makes an appearance Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. There are approximately 320 acts on stage this year.

Many bands visitors may not have heard of, and many only perform this weekend at Festival of the Arts. Determining who can see can be a daunting task. For those trying to figure it out, Bergsma has some advice: "With 300 bands, do I have something that I'd love to point out? Yes. I'd love to point out 320 bands and dance groups."

Festival preparations are all done by volunteers like Bergsma. The team creating the scheduling for all performances is mainly comprised of three volunteers, who on their own have donated cumulatively over 300 hours. That doesn't include the time spent by adjudicators who look at demos from all applicants.

Bergsma, Jenn Cullin, and another volunteer who works behind the scenes to help with administration needs, take in all applications and go through the arduous task of figuring out where everyone will perform.  

"There is no rock and roll stage; there is no country stage; there is no dance stage," says Bergsma. "As [we're] scheduling, we really try to make it so that if you're sitting at a stage enjoying food from one of the food booths or time with the family, that you'll see a variety of music and dance all on that stage."

To be sure you don't miss your favorite performances, find all the stages and activities on the map. Main stages this year are:

  • Calder Stage: in Calder Plaza (on Ottawa Ave. between Lyon St. and Michigan St.)
  • Circle Stage: at Rosa Parks Circle (corner of Monroe Center and Monroe Ave.)
  • City Stage: on Monroe Center (at the corner of Monroe Center and Ottawa Ave.)
  • Clock Tower Stage: on Federal Square (corner of Pearl St. and Ottawa Ave.)

Stages have had a marked improvement this year, with all four main stages becoming elevated flat open stages. "We [now] have the same style stage at every stage," explains Bergsma. "It allows us to be a little more flexible with groups. Because our stage crew can get to all sides of the stage, they can set up groups much quicker."

Printed programs are available at the information booths (at Calder Plaza and at Monroe Center & Ottawa Ave.) to the public. A suggested donation of $1 is appreciated but, as Bergsma explains, "we never want somebody's inability to put a dollar in the bucket to keep them from enjoying the Festival."

For those wanting to plan ahead of time, a complete list of performances is available online on the website's guide. Information about parking, storm shelters, bathrooms and even a bike corral and an infant care center can be found in the guide's information page.

Event hours are Friday June 1 (12-10 p.m.), Saturday June 2 (10 a.m.- 10 p.m.) and Sunday June 3 (10 a.m.- 7 p.m.)



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