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Equity Drinks: Art and conversation

Much has been written about Equity Drinks in Rapid Growth, but one area often not talked about is the power of art to take complex topics and present them in a meaningful fashion for attendees of this social justice club that has rocked the city with its willingness to address difficult conversations.

To equate Equity Drinks as simply a happy hour celebration would be wrong because, in addition to these social gatherings, they have hosted speaker series to community conversations with leaders in our community, including the Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky. 

It has evolved to include more than just those nonprofit voices or our area business leaders who share a passion for equity work; it is a group of individuals who are committed to creating long lasting changes in society, thus making Grand Rapids a leader in our state.

This month’s edition of Equity Drinks will once again address the issues of our society but will be shared through the lens of art and the spoken word. 

Part of this experience will include the opportunity to break away in groups as attendees respond to the works.  It may not be a scrapbooking-style event, but when Equity Drinks members assemble you can be certain the minds in the room will be discussing ways to create more equitable memories for all to recall at a later time in our shared history. 

Artists participating in this special art edition of Equity Drinks includes: 

Sammy Publes
Marcel “Fable the Poet” Price 
Colby Roanhorse 
Rachel Gleason
Robert Coombs
Kid Kane
Sarah Scott
Ricardo Gonzales
David Frison
Amy Hinman 
Tyler Priest

Admission: Free

2nd Annual Grand Rapids Latin Music Awards: Always hot, fresh and local

Four years ago, Erick Picardo — a local musician and fine art painter of Caribbean descent  — had a vision to create within our city a new platform where we could publicly recognize the contributions of our local Latin American artists and musicians as we collectively celebrate their impact on our city’s culture. 

In 2012, Picardo, a founding member of the Caribbean Coalition for the Arts & Culture (CCAC) —  a local collaboration group for our area's Caribbean business and friends —  paved the way for this awards show and other cultural events devoted to the Latino and Afro-Latino culture to emerge in West Michigan.

Part of CCAC’s Grand Rapids Latin Music Awards’ (GRLMA) mission grew out of their vision to expand our region’s access and experiences with the cultural heritage of Latin America and the Caribbean.

New this year, GRLMA’s ceremony will incorporate a modern twist as urban music and DJ-created rhythms are recognized alongside the more traditional styles of salsa, merengue, bachata, and cumbia. 

The stage will be filled with local musical acts and singers, all of them shining a light on the contributions of our Latin and Caribbean community members.

Admission: $10

Ottawa Hills Garden Tour: Double your floral fun this weekend

What is to be learned from holding a neighborhood garden tour for 22 years? 

Well, for starters, if you stick it out long enough, suddenly your event can grow like the plants in my backyard garden are doing this year, as this level of new growth is simply breath-taking. 

For what could have been just another year of garden touring, this year’s 23rd edition of the free Ottawa Hills Garden Tour has nearly doubled in size, rising up from a more traditional 16 total gardens in 2015 to a jaw-dropping 31 gardens to visit on Saturday.
 
But the upgrades did not stop there, as this event welcomes to the garden tours food vendors peddling hot dogs, a walking taco stand, and plenty of refreshment vendors. They even have ice cream for those who are overcome with heat to enjoy under a shady tree. 

Also leveraging the talent of this southeast neighborhood will be musicians of Ottawa Hills, who will play musical styles from classical to jazz. Even Noel Webley & His Jazz Friends will make an appearance on this self-guided tour this year.

If you want to support a local entrepreneur of Ottawa Hills there are always plenty of lemonade stands and “pop-up” cookie stores along the sidewalks. Bring cash since I am not certain these little ones will have a square reader on their phone for credit card purchases. 

Event organizers shared this funny story from the early days of this much-beloved community-building event: “When the Garden Tour first began in Ottawa Hills in 1994, it seemed that the people on the tour were the only gardeners in the neighborhood. When Tom Deur told his neighbor in 1993 that he was going to tear out a shabby hedge and put a garden between his house and her driveway, she said, "Now I'll have to look at cornstalks?" He was thinking annuals and perennials. Apparently, gardens could mean different things back then.”

Twenty-plus years have followed, and some gardens are the work of years and years of pruning, whereas some of the newbies additions are the products of writing a big check to a designer. Either way, it will be a lovely day in Ottawa Hills neighborhood for strolling, talking plant talk, and supporting a local small business from a kid who could become the next Mrs. Fields if they remember to set the timer on the oven. 

Admission: Free

Sound Of The City: Debut of the new (and close to you) music

If you have ever been a traveler and wanted to connect with your destination’s music scene, often you had to stop at a local coffee shop to pick up an arts newspaper and quickly scan the pages for an act that caught your eye.

From there you would bypass analog in that classic modern form as you reach for your handheld device to take a quick spin on the world wide web to discover a track listing of the act you were seeking to catch or connect with while in the city. Headphones on, you press play and often press the “advance” button while you wait to make the connection. 

This happens all over the world and has not changed much over time. That is, until radi8er Music debuted as a new platform to connect local music to those seeking to expand their music experience beyond what would be more traditional (wait and see radio), or the very corporately-controlled stations decided what they wanted you to hear via satellite radio stations. 

Rapid Growth has already written about an exciting new platform, radi8er, in May when it debuted to the public as a beta. This Saturday they are expanding their concert arms to reach out and invite the curious public to experience a wealth of local musical talent all held in one spot and on one special day.  

Billed as the “world’s first hyper-local, crowd-powered, real-time, music discovery platform,” radi8er’s new Sound Of The City (Grand Rapids) 2016 festival offers attendees the chance to soak up the songs of our river city via a very diverse array of acts. 

Event & Artist Schedule:
12:00 PM: Doors open.
1:00 PM: Vox Vidorra
2:00 PM: Moto
3:00 PM: Olivia Mainville & The Aquatic Troupe
4:00 PM: Valentiger
5:00 PM: Lipstick Jodi
6:00 PM: Lady Ace Boogie
7:00 PM: Full Catastrophe
8:00 PM: Ty Beat
9:00 PM: The Legal Immigrants
10:00 PM: Event Close

Cash bar, beverages, and food-carts will be available throughout the event.

Learn more at: http://www.radi8er.com/ or buy tickets here.

Admission: $8 (early pre-sale), $10 ticket, and $30 ticket & T-shirt offer.

Grand Rapids Pride Fest: Embracing the beauty of being you

What was to be just another Grand Rapids Pride celebration took a somber turn this year as local officials, event organizers and attendees are having to process the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Forty-nine members of the LGBT community and their friends were massacred at the Orlando Pulse nightclub during the early hours of June 12 as people mainly of color were gathered to dance at a special Latino music night. 

Nothing could be more chilling than to witness such a bloody event during a month set aside to commemorate the advances of LGBT rights in the U.S. and around the world. But this is a group in society who will not back down, as we witnessed at the impromptu outpouring of community support for our area’s LGBT during a candlelit vigil for the victims of this attack outside of the Apartment Lounge.

Here is a list of the organizations in our community that are hosting events this weekend in honor of Grand Rapids Pride. 

As You Are
Grand Rapids Art Museum
Thursday, June 16th

 Arbor Circle's "As You Are" Event with Author Ryan Berg speaking on his book "No House to Call My Home.” This event’s lecture and reading will focus on the ways that society can advocate for safe spaces for our LGBTQ youth. Admission includes access to a cash bar at the GRAM. 


2nd Annual White Party 
Rumors Night Club 
Friday, June 17, 9 p.m. - 2 a.m.

The return of the 2nd Annual White Party where party revelers will celebrate wearing their best whites. Dress to impress and remember that white pants are ok now that it is after Memorial Day. 
$10 for 21+ or $20 those 18 -20.  Tickets sold at the door.


Hand -in-Hand
Ah Nab Awen Park
Saturday, June 18, 11:30 a.m.

With a nod to Hands Across America, this new tradition is one that popped up after Pride organizers canned the fledgling parade. This hand-in-hand event was very popular last year as participants walked together in solidarity from the riverbank park to the festival location at Calder Plaza. This free event is hosted by Mr. Friendly — a stigma-free HIV awareness group from Kalamazoo and founded by Calvin College graduate David Watt. 


Grand Rapids Pride Festival / Street Fair  
Ottawa Avenue between Lyon and Michigan
Saturday, June 18, Noon - midnight

 This is the annual pride festival with a new twist. This year the festival is expanding to spill out into the street, where vendors serving the LGBT community will line the street in this festive social setting. The cost is $5 if you wish to attend the street fair only.

For those who pay the $20 admission fee, they will be granted access to the first annual Grand Rapids Pride Concert on The Calder music extravaganza.  

Artists performing this year include Alex Newell (formerly of “Glee”), breakout and out musician Steve Grand, and special headliner Deborah Cox — who is heading on tour this fall in the lead role made popular by Whitney Houston in the staged musical version of “The Bodyguard.” This special day of music will conclude with DJs spinning until midnight so that you can dance the night away under that giant red sculpture we all adore here in GR. 

If you want to celebrate in comfort and style, then pony up to get your Steelcase VIP ticket

Family Day Block Party
The Apartment Lounge, 33 Sheldon Ave NE
Sunday, June 19th, 2 - 8 p.m.    
                                                                                                                   
The Apartment Lounge's Bob Johnson and staff are hosting a free Family Day Block Party with family-friendly activities for children, which are sponsored by the Grand Rapids Children's Museum, from 2 to 5 p.m. Grand Rapids Pride sponsor Herman Miller will also be present providing additional fun activities for the family.

The School for Scandal: Everything old is (still) new

A play first staged in 1777 is making its way to Grand Rapids, and let’s just say that whoever thought history changes us has a lesson to be learned from this Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company (PCSC) production.

“The School for Scandal” is a restoration period piece complete with costuming echoing the era but hitting on the topics that are still just as contemporary as when author Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s penned this comedy of errors.

Because of PCSC’s choice of this venue and its spartan cast, audience members are immersed in a theatrical experience you cannot gain in any other of our larger venues — which is why they select to host their productions at Dog Story Theater. 

“The School for Scandal” might parody London’s high society, but these topics are not unlike that of a modern prime time soap opera that translate quite well for modern audiences.  

“It's a little like he (Sheridan) was making fun of the ‘Real Housewives of London,’” says Katherine Mayberry, executive director at PCSC, who adds that there are some fantastic physical comedy written into the script, too. 

We know you have a lot of entertainment theatrical options during the summer months, but there’s actually not a lot devoted to classical theatre unless you head to Stratford, Ontario. So, it is rare that we get to see such a quality comedic production of this kind locally. 

“The School for Scandal” features actors Chaz Albright, Michael Dodge, Kat Hermes, Anessa Johnson, Scott Lange, Bridget McCarthy, Eric Orive, Sarah Stark, Kate Tubbs, Scott Wright, and Stephen Douglas Wright.


Admission: $14 for adults, $7 for students and seniors

Founders Fest: Home brewers to hometown heroes

It is hard to imagine when the faithful by the thousands return each year to celebrate the annual Founders Fest — a street festival devoted to music and beer held in front of the brewery’s ever-expanding downtown Grand Rapids location — that it has only been 21 years since home brewers Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers formalized their love of beer and took the first steps to form their company under the (then) name Canal Street Brewing Co. 

For the ninth annual Founders Fest, you can expect the same classic mix of solid beers, including many specialty taps pouring one-offs and those much-sought-after specialty brews. The event also boasts two big stages of entertainment to create a seamless music experience with zero lag time due to band changeovers. 

And for the first time in Founders Fest history, each of the musical acts appearing at this year’s fest have all appeared at one point on the brewery’s taproom stage.  

Artists performing this year include The Motet, Lee Fields & The Expressions, The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, People's Blues of Richmond, The Main Squeeze, and Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta. See their website for a complete guide to their impressive bios and selection of videos to help you plan your visit. 

To help soak up those international award-winning, locally-produced suds is a fine selection of area food vendors who will line the street along side our city’s finest artisans, who, like every year, make up the festival’s Artist’s Row. 

To keep things really festive this year, Grand Rapids-based nationally touring burlesque troupe Super Happy Funtime Entertainment will be busking the event with plenty of selfie evoking sideshow antics for the audience members. 

New this year is that with each paid admission you get get two beer/beverage tickets. But do not delay, this event has sold out in the past and tickets are non-transferrable, according to the website’s guidelines for the event. 


Admission: $30 - 35.

'The Book of Mormon': First great musical of the new century lands in Grand Rapids

If you had told me when I was at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994 that the man peddling a hotel screening of a musical film about an American cannibal would not only go on to create the “The Book of Mormon,” which would win an armful of Tony Awards and become the first great musical of this new century, I would have laughed. 

Funny how time flies, but even more important is what we do with that time, as evident now as this still hard-to-score (on Broadway) smash “Book of Mormon” rolls into Grand Rapids for six days of performances. 

Trey Parker (“Cannibal! The Musical”), along with his “South Park” writing partner Matt Stone, have both spent their entire careers lampooning society in this wildly popular Comedy Central series, so that they wanted to tackle Mormonism as a Broadway show is a no-brainer for most. That is except for one important point: the musical is solid and echoes the advances that made the American Musical Songbook one of the greatest in the world. 

“The Book of Mormon” is the story of two youthful (and a bit naive) missionaries who shipped off to Uganda in attempt to convert them to the Mormon religion. 

The production’s leads include Elder Price as a real enthusiastic missionary dedicated to his faith, while the socially awkward co-lead, Elder Cunningham, is a nerdy and ultimately socially inept truth seeker that ultimately leads him into trouble.  

Set in Uganda, these two Elders begin to encounter a different world than where they came from as they address the nation’s AIDS crisis, poverty and a land embroiled in violence. 

New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote when this production debuted in 2011, “This is to all the doubters and deniers out there, the ones who say that heaven on Broadway does not exist, that it’s only some myth our ancestors dreamed up. I am here to report that a newborn, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical has arrived at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, the kind our grandparents told us left them walking on air if not on water. So hie thee hence, nonbelievers (and believers too), to ‘The Book of Mormon,’ and feast upon its sweetness."

And while we may all find moments in this production where we squirm a bit in our seats, the best part is that this is a musical filled with a heart and something I would have never guessed possible when I met Trey Parker decades ago in his home state of Utah. And that is what makes even the most challenging of theatre a beautiful experience: when the curtain falls on the final act, we know we have all enjoyed a wonderfully crafted journey.  


Admission: Starting at $65. The Book of Mormon offers a limited number of $25 tickets made available via a lottery system. 
Entries will be accepted at the box office beginning two and a half hours prior to each performance. Two hours before curtain, names will be drawn for these limited number of seats. Only one entry is allowed per person. And the box office will check to ensure you have not cheated so play fair, ok?

Crank 2016: Co-op bike party in the street

Summer in the city brings lots of opportunities, and one of my favorite trifecta moments is the combination of music, food with cold beverages, and a nice bike ride. 

All three come together this weekend when The Spoke Folks, the area’s go-to bike non-profit co-op, spills out into the street in front of their warehouse to host the return of Crank.

The Spoke Folks, whose mission is to increase and sustain bicycle ridership in the West Michigan area and beyond, hosts Crank as a way to increase the camaraderie and access to the joys of urban cycling. 

This year Crank, which is always free to attend, welcomes the delicious food of local food truck/caterer  Daddy Pete's BBQ, which will be serving slow-cooked, delicious barbecue that can be washed down via one of their two beer vendors, Brewery Vivant and New Belgium. 

For your musical entertainment, at 1 p.m. Vox Vidorra, led by the soul gripping voice of lead vocalist Molly Bouwsma Schultz, who is complimented via musicians Scott Schultz, Ryan K Wilson, and Theo Ndawillie II, will come together to make some of the sweetest soul music you would ever imagine this side of Motown. 

After Vox Vidorra, at 4pm, The Gabriel Brass Band, with their infectious style of performing, will have the audience dancing in the streets with their New Orleans-style brass section that flows effortlessly between funk and soul.  The band is spearheaded by Dameon Gabriel, a fifth generation musician, along with a few Gabriel’s family members and close friends rounding out this act with roots in both Detroit and New Orleans reaching as far back as the 1940s. 

As always, The Spoke Folks will be offering games, obstacle course challenges for your bike, and the crowd favorite dunk tank with guest from the biking community on the hot seat. 

Guests are encouraged to ride to the event but to also considering bringing an old bike to donate to their 1000 bike campaign.  See their website for all the details on this ambitious program that gets used bikes in the hands of those who most need them …and at a fraction of the cost of a new one. 


Admission: Free

BBQ & Beautify: Friends of Grand Rapids Parks launches new series

What better way to meet new friends, break down those old paths in our contact book, and help our city parks than visiting Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' (FGRP) newest summer community engagement program, BBQ & Beautify.  

The event kicks off at 5 p.m. at Garfield Park with volunteers conducting a park project together for the first 90 minutes, followed by a community dinner commencing immediately after. 

No worries if you are not sure how to perform garden work, as volunteers from the FGRP will be on hand to instruct neighbors how to conduct these simple tasks that create lasting impact for good in our city.

FGRP will also bring along yard games and other park activities, including a few free, park-themed giveaways.

“This series may sound simple but the concept is one that highlights the importance of place,” says FGRP Executive Director Tracey Flower, who shares that this program is aimed at those who live near the parks they are visiting this summer. “Cities grow when programs come to the people and engage in on-site listening and working together, and we are so excited to bring our tools, our ideas, and our turkey burgers, to our city’s parks this summer.”

No registration is necessary; however, those who are interested in learning more about the volunteer portion of the event (i.e. what to wear and/or bring or the scope of the project) can contact FGRP Project and Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Skylis at rachel@friendsofgrparks.org.

Additional dates and parks in the series include: Ken-O-Sha Park (June 28, 2016), Sigsbee Park (July 12, 2016), Richmond Park (July 26, 2016), Joe Taylor Park (August 16, 2016), and Martin Luther King, Jr. Park (September 8, 2016).

This series is supported in part by Kent County Health Connect and REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) grant and through community partners Doorganics, Open Systems Technologies, and West Michigan Credit Union.

Rock The Block: Street party for good

LINC has really upped the ante this year on the popular annual Rock The Block (RTB) street party by welcoming not just the major headliner to the outdoor stage but later inviting those members of the community 21 and older to attend a post-RTB after party with Dead Prez, whose second show will be staged inside their Linc Up space at 341 Hall St. SE.

This community-focused event in the past attracted more 8,000 attendees in 2015 with a special impromptu visit by Grand Rapids’ own 12-time champion boxer Floyd Mayweather.  

The day is a great way to engage with diverse members of our city whose businesses and nonprofits will have booth space at this street party. There are plenty of activities for families and children, delicious food trucks and grilling from area restaurants.

But the big event moment is when RTB welcomes Dead Prez to the main performance stage from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.  Additional live entertainment, like local singing groups, dance and step troupes, and fitness exercises, will begin at 11 a.m. and run throughout the day.

The group Dead Prez is a major score for this event since it is the first time they have performed a free show for the public in our city.  The band really delivers a hefty punch of social justice topics with their confrontational style and are a breath of fresh air compared to the overproduced hip hop acts under the thumb of music corporations.  They are not to be missed. 

Admission: Street Party - Free; Dead Prez and friends concert at Linc Up - $15. and is a 21+ show. 

Rumsey St. Bazaar: A little bit of everything (and a designer from Brooklyn)

Trying to wrestle all the events happening at Rumsey St. Bazaar into this tiny space would be like trying to cram, as Dolly Parton once said after a wardrobe malfunction, “50 pounds of mud in a five-pound bag.”

Now my use of word “mud” is not to imply dirty, but rather that this new event is really an incredible offering for our community no matter when you choose to intersect with the vast array of activities that are geared towards families during the day and adults at night.

So in the interest of keeping this neatly packed for your consumption here is the skinny on the new Rumsey St. Bazaar. 


Friday - Sunday, a Community Bazaar. See website for exact times of operation. 


The Rumsey Street Bazaar daytime events are free and include a marketplace of unique wares and musical experiences. The marketplace will include sales of donated upscale resale items, as well as vintage materials and artist stalls. 

There will be also a lot of hands-on opportunities, with a build-your-own instruments booth, face painting, interactive musical sculpture, and instrument petting zoo provided by Meyer Music and the Grand Rapids Symphony. There will also be family fun field games.

Also included during the day will be a musical sculpture by local artists/engineers Robin Petersen and Kevin Cole, who have created an interactive musical work of art aimed at teaching  about music and sound with a nod to science. It is rumored to have lasers which makes it extra cool! 

The venue is the Rumsey Street ArtPrize SiTE:LAB space, provided by Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and SiTE:LAB  specifically the auto body shop and former St. Joseph the Worker Church. 


Friday Night: Rumsey Rocks, 6 - 10 p.m, $15.

Brother Wolf and the WolfPack from Mars are West Michigan’s premier David Bowie Tribute band and is fronted by Benjamin Hunter (aka Brother Wolf) and backed by a talented cast of Grand Rapids musicians who gather to perform classics from the massive catalogue of Bowie’s music. Joining the group this Friday will be symphony violinist Leanne King, who will be bringing her glorious chops to this "Total Blam Blam" experience.


Saturday Night: Rumsey Runway Fashion Event, 6 - 10 p.m., Admission $30.

Guests will have two chances to capture the special runway show  featuring the work of Brooklyn’s BCALLA, whose fashions have adorned the bodies of pop culture figures like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Azealia Banks. The two shows are to be held at 7 and 8:30 p.m. 

BCALLA’s designs are a mix of progressive unisex designs with outfits inspired by, and reacting to, the urban narrative. BCALLA (aka Bradley Callahan) as a queer fashion designer has been reinventing the fashion wheel season after season. For his debut in Grand Rapids he will be pooling local models and art stars to prance and perform next to members of our Grand Rapids Symphony in this brilliant showcase of fashion.


Sunday: Rumsey Dance & Fun Day is Noon - 4 p.m. with a live performance Cabildo starting at 2 p.m, Free

Cabildo is a West Michigan-based Latin music collective that delivers a unique blend of rock, folk, cumbia, ska, and other genres. The “Rock en Español” movement inspires many of their selections, consisting of original music and covers from several popular Latin American rock bands. Cabildo literally means “Town Hall” in Spanish. Historically, cabildos were located throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and doubled as locations where African slaves were permitted to play traditional music. Chants and drum parts were passed on from generation to generation during Spanish colonization and continued to live on through modern music.

The entire weekend is dubbed as a Classic Remixed affair and is a celebration of  The Women’s Committee of the Grand Rapids Symphony. This event will raise funds to support the educational programs of the Grand Rapids Symphony, while celebrating a diverse cross section of the Grand Rapids community in a variety of musical and family centered activities. This weekend's activities will strengthen the Grand Rapids Symphony's bond with the community while engaging future members.


Admission:  Daytime events are free, Evening admission varies by activity.

Natural Night Out Summer Skating Party: Roll, bounce, keep on rolling

While your friends are heading to the lakeshore to soak up the sun this Friday, the weatherman has some other plans in store for them as thunderstorms are predicted to dampen their best laid plans. 

Lucky for those who chose to stay in the 616, there are plenty of things still to do when the city empties, like attend a special evening of roller skating at the Natural Night Out Summer Skating Party at the Kentwood Fun Spot.

 And while fashion mines from all eras nearly all the time these days, I am happy to see another trend in resurgence as natural hair culture within the African American community continues to emerge as a way to assert one’s authentic self. 

Our local Natural Hair GR founders/champions include Johannah Jelks and Marley Ariyahu (stylist and owner of Beauty of Tziyon Organic Bath & Beauty Salon), and they have combined their efforts to advocate for similar community-building events other cities are experiencing. This includes Friday’s Summer Skating Party but also the return of their annual "Spring is In The Hair " Show & Expo (June 12 in downtown Grand Rapids on Commerce Avenue between Weston and Oakes SW.)

After the founders hosted a successful natural hair benefit show for the nonprofit Kids Food Basket at Wealthy At Charles, which more than 200 people attended, Jelks and Ariyahu recognized that indeed a desire for this culture to emerge within Grand Rapids was there.

So if you have been a fan of Roll Bounce and wanted to roll with style, or maybe just seek a fun moment like the 1979 classic (campy) film Roller Boogie, then prepare to get your 8 wheels on the giant roller dance floor.  As always, event organizers encourage you to dress to impress, but most of all, be who you are. 

A special admission rate of $5 (includes skate rental) has been negotiated for attendees, but you must alert the Kentwood Fun Spot ticket booth you are a part of the Natural Night Out Summer Skating Party at the time of entry. In addition, a pizza and soda ticket are $3 each. 

So while it is thunder clapping outside, you’ll be slapping your skate wheels down to a feast of beats all night long.

'Caroline or Change': Civil rights musical (with appliances)

Grand Rapids theatre lovers will need to be prepared to check everything they think they know about musicals when our local Civic Theatre presents “Caroline or Change.”

On the surface it all seems approachable as the story opens up on a home in Lake Charles, Louisiana and is jam-packed with a veritable “greatest hits”of musical styles that winds seamlessly throughout touching on the blues, spirituals, early Motown, classical, folk, and Jewish klezmer music.

It all seems quite normal until you realize that in addition to the fine cast of locals tackling this work includes a few actors who are tapped to play the role of Caroline’s basement appliances, which includes a radio, washer and dryer. It creates a major nod to theatre’s earliest days with this unconventional assemble of electronics becoming a Greek Chorus.

Caroline is a maid who works in the basement of a Jewish family during the 1960s, and the production explores the themes of labor, civil rights, youth, and American society’s transformation during a time of upheaval.

The surrealistic blurring of so many lines of Caroline’s story, which covers the period of time right before, after and during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, is what makes this play truly heartfelt because Caroline’s struggles are often our own.  

Part of the reason “Caroline or Change” is able to traverse the pivotal topics of the American Civil Rights Movement is directly attributed to the incredibly combination of co-creators Jeanine Tesoro and Tony Kushner, who are able to bring the best of their pasts to such a cast of characters in this multi-layered comedy/tragedy.  

Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, is especially adept at taking audiences on such fantastically theatrical rides, as evident by his episodic two-part play “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." He is also well-known for his work on other sensitive topics, like war in “Homebody/Kabul” and Nazi Germany in “A Bright Room Called Day.” He also worked as a screenwriter for “Munich.”

“Caroline or Change” represents part of a growing trend in Grand Rapids in which audiences are demanding more and more of our local organizations to bring contemporary theatrical works to the stage as they become available. It makes the experiences of our arts so diverse and wonderful to behold. 

Admission: $18 - 35

Festival for the Arts: A very nimble event advances accessibility for all

What is there to say about a 47-year old three-day event that lands in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids the first weekend of June and features an ever-diverse offering of performance-based art reflecting our rich culture and served up alongside hefty portions of food prepared by area nonprofits and church groups?

Well, honestly, there is a lot that needs to be highlighted this year that, while it may not directly impact you or even tickle your fancy, include additions which are remarkable and welcome.

For starters, in Festival’s bid to evolve in our accelerating handheld culture comes a whole new site, complete with a mobile-first platform that ensures that images load faster and include PDF schedules that can be easily printed.  

In the area of customization, you are even able to create your own schedule as a PDF or to send to your Google Calendar or iCal program.

Accessibility at the Festival’s street level has not been a problem, but the website has lagged behind. That is, until this year, when for the first time they will provide amendments to the site, like screen reading for the blind and low vision complete with inactivity capabilities. (Note: These items debut after June 1.)

Also returning this year is the Outer Fringe Stage on the lawn next to the newly restored De Suevero Swing sculpture.

In addition to all of the events happening in the street over the weekend, this year’s art exhibition  reception will be held on Wednesday, June 1, 5:00 - 8:30 p.m. at UICA and is open to the public.

So, while it might be easy to roll your eyes at Festival because it is the “old guy” in town, with advances and additions like these providing more access to others, you can be certain that they will remain a committed partner to changes that are surely to continue as they evolve. 


Admission: Free 
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