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Spelling Bee(r): Adult fun with consonants and vowels

Thursday, July 21, 6 p.m. registration, 8 p.m. the bee begins
What happens when you take our local craft brew culture and marry it to the energy often exhibited in television ratings’ darling storytelling-while-intoxicated programming like "Drunk History?" Well, you create a space for the second annual Spelling Bee(r) to appear.

Taking its cue from a rash of other popular events that were once reserved solely for the classroom, drunk spelling bees are popping up around the country. 

The BOB, in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) and DrinkGR, invite folks to come downtown on Thursday to experience this hilarious and fun night of drinking and judging. 

As you are enjoying your craft beers, you will entertained by the improv provided by the comic theatrical troupe the Funny Girls, who will be on hand to keep the festivity-goers laughing all night long. 

Since this is also a chance for area folks to do some good while having a laugh out loud time, feel free, even if you are not paying the $5 fee, to compete to drop a few extra dollars into the GRPL hat, since all the proceeds this evening benefit their annual Summer Reading Challenge

Those who are competing will battle to win the top three prizes which are a $200/$100/$50 gift card from the Gilmore Collection. 
There is even a brewer’s beer contest also happening on this same night, but instead of gift cards they are battling for the Golden Paddle and, of course, those very important bragging rights.

Admission: Free to watch, $5 entry fee to compete

GRAM on the Green: Superdre and kick-ass lasers

While we have already reported on the impressive lineup of acts this summer season taking to the stage at the 8th annual GRAM on the Green summer concert series, this one is truly unique from all the others for a host of reasons.

For starters, it is a chance to witness the impressive sonic stylings of former-Grand Rapidian DJ Superdre, who has changed so much of our nightlife culture  – and this special event at the GRAM enables her to try something new as she welcomes artist and LazerBoyz member AJPASCHKA to the patio stage. 

In addition to this night being devoted to the rhythmically bouncy house music being spun by Superdre, it is a chance for the GRAM to expand its programming into the late hours of the night (which is unlike their typical 6-9 p.m. format of the other musical events this summer). 

Superdre has been garnering a lot more press since her arrival in Detroit, which came after leaving Grand Rapids for a short stint in Los Angeles just prior settling in the Motor City. 

Spin Magazine named her one of the “Ten Detroit Techno Up-and-Coming Producers to Watch” in 2015. 

Because of its late hour and under the cover of twilight comes the moment for a special laser program produced by AJPASCHKA, with a seat of controllers and special effects to captivate those in attendance. AJPASCHKA’s art group LazerBoyz has entertained many other local arts groups in the past, from UICA’s Odd Ball to SiTE:LAB’s Blandford Nature Center edition.

It is rare that we get such talent who are pushing boundaries but also having a lot of fun in the process. Check them out live since these kinds of aligning of the stars are rare these days. 

Admission: Free

'The Comedy of Errors': Physical humor in a neighborhood park

Modeled on the principals of The Public Theater’s summer NYC series, Shakespeare in the Park, our local Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company is returning again to Grand Rapids’ Riverside Park on the northeast part of the city to perform William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.”

This public event, which is free to the public, is the dramatic telling of one of the Bard’s earliest comedic works about mistaken identities. 

The play centers on the two sets of identical twins who are separated as infants. The first set of twins, both named Antipholus, are masters to the second set of twins, both named Dromio. 

The play begins with Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse traveling to the city of Ephesus, where strange things start to happen. 

Although they have never been in Ephesus before, everyone seems to know them, including Adriana, who claims to be Antipholus’ wife. 

This comedy by Shakespeare comes from a period of time where physical comedy was valued over the lyrical format that would follow in the years ahead. Because of this format’s rich visual buffoonery, “The Comedy of Errors” makes for a fun family night out in one of the most pristine parks, which is rich with nature and ease-of-access to the riverfront. 

Seating for Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s production is general admission, and if you insist on bringing a chair, please ensure it is a low-back lawn chair.  Blanket seating is always welcome. Bring a picnic meal and enjoy dinner and a show, but there are no alcoholic beverages allowed. 

Admission: Free

Salsa Dance Club with Laura Armenta: Pop up salsa party meets the world of dance

As one who has traveled and seen much of the world, I have always been a fan of those venues who find space in their business model to invite fresh activities to “pop-up” when their space is typically closed/inactive.

We see this in places like New York, where promoters take over a bar and, in doing so, transform it from one type of venue into another as they temporarily re-tool the space for their special night’s presentation. We’ve even witnessed a touch of this years ago when BurritoTown set up space within Bartertown, offering a healthy and kind menu in contrast to what Taco Bell offers you post-bar on your ride home. (BurritoTown eventually closed, but while happening it was really a great eatery in our downtown for the post-dinner crowd). 

But, then I was reminded after I reconnected with a friend of a little pop-up club, Pietros Salsa Dance Club hosted by Cecilia & Sergio of Malecon Productions at Pietros Back Door Pizzeria’s space, that this has been operating for some time locally.  If you are like me, it probably has fallen off your radar too since it is located in a part of the city where most might have forgotten it’s there. 

Having attended a few of their pop-up Salsa Dance Club nights, I can say that the audience is a happy space where music fans of salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia and other rhythms gather to exercise their diverse dance moves within an equally diverse group of world dance fans.

As part of their mission to always be expanding their definition of dance, this weekend (and in collaboration with Malecon Productions and Cecilia Cofino), this dance-themed event will present a  special Global Jam Solo Performance from Laura Armenta of the Armentality- Dance & Yoga Education Center. 

Armenta’s 12-minute program will take the viewers on a journey through Oriental dance (often wrongly labeled as belly dancing) all the way to a festival and feverish dance style of Bollywood. There will even be an audience participation moment during Amenta’s program that will signal the dance floor is back open for folks to continue to dance the night away. 

If you do not think that our local culture has much culture, well then you have been going to wrong parts of the city. Your city is alive with rhythm this weekend, and Pietro’s Salsa Dance Club needs to be at the top of your destination if dancing is your groove. 

Admission: $8 / 21+ only

First Date: Modern hookup with a beat you can sing to

Opening Night, Thursday, July 14, 8 p.m. (through July 30)
If you have often felt that the dating habits of those on stage were oddly out of sync, then your thoroughly modern musical about hooking up, complete with Google background checks and the use of fake emergency cellphone numbers, has landed locally on stage here by way of Broadway and Seattle where it first premiered. 

“First Date” is fast-paced 90-minute musical performed without an intermission that tells the story of an investment banker and an artist out on a blind date. 

The cleverness of this production is the story reveals itself in real time as the audience realizes that the craziness of this night is theirs alone as this comedic date unfolds.  

Another layer is the inventive use of the two leads’ inner voices, which are acted out for the audience by way of the other restaurant patrons who suddenly become best friends, manipulative exes and, of course, everyone’s favorite psych-raising appearance of the overly-protective parents.

And if you have been on modern date, then you know all too well that the distractions that appear that could lead to a misfire of the heart.

You will be on the edge of your seat during this inventive musical that is as lively as it is funny. Fans of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” or “The Wedding Singer” will adore going out to see “First Date.”

Admission: $27 general, $25 season flex pass, $13.50 day of show rush tickets

New Belgium Brewing's Clips Beer & Film Tour: Beautiful B-Corp projecting goodness & good business

It is hard to imagine that New Belgium Brewing, a certified B-Corp company, as well as one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year with a lot of celebrations including a special 12-pack of beers brewed in collaboration with other small breweries around the U.S. 

They are also returning to the banks of the Grand River’s Ah-Nab-Awen Park for their annual Clips Beer & Film Tour on Friday, July 15. 

This free event is switching things up this time as they feature not just their classic format of short films but this year they have decided to curate films they themselves have funded via the contributions they made to filmmakers.   

The event opens two hours in advance of showtime, so you can sample any one of the many famous, as well as the rare, beer offerings. 

Proceeds from the sale of the beer sold this evening will stay local as they are gifted to the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition. In total, Clips has raised more than $659,000 for nonprofits, with close to $10,000 coming from Grand Rapids in 2015. 

“This year is actually New Belgium’s 25th anniversary, so we’re doing things a little differently,” said Christie Catania, Clips national special events manager. “We asked 10 filmmakers to incorporate the year 1991 into their film as a way to salute the year that New Belgium got its start. The films do a great job of bringing us back to the glory days of big hair, questionable fashion and outdated technology!”

Advice for first-timers: You are welcome to pack a picnic basket (no outside beverages) but why when Clips has such amazing food trucks on site this year.

Bring your water bottle. They give water away for free but you will want to have a receptacle to refill as you need it.

Dogs are welcome but you have to keep them on a leash.  Yes, your pooch is cute but if he tramples a picnic underway or a knocks over a child, then it kind of ruins someone’s night, so be responsible. Of course if you are a dog owner it goes without saying, bring a few poop bags, too.

So walk, carpool, take public transportation, Uber, or ride your bike. If you do ride your bike be prepared to be treated like environmental royalty as they provide a bike valet.

Admission: Free

Grand Rapids Zine Fest: Beautiful words in a DIY style

Not busy on Saturday and looking for some new reading material that is faster to read than, say, “Ulysses?”  Well, lucky you because the annual Grand Rapids Zine Fest is rolling back into the city this weekend at KCAD’s The Fed Galleries. 

This is a perfect event for those who love beautiful small, intimate works of literature with a nice touch of DIY art. 

The local organizers have produced a handy link to a useful guide on what is a zine (pronounced “zeen,” as in “magazine”) and describe it “as a self-published, small circulation, non-commercial booklet or magazine, usually produced by one person or a few individuals. Zines come in all shapes, sizes, topics, and formats. Most zines are photocopied, but they can also be printed offset, like a magazine or newspaper. Zines range from handwritten and sloppy to cut-and-paste (text pasted on top of background images) to artsy with handmade touches to produced on a computer with a professional looking layout. Zines may incorporate screen printing, linoleum cuts, and hand-stitched bindings. Most zines have print runs of a couple dozen to a few hundred copies.”

Adding that the beauty of zines is their highly personal and often idiosyncratic presentation.

In addition, this event is rare because they advocate their desire to provide a safe space with a policy to back up acceptable behaviors. It may not be perfect, but it is wonderful to see such tenderness on display, making people of all backgrounds to feel welcome. 

For a complete list of exhibitors this year, please visit this link: https://grzinefest.wordpress.com/2016-exhibitors/

Admission: Free

Mixed Roots Collective's THE TALK: Art helps us understand race, family

Limited Run Workshop Performance, Wednesday - Saturday, July 20 - 23, 8 p.m.
Summer is often a time when people flock to the theatre for a chance for a little escapism. But not everyone is keen on “Cats” so it is nice to have choices locally.

Mixed Roots Collective, with assistance from Actors’ Theatre of Grand Rapids, are co-producing a brand new locally written play about being black in our city and how to have these conversations with our kids. In short, this play’s arrival comes at a time when many of our headlines reflect much of what is happening within this production, making its timing downright eerie. 

And this is where the timing is working in favor of this new play, which will be workshopped at Dog Story Theater before it debuts in 2017.  (This is common for new works of art before their world debut.)

Each of these performances present a powerful 90-minute staging of the work in an intimate space with audience members invited to join the cast and crew for a talkback session.   

“THE TALK” tells the story of performance artist Chantelle Redmayne as she is presenting her first installation at an arts festival. The stakes are high because she believes that if she can win the prize money, then her dream studio could become a reality.  

But as more people begin to see this new art piece that includes just two chairs with a black boy dressed as an adult, the reactions this work creates in the city threaten to destroy her chance of winning the prize money she needs. And that's before the police show up.  

“THE TALK” is written by Playwright Randy Wyatt, who is an associate professor of theatre at Aquinas College. Wyatt, a member of the Dramatist’s Guild, wrote this play while he was on his sabbatical. His plays have been published and produced around the world. “THE TALK” will debut as a time-based performance art piece at in ArtPrize 2017.

“I believe the work I’m most interested in arises from the identification and examination of ‘empathy gaps’ in culture,” says Wyatt, “THE TALK, to me, is more about finding shared empathic ground about the primal protective urges associated with parenting, and how that looks filtered through current tensions around race.”

The cast is filled with many veteran actors with incredible resumes and includes Roman Jeffries as Malcolm Redmayne, Carrie McNulty as Patty Curtis, Amisha Groce as Chantelle Redmayne, Zoe Gibson as Shelby, Sammy A. Publes as Lionel Redmayne, Jennifer Jelsma as Robyn, Joe Anderson as Keith Dyerson, Eric Hand as Gerry Dinsmore, and Jon Clausen as Don Curtis.

The production will be directed by the multi-talented and longtime Grand Rapids artist Amy McFadden with Kyle Los on sound design and Janelle Mahlmann as stage manager.

It is to the best of my knowledge the first local work of theatrical art devoted to the realities of being black in modern America and during a time we are all engaging in the topic presented by Black Lives Matter. 

Admission: $15. Seating is general admission.

GR8Bit Live!: Ready players

What began as an idea developed after a conversation Northview Public Schools’ Mark Lago had with one of his sixth grade students, who at the time was in the early stages of leukemia (and is now in remission), became the seed that would debut at GR8bit Live! in 2013.

Born out of the student’s sharing about the lack of available video game consoles for kids in treatment led to GR8bit Live!’s mission to provide new gaming equipment for The Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

And while the event has changed a lot over the years, each new edition of GR8bit Live! brings new levels of imagination to those fans within the gaming community of our region.

This year, the two-day event kicks off with a brand new item — a video game show hosted by Schuler Books. The premise is simple: three contestants (already selected) will compete on stage through a series of games and questions with plenty of opportunities for the audience to participate. 

In addition to the game show is the chance to hear the music of Detroit-based Super Guitar Bros., a game show themed act that plays the compositions from popular, and sometimes obscure, video game titles. 

On Saturday, fans 18 or older are invited to a special concert event with guest acts that will be announced on the event’s Facebook page this week.

And just attending the special concert on day two at the Pyramid Scheme registers you for a chance to win the grand prize this year, an Uncharted 4 Limited Edition Playstation 4.

Admission: Schuler Books’ video game show on Friday night is an all-ages event and free. The Pyramid Scheme concert is an 18+ event and costs $10 for admission. 

Michigan authors at Lakeshore Art Festival: Read local

This holiday weekend, why not consider a short drive to the lakeshore community of Muskegon to attend the annual Lakeshore Art Festival, which has been named by Sunshine Artist Magazine as one of the top 200 events in the country to visit.

This festival is home to a juried fine art show, craft fair, artisan food market, children’s activities, interactive art, and performing arts/entertainment. 

And while more than 250 exhibitors will be waiting for the expected 50,000 visitors expected to descend upon this community over their two-day event, it is also an opportunity to secure a new book from a Michigan author who have been granted a special vendor-exhibition space within the Lakeshore Museum (West Clay Ave. & 4th St.) through the blessing of the Lakeshore Art Festival.

The event from Michigan Authors is Friday, July 1 (10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.) and Saturday, July 2 (10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.).

“This event is the reincarnation of a really artsy-craftsy show. The new organizer seems to ‘get’ art fairs and has an excellent background in event management and hopes to create a new higher end show,” says Constance Mettler, Call for Artists Publisher. “If you are open on this weekend and live nearby, it may be worth your time.”

Yes, summer in West Michigan means that we have a lot of choices this big July 4th holiday weekend, so why not add securing a new book from a Michigan author? You can pick one up on your way to the beach, which is just a few minutes away from downtown Muskegon. 

Admission: Free 

July 4th Celebrations: Grand Rapidsí best

If you are seeking two great ideas to celebrate your nation’s birthday in the city this Fourth of July, then I’d stress that you cannot miss the Amway Family Fireworks held on the riverbank of  downtown, nor the whimsical Hollyhock Lane Parade (Calvin Ave. at Franklin Street SE).

When the Amway Family Fireworks return on Saturday, July 2, to light the deep blue skies of twilight, they promise to be even bigger and better than any year prior.  

Those hoping to garner a picture perfect view had better head down early to grab a seat on the grassy knolls of Ah-Nab-Awen Park situated along the Grand River. 

And while the fireworks will not actually begin until approximately 10:30 p.m., this July 2 celebration begins earlier with a spectacular music program that kicks off at 6 p.m. and is provided by TownSquare Media. Other events happening to help you pass the time until the big boom-boom include access to family activities, games, food trucks, and even a few other vendors open until through the start of the fireworks celebration. 

On Monday, wake up early and get to Calvin and Franklin Street to secure what I believe is one of the best views of the parade as you look south on Calvin for the must-see-parade of the year, the Hollyhock Lane Parade.

This parade, popular with every politician in our state seeking a vote from the folks in this region, has attracted the biggest names who want to walk these quaint neighborhood streets, which is steeped in so much nostalgia it will be hard to hold your hands still as the display of whimsy and cute become too much to bear.   

As the parade winds down, spectators seeking to add to the experience are often seen racing down the alley behind Giddings Ave., where an old style political stump rally devoted to the power of democracy is held, complete with Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty joining the festivities.  

And if you start to faint during all this patriotic spirit, there is always someone nearby in the alley offering up popsicles to restore your blood sugar. 

Seriously, if you have just moved to Grand Rapids and never been to the Hollyhock Parade (or even if you'been a million times), you owe it to yourself to make this your destination on July 4. 

Admission: Free

Super Friends Bike Ride: Be a local hero with a fabulous cape

There are plenty of moments as a child to wear a mask and a cape in your own home as you play superhero dress-up party, but as adults those opportunities dwindle with each passing year, unless you are lucky to named Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot or Robert Downey, Jr. 

That is, until Thursday night, when New Belgium Brewing Company, which is turning 25 this year, will be hosting a Super Friends Bike Ride starting at Creston’s Reservoir Lounge. 

This community-building cycling event is in part an opportunity to not just dress up as your favorite superhero, but a chance to sample their latest summer offering — a special limited edition beer collaboration between Fat Tire’s brewer friends from Firestone Walker, Avery, Allagash, Rhinegeist, and Hopworks Urban Brewery.

With each paid $15 donation to the Super Friends ride, which benefits The Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition and The Spoke Folks, is a chance to win door prizes that include a New Belgium Detroit Cruiser Bike or VIP tickets to Clips Beer & Film Tour landing back at Ah-Nab-Awen Park on July 15.

In addition, each rider will receive a pint of Fat Tire either before or after the ride — depending on when you get to choose to activate it during this evening.

So let’s go crazy this Thursday night as we take to the streets in an effort to have some Super Friends Bike Ride fun while doing some good for our local cycling community.  

Admission: $15

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
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