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Retro Futura: New Wave legends on stage

Emerging out of the Punk movement of the 1970s came the radio-friendly music of artists performing under the genre of New Wave.

Unlike the music that it owes its legacy, New Wave became a catch-all for everything that was not Post-Punk making this a genre that was often filled with fun pop hooks, cutting edge synthesizers, and often a lyrical style that was left of center and refreshing to the era it was born into. 

On Tuesday night, those who are fans are in for a treat as six of the best 80's New Wave stars will perform at a special concert, 105.3 HotFM presents Retro Futura: HOT 80's Rewind, at the Van Andel Arena.

The night’s festivities are led by synth pioneer Howard Jones (who I last saw in the 1980s at DeVos Performance Hall) and include performance sets by the English Beat, Men Without Hats, Modern English, Paul Young. and Katrina (ex-singer of Katrina and The Waves).

Tickets for this concert have been on sale for a while but don’t let that stop you from joining the party. You may not be able to be go back in time to this era of New Wave Music, but considering the number of tribute bands who have covered ’80s music, isn’t it time to get your tunes from the source? 

Nite Jewel: New jack swing with a touch of Janet Jackson

Nite Jewel, an alias of Los Angeles musician and multimedia artist Ramona Gonzalez, will be in Grand Rapids to support her latest release, “Real High.” 

Known for her lush mix of lo-fi, synth-based compositions with a nod to freestyle and electronic disco, Nite Jewel’s latest earned from Pitchfork an impressive 7.5 rating citing this work (her fifth) as her “most focused work yet with many nods to new jack swing and Janet Jackson.”

Nite Jewel’s charm is her DIY approach to music that she has embraced in more and more of her releases as she moves to a more eclectic and rich soundscape. With such sweet production values on this new “Real High,” it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish indie from pop since the two commingle more and more on the Billboard charts these days.

And lucky for us locals, this impressive vocalist and purveyor of some of the most sensualist beats has added GR to her impressive nearly 30-city tour.

Opening for Nite Jewel is Geneva Jacuzzi and Harriet Brown.

Tickets can be purchased here.

4th Annual Grand Rapids Balloon Festival: Up, up and away

Friday, July 21, 5 - 9 p.m. and Saturday, July 22, 1 - 9 p.m.
Summer is the best time to roam because the days are long, offering lots of opportunities to stay outside and enjoy the weather.

As an added bonus to the blue skies and fluffy clouds comes the return of the 4th Annual Grand Rapids Balloon Festival held on the Hudsonville Fairgrounds.

On both days, Friday and Saturday evening (and depending on the weather) the balloon launch of 20 hot air balloons will take place at approximately 8 p.m. 

If your goal is to see the balloons filled with air but also have an opportunity to see them up close, then organizers recommend arriving by 6 p.m. to ensure you don't miss this experience. 

To keep the event lively and fun, the Grand Rapids Balloon Festival presents live music from May Erlewine and George Moss on Friday night, then on Saturday the music of Boy From School, The Lasting Hope, and more.

Hungry? Then the Balloon Festival has you covered with pizza from Flo's Pizzeria (Plainfield Ave.), D & C Express Pit Stop, Maui Wowi Grand Rapids, and Wagner's Ice Cream. 

Other activities include helicopter rides from Intrepid Helicopters, the Critter Barn, Inflatables from Inflatable Frenzy, Balloons by Jake, The Balloon Guy/Jim Perry,  MiPhotoBooth, Maciek The Magician, Wine and Canvas Grand Rapids (modified to Cookies & Canvas for this family-friendly event), kids games, and even a chance to walk inside a RE/MAX hot air balloon for $1. 

Proceeds from the RE/MAX hot air balloon walk benefit the festival charities of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, and D.A. Blodgett St. John’s Home. 

Swagger: One night only with a Q&A with the director

Nearly everyone who has grown up in the last four decades has experienced the evolution of the music video. But what is more impressive is having a chance to see a former music video director make the leap to full length feature or documentary films.

On Saturday night the documentary film “Swagger” will be screened in town for one showing only and will include a UICA-led Q&A with director Olivier Babinet.

Director Babinet’s film follows 11 kids from the Parisian neighborhood of Aulnay-sous-Bois and takes place in the streets, projects, and schools where these students wander.

The result with any other director could have been a depressing look at the realities facing these kids as this neighborhood was the scene of riots in 2005. But under Babinet’s skilled hand, this documentary, which he researched for two years before committing to even making it, lifts up the audience as we are treated to a delightfully hopeful series of stories during a time of great unrest.

For anyone who has ever wondered how hope can flourish in a place with so much negative happening on a daily basis, “Swagger” is just the ticket to shed insights into the minds of these students who are seeking to overcome the odds and create a better tomorrow.

The film is 84 minutes long and is a part of the Young French Cinema program brought to UICA via support from UniFrance and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. Check out the trailer to the film here

UICA members are $4 / public $8.

5x5 Night: Hits the road (again)

Summer is the best time to wander about the city. 

And since many of you are probably looking to venture not too far on a Tuesday night (saving your big adventures for the weekend) head to the westside’s newest brew pub, New Holland's Knickerbocker Beer Garden, for the 5x5 Night Hits The Road Tour.

If you have never attended a pitch night event for 5x5 Night then you are in for a treat as five creators (previously selected before this event) share with an audience their ideas in the hopes of winning $5,000…with no strings attached.

While 5x5 has no limit on the scope of an idea one can submit, they do remind those looking to submit an idea for the pitch night to think about how the winning prize money of $5,000 will be applied to move your idea forward. 

And lest you think 5x5 is just a place for people looking to pitch an idea, then you are truly missing out on one of the best elements of the night: the chance to network and connect with others.

At many of these events you will hear ideas that are being formed but might need that added or elusive connection that could be firmed up with the people who attend this lively and fun night.

And while presenting is a big part of the draw, the event also provides a chance to see how a future 5x5 Night could be just the platform you need to launch your your idea off the drawing board and into reality. 

If you have an idea for a pitch, please submit your ideas to www.5x5Night.com.

As a reminder, 5x5 night is a free event and open to the public. Everyone is welcome.

The Highlands: Open for (walking) business

Are you running out of things to do with the kids this summer? How about a walk on the wild side as The Highlands,a new parkland space in Grand Rapids. It is open for the first time on Thursday and they are inviting the public to come walk the property.

Earlier this year the 121-acre Highlands Golf Club was acquired by our local Blandford Nature Center, in partnership with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, with a loan from The Conservation Fund, enabling this unique collaboration to add to their already spacious property devoted to all things nature.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan’s roots reach as far back at 1976 and have been  helping our area protect land for future generations’ enjoyment and edification. The Land Conservancy of West Michigan has protected 137 natural areas of more than 10,000 acres in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan, Ottawa, Newaygo, Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, and Lake counties.

For those seeking an more in-depth experience or insider info on the plans for this park space, the staff of Blandford and the Land Conservancy will be on site Thursday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to conduct free tours of this new park.  

The park is seeking input as well, so the tours will help community members better understand the purchase and vision of the partners and include ways for the public to contribute to the evolving vision of this space. 

If tours are not your thing, then by all means, feel free to just hike this expansive piece of land on your own. The new hours for The Highlands are sunrise to sunset starting Thursday, July 13th.

Shimmy Shack Burlesque and Dangerville at Tip Top: A rockabilly trifecta

As the sun sets over West Michigan, the dancers and band members of this month’s Shimmy Shack Burlesque Troupe have something truly remarkable in store for those who will venture out into the city’s westside.

Like a full solar eclipse, it is really very rare that we have an alignment of burlesque and live genre music in an alt-music venue of our city devoted to all things rockabilly. What makes this style of music so intriguing and fun is because rockabilly is one of the earlier musical genre styles of rock and roll music.

Our local Shimmy Shack Burlesque Troupe, who has been, as they describe on their website, presenting “Raucous Ribaldry in an intimate setting since 2009,” will welcome Dangerville to create a live accompaniment for the performers. 

Joining guest burlesque performers Ms. B LaRose (Chicago), Felina Distemper (Ann Arbor), Vivacious Miss Audacious (Grand Rapids), and Jax Nippleson (Grand Rapids), the rockabilly foursome of Dangerville (established as a three piece act in 1995 that became a four piece in 1998) will raise your core body temperature with classic original tunes like “Lament of a Serial Killer,” “Torpedo Bra,” and “Find me a Woman.”

Be sure to pack a handful of singles to hand off to the dancers as well as the band who will present a program hot like July. You will not want to miss this special night of live dance and rockabilly music in one of my favorite venues in the city. 

Get tickets in advance to this special edition of Shimmy Shack Burlesque Troupe here.

As with nearly every Shimmy Shack event, earlier in the day is the international Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School event.  Dr. Sketchy's is a very unorthodox live model drawing class that is one part arts education/instruction with the rest a full on comic improv  performance fueled by drink specials as hosts Vivacious Miss Audacious and Sarah Jean Anderson welcome the art monkeys to this hilarious drawing school event. Even if you are not an artist, this is an experience welcoming all. 

Terrence Parker and Merachka: International DJ’s arrive in GR for one night only

I come from an era of Grand Rapids where bootstrapping wasn’t just an idea tossed around in business classes but a way of getting things done in the arts during a pre-digital age.

So it is exciting to see the legacy of making “stuff” happen here has been mirrored within Grand Rapids’ DJ culture, where area producers are attempting to replicate but also innovate new models to serve this growing audience of dance music lovers. 

And unlike the “let’s party” mode of the last big era of dance that emerged out of GR’s MySpace years, this new era of local DJs are taking the education piece of this moment very seriously while also having a lot of fun in the process.

One shining example as of late is FourFour SoundSystem—a music event production company—that is part of a movement of local groups that are welcoming outside acts to the area. 

This Saturday, FourFour SoundSystem nods nicely to the past as they head to a neighborhood hall much like we witnessed in the 1980s when pop-up music events like The New Beat Club.

For this night, FourFour SoundSystem has invited two DJ’s, Terrence Parker and Merachka, to join locals Joshua Tree and DJ Visitor for a night of dance music. 

Terrence Parker and Merachka both call Detroit home and have integrated the sounds of this city’s roots in techno and house into their music sets. 

Parker over the years has worked to  promote that classic sound of Detroit house and techno music. He is referred often as a pioneer of the music genre known as inspirational house music.

Merachka performs with a face covering to obscure their image, allowing us to let the mystery be as we enjoy the music that emerge from this DJ’s set list.

Both of these visiting DJs present our area’s local music fans with an opportunity to see two acts with a worldwide touring track record and a solid international following right in our own backyard. 

Sometimes showing up to support the local arts talent who seek to do bold things is an act of community-building that goes beyond the norm…and for that we are grander as a result, with each new and innovative event produced here.

To read more on this event, visit FourFour's Facebook event page

GRAM on the Green: The Crane Wives rock Rosa Parks Circle

You only have six opportunities this summer to take in the ninth annual GRAM on the Green summer concert series at downtown Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle amphitheater. 

Kicking off this popular live music series that includes everything from indie rock kids to hip hop to jazz is our local folk rock band, The Crane Wives.

Held outside at this rain or shine event, you will be enticed to sing along and dance with one of the area’s top performing acts amidst a sea of tasty food trucks and a cash bar for adult beverages served in this beautiful setting.  

As reported recently in Local Spins, The Crane Wives recently took first place in the national “JBL Professional ‘Best American Band’ contest earning the group $5,000 and a trip to Las Vegas for a performance at the end of the month at JBL Fest.”  (Read more about this grand honor for our local act at Local Spins.)  

As an added bonus, admission to the Grand Rapids Art Museum is free as a part of the  Meijer Free Thursday Nights program.

Support for GRAM on the Green is generously provided by DTE Energy, Bank of America, and WYCE.

Grand Rapids Soul Club: DJ Makossa delivers the world

How about kicking off your Fourth of July Weekend this year with a little soulful dancing? 

If you have not been able to make any of the Grand Rapids Soul Club Parties over the past years, then this night of music will have something for everyone as they welcome DJ Makossa and a repertoire of funk, soul, reggae, hip-hop and world music.

With more than 16 years experience, DJ Makossa brings a style of urban music of the same name, makossa, which was made popular in Cameroon. In fact, within its native language, makossa translates as "dance."

The artist was influenced at an early age by the iconic “Entroducing…” by DJ Shadow, DJ Makossa’s shows are renown for his ability to rapidly deploy a variety of music to create a live mix that is sure to keep you on your feet all night long.

As with all of our Grand Rapids Soul Club parties, you will see the guys of our local club trading off in a sort of round robin style ,bouncing from 45s to 45s on the 1’s and 2’s all night long before the guest artist takes to the stage.

So if you are seeking a dance experience in a chill environment where everyone is welcome, then get to Grand Rapids Soul Club’s special night of music with DJ Makossa. 

Amway Family Fireworks' Fourth of July Celebration: On Saturday, July 1

Saturday, July 1, 5:00 p.m. program, 10:30 p.m. fireworks
If you are into crowds of folks packed onto the rolling green hills of Ah-Nab-Awen Park, then head early to this river bank park on Saturday, July 1 for the best seating options at the annual Amway Family Fireworks.

This annual event kicks off at 5:00 p.m. at this city park located in front of the  Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids and will feature a program from Townsquare Media who welcome their on-air personalities for a night of live bands before the 10:30 p.m. fireworks display.

In addition to this live entertainment show, there will be food trucks as well as a special Meijer Family Zone from 5-8 p.m. that will feature arts and crafts, fake tattoos and interactive yard games.

Attendees are asked to support their charity partner, Kids Food Basket (KFB), by bringing down snack-size sandwich bags to the Meijer Family Zone between 5-8 p.m.

KFB is local nonprofit committed to attacking childhood hunger by ensuring that lunch is not the last meal of the day for nearly 7,500 kids at 42 schools in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland. Sack Suppers, as KFB calls them, are well-rounded evening meals that provide nutrition critical to the development of the brain and body.

If crowds are not your thing, then attend any one of the many parties that pop up along the river, or observe the festivities from any one of the many points around the city where observing is possible.

Hollyhock Lane Parade: Neighborhood event still making history

For more than eighty years, Grand Rapids has been home to the state’s oldest Fourth of July parade: the Hollyhock Lane Parade located on the edge of Grand Rapids’ Ottawa Hills neighborhood.

What started as an unsanctioned bike parade for kids in 1934 that was actually shut down their first year for not pulling a permit has become one of the most beloved neighborhood events in the city.  

Created as a little-to-no cost event birthed during the Great Depression, this annual parade attracts not only politicians seeking office. It is also most importantly an event where neighborhood kids will adorn their bikes with flags and wear patriotic attire to create what can best be described as a living Norman Rockwell painting brought to life.

After the parade ends, neighbors gather on Hollyhock Lane (an alley behind Giddings) for a lively and festive program of stump speeches, patriotic readings and a prize ceremony for the best costumes and kids floats. 

Arrive early to get prime seating along the parade route. Some of the best views are on Calvin near Franklin where you can watch the massive parade as it climbs up the wooded streets of this neighborhood. 

Mike Dillon Band: Age has its benefits

Fans of lyrics that appear to have been inspired by Miguel de Cervantes, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Anton Wilson and delivered via a voice that has been called Tom Waits-meets-Frank Zappa black comedy are in for a real treat when The Mike Dillon Band  arrives at Founder’s Taproom for a night of music that evokes New Orleans’ debauchery with a heft mix of age-old themes of travel, love, self-destruction and greed.

But if you want to pigeonhole this unique artist’s work, then good luck since, after listening to “Band of Outsiders,” you will be amazed at the musicality and originality of this seasoned music professional. 

“People are always trying to figure out how to describe our music. Maybe we should call it New Orleans punk jazz Brazilian math rock? It’s a gumbo of tribal percussion, The Meters, old school hardcore, Brazil, hard bop and anything else that might move us,” says Dillon. “But you know, I really don’t care what you call it. We kick out the jams harder than anyone, and we also know when to heed the lessons of The Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime and keep things straight to the point. There’s a reason we called the record what we did. We’re the living, breathing definition of a band of outsiders, but together we deliver simple majestic beauty, let’s leave it at that.”

Dillon has been performing for more than 25 years and has the stage presence to back it up with an act that has been described as a “punk rock provocateur,” “jazz vibraphone visionary” and “percussion virtuoso” …and often in the same sentence! 

In a world of pop sensations, it is good to know that salty dogs like Dillon can find a place in such hallowed halls devoted to drinking. In fact, I cannot imagine it in any other setting to be honest. Get there early to garner a seat at what is certain to be an eclectic night of music.

For a sneak preview of Dillon's unique style, please visit this link

Chasing Winds: A Breezy History of Storm Chasing Culture

Storm chasing is a big deal. And not just in the traditional sense of hopping in a car with a skilled guide in the hopes that that ominous bank of storm clouds one is chasing will become a potential tornado that you can video or possibly take a selfie beside from a safe distance. 

I’m talking big as in TV shows, special editions of magazines, and movies like “Twister.” There is even a minor league baseball team called the The Omaha Storm Chasers in Nebraska. People just love the act. People just love storm chasing and it is a growing passion for many.

But have you ever stopped for a moment to consider the activity, the history, and all its perks and perils?

Lucky for us locally our Grand Rapids Public Library will host a special GR Reads summer lecture event at the downtown location titled, “Chasing Winds: A Breezy History of Storm Chasing Culture.”

The free lecture begins with David Hoadley, a North Dakota resident who is credited with beginning the craze we enjoy still to this day. Hoadley began chasing storms in 1956 and later went on to found the Storm Track magazine.

Hosted by Journalist and Filmmaker Blake Naftel, this special presentation will include plenty of visuals to excite the imagination as well many images rooted from places as close as West Michigan and Kent County. Thursday event will present a historical context as Naftel examines tornadoes and severe weather events that are familiar to many locals.

But as a reminder to the curious of heart, tornados are very unpredictable and dangerous. There is no such thing as safe storm chasing, so even with a trained guide, never forget that Mother Nature always bats last. 

Tour of Women-Owned Businesses: Girl-powered corridor takes root in GR

There have always been many challenges to doing business on South Division’s Avenue for the Arts, but if the current crop of new and established businesses have their way, this will soon be a thing of the past, as you will see via a special tour hosted by Dwelling Place on the successful women-owned businesses of this corridor. 

This annual tour features ten of the numerous women-owned businesses that make up this important street in the city’s Heartside neighborhood.

This tour, which only has a few space openings left, will enable those attending a chance to hear first-person narratives and anecdotes about their individual successes.

Each attendee will be presented at this event with a special swag bag that feature some of the other women-owned businesses not included on this ten-stop walking tour on Division Avenue.

“This tour is a great opportunity for people to network with others who are interested in women-owned businesses, but also our local entrepreneurs and those interested in doing business on South Division Avenue,” says Jenn Schaub of Dwelling Place, “Most of all, this tour showcases what success looks like in our downtown neighborhood.”

The event is free to attend but you must register here in advance. Organizers are expecting nearly three times the turn out as from last year’s event, so space is very limited.
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