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Grand Rapids Girls Robotics Competition: Accelerating STEAM with girl power

We hear a lot these days about the lack of opportunities for women in the sciences. Locally, I am happy to report that we are not only shoring up these gaps through new programs in education, we are also advancing hands-on experiences like the Grand Rapids Girls Robotics Competition, which will be held this Saturday in Wyoming.

Grand Rapids Girls Robotics, according to FIRST, the event organizers, provides a fun, low-cost event, which allows teams to enjoy using their robots, thus giving more students an opportunity to showcase their robot in a student competition.

And if you wondered about the rules, they are fairly simply:
1. Robot driver/operator, human player, and pit crew must be high school-aged girls.
2. Any male team members can only be in the pit but act in the role of support/advisory. 
3. The competition will use all the IRI rules. 
4. An additional rule is that each team of the four-team alliance must play at least once in the playoff.

If you are also wondering about the interest in this event thus far, at press time more than 25 student teams from area schools will be competing on Saturday. Here are just a few of the many area teams competing this year: 

Team 858 - The Demons of Wyoming High School
Team 2054 - Tech Vikes of Hopkins High School
Team 2771 - Code Red of Grand River Preparatory High School
Team 3875 - Red Storm Robotics of East Kentwood High School
Team 5980 - East Grand Rapids High School

For those looking to attend, please refer to this schedule of events for Saturday’s big competition day: 

7:00 a.m. - Pits are open
8:00 a.m. - "Ladies in Tech" career panel discussion
8:45 a.m. - Opening ceremonies
9:00 a.m. - Matches begin
12:30 p.m. - Lunch
1:15 p.m. - Matches continue
2:30 p.m. - Drafting for final elimination tournament
3:00 p.m. - Tournament begins
5:00 p.m. - Awards ceremony
5:30 p.m. - Event concludes

Fill the Stands, WestSiders: Union H.S. Football gets a shot of neighborhood boosterism

With all the rapid expansion happening in our city, it is easy to lose sight of the little activities that make up urban life for so many as we dash off to eat at the hottest new restaurant or sip the coolest elixir from your favorite barkeep.

Lucky for us, a few locals, like Paul Soltysiak and Liz Kamyszek — a couple of community-minded Westsiders, decided to do something about the fact that one neighborhood high school team in our city plays their heart out each week, but the stands are often near empty.

So to Facebook they went and organized Fill The Stands, Westsiders!, what I believe is a wonderful example of engaging community to support our local Union High School football team this Friday night by inviting fellow Westsiders and others to join them in the risers to cheer on these local athletes. 

As you can see from this photo they provided here from a recent game, the kids have very few fans.

So while we might be a nation often decided on a wide range of topics, it is important also to show up for children and support them whenever a need presents itself.

So don a lot of red and be prepared to cheer your best, “Go, Redhawks” from the stands as you join a pop-up community event that is sure to lift not just the kids’ spirits, but yours as well.

The game will be held at Houseman Field at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults.

Fall Bonsai Show: Meijer Gardens welcomes a beautiful, small art practice

While this season’s leaf peepers have yet to arrive as we await the arrival of the beautiful fall colors to fill our vision, this weekend, you can see another forest through the trees at the annual Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s Fall Bonsai Show.

If you have never attended, you are really missing a wonderfully inspiring event that is good for children of all ages (and I am including myself) as this living art form is sure to spark the imagination of any who attend.

The art of bonsai comes from trees who have been crafted to remain tiny (in comparison to their wild counterparts).

At this free event, you will have a chance to see trees in their early stages of training, as well as some award-winning lovely older trees brought to us by the members of the West Michigan Bonsai Club

This event also allows one a chance to not only observe the artists at work, but should you have questions about starting your own tree at home, purchase the items you will need to get started.

And by attending, you will also have a chance to vote for which entry at this event is the best in the region. If we are lucky, some of these trees might even have the first markings of fall. Trust me, if you have not witnessed a bonsai tree in fall colors, then you must place that on your bucket list of to-see items. 

Either way, get out to the Fall Bonsai Show as it is one of the most exciting events they host all year at the Gardens.

WYCE & HopCat Blue Bridge Music Fest: The musical side of ArtPrize

Friday, Sept. 28, 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 29, 1 p.m. - 10 p.m.
ArtPrize visual artists might be jamming your inbox with “vote for me” messages, but on Friday and Saturday a different kind of artist will be jamming to get your attention … and boy, does it sound great this year.

Returning to Grand Rapids’ Blue Bridge this weekend, local independent, community radio station WYCE (FM 88.5) and HopCat invite you to visit the Blue Bridge Music Fest for ArtPrize 2018. 

On Friday and Saturday, the Blue Bridge will transform into a festival with live musical entertainment that includes a wide variety of singing, dancing, and moving instrumental work. 

Scheduled to perform in this ArtPrize competition this year are:

5 p.m. - Lazy Genius
7 p.m. - Lindsay Lou
9 p.m. - Pink Sky 

2 p.m. - Molly
4 p.m. - The SEVENth
5:30 p.m. - Jake Kershaw
7 p.m. - Cameron Blake
9 p.m. - Lipstick Jodi

This annual event is organized by Quinn Matthews, Studio C Music Operations Manager, and will also feature beer and HopCat’s crack fries at this free, two-day music event.

All participating musicians at the two-day festival are eligible for the ArtPrize 10 public vote competition in the time-based category. The ArtPrize public will also award an additional prize. By casting their votes through the ArtPrize mobile app, visitors will award a single artist the distinction of ‘ArtPrize Song of the Year’ and a $1,000 cash prize, presented by HopCat.

Cabildo: Good vibrations from Latin America

It has been a while since Cabildo has played at Creston Brewing on the city’s north end, but if the last show is any indication, you can expect a hot set that is certain to pack the dance floor at this most unique of tasting rooms in the city. 

Cabildo is a much lauded and loved West Michigan alternative Latin rock collective, who evolving over time, has kept the band fresh as they welcome bandmates from many regions of the Americas. Their sound is an unique blend of cumbia, ska, folk, and other genres of music from Latin and South America. Their shows performed in Spanish are vibrant and filled with passion and energy.

Also performing on this night is the Chicago act The Luna Blues Machine. With roots in Subterranean’s popular Open Mic Night, this act formed in 2001 and fuses hip-hop, soul, latin, and folk into their music. Their music has been described as feel-good rhythms wedded to engaging stories with incredibly tight harmonies and charismatic hooks. All this adds up to make some of the most experimental acoustic music you’re likely to hear this year.

DJ Soul Sister: Soul Power’s founder storms a downtown dance floor

When the sun sets on Grand Rapids Saturday and the ArtPrize venues have closed for the night, it is time to think about where you are going to sweat away the last hours of the day dancing to the best groove the city has to offer.

For those looking to experience fine dance music curation, then Grand Rapids Soul Club (GRSC) has to be your go-to spot given their track record. Over the last year alone, they have welcomed some of the biggest names in the dance music industry of all things soul. 

Keeping that tradition of solid programming, GRSC welcomes DJ Soul Sister to The Pyramid Scheme. She is one of the longest-running live DJ artists (mixing and blending 100 percent vinyl) in her hometown of New Orleans. 

But on Saturday, she is ours for the night, delivering her signature live, improvisational, funk, and rare groove music sets for the Grand Rapids audience who venture downtown.

Soul Sister’s parties and live DJ sets are now regarded and respected alongside those of her jazz, blues, rock, R&B ,and funk musician colleagues, many of them fans.

When she is not playing, teaching, writing, or sharing the music she loves or has discovered from the bins she scours for hidden gems in vinyl, she is a devoted full-time administrator in higher education, and is a part-time graduate student working towards an M.A. in musicology.

To dive in deep before her appearance here, please visit her site

Purchase tickets in advance here to guarantee entry at what is certain to be a wildly popular destination this Saturday.

PBS' Rick Steves: He’s not a token player for cannabis legalization

When most folks hear the name Rick Steves, they often think of adventure. But I doubt most folks — before he began his multi-city tour this year — thought he’d be advocating for the legalization of cannabis. 

And yet, that is what he will be addressing here when Steves, the popular PBS travel writer and host of “Rick Steves’ Europe,” arrives in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 4.

Shocking to some is that the author has actually been a member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, since 2003.

Rick Steves at this public forum will lead a community discussion in Grand Rapids shining a light about the benefits of legalizing and regulating marijuana. And in the tradition of Steves’ career, he’ll be sharing stories from the road on this topic.  

With all the ballot measures before us this fall, this community gathering is just one way of many in our region for our citizens to become better educated on these matters before heading to the polls. 

For details on attending this one night only community event, please visit the organizer's Facebook event page

The WestSide StreetFair and ArtWalk: Debut of a new festival in a neighborhood setting

The Summer of 2018 might have come and gone, but it does not have to end. And with the latest run of unseasonably warm weather, we can continue to enjoy our city this fall. 

Entering the street festival circuit this September 22 is the Westside neighborhood’s fresh new WestSide StreetFair and ArtWalk.

Billed as two joined activities on Facebook, this new festival seeks to elevate the fun factor of this neighborhood while seeking to place a value on the diversity of their community.

To meet these goals, the entertainment for the day reflects that mission with acts like Lady Ace Boogie, Jesse Ray, Cønrad Shøck + the Nøise, The JetBeats, Gabriel Estrada III, Walt Gutowski & The Bridge Street Band, and others.

And after soaking up the sounds and suds, hit the expansive ArtWalk, which starts near Stockbridge and will feature 20 works of art exhibited throughout the Westside. (No worries if you cannot do both since the ArtWalk pieces are also tied to ArtPrize so you have a few weeks to view them.) 

Whether you like music, food, or art, there is some really great stuff happening at the debut of the WestSide StreetFair and ArtWalk. 

Love, Gilda: Three local chances to witness this comic genius on the big screen

Thurs., Sept. 20 (ArtPrize Hub), Sun., Sept. 30 (Celebration! - Woodland), and Mon., Oct. 1 (Knickerbocker - Holland)
It is weird to live long enough to bury your heroes, and a hero to many comics who left us too early was the legendary Saturday Night Live original cast member Gilda Radner, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989.

For more than a decade, Gilda amused us with the sensitive and hilarious characters she created on the big and little screens from television to motion pictures. And lucky for us who fondly recall Gilda’s unique brand of humor, we will have three unique chances over the next two weeks to see her on the big screen again.

“Love, Gilda” has all that one would expect from a film about the comic, from clips from her performances to home movies, and even her time fighting cancer. But the real heart of this story is the inclusion of her actual voice from a series of recently discovered cassette tapes and a handwritten journal that modern comic stars like Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph read from within the film. And very quickly, it becomes clear that this picture is about a woman breaking out in a man’s world. 

You will have three opportunities to enjoy the new documentary “Love, Gilda” as it arrives locally, starting with a one-night-only (two screenings) Thursday, September 20 viewing at the ArtPrize Hub theatre as a part of their ArtPrize on the Screen series. (See the complete list here of all the films being screened this year including Joel Potrykus’ “Relaxer” with breakout actor Joshua Burge.)

And while the ArtPrize screenings are free, the other two showings of the documentary will be screened as fundraisers for Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids on Sunday, September 30 at Celebration! Cinema’s Woodland theatre and then on Monday, Oct. 1 at the Knickerbocker Theatre in Holland. Tickets for these screenings can be purchased here.   

Gilda Radner always made me laugh as a kid and I am lucky to have lived long enough to see her life re-introduced in such a moving and timely piece of cinema. If you want a good tear-jerker of a trailer to tease you to attend, then watch the “Love, Gilda” trailer here.

The Doors Opened: A tribute to one of the greatest bands of the classic rock era

Sometimes when listening to some of the latest acts, I find echoes of that distinct guitar sound that was a hallmark of the early days of rock music. These guitar-heavy sounds rooted in the raw energy of rock and roll from this era are popping back into vogue from solos to samples.

Locally, you will have a chance to experience a former rock and roll act of the late '60s/early '70s — The Doors — when tribute band The Doors Opened sets up on the Tip Top Stage in our city’s westside neighborhood. 

This tiny venue is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience such a tribute act, for it echoes what it must have been like to hear many of these classic tunes before they became hits for the arena stage shows the band would play at the end. (The Doors music would go on to become the first American band to accumulate eight consecutive gold and platinum LPs.) 

And while we cannot get the band back together, The Doors Opened is a great way to experience the joy of such an amazing rock and roll act from the classic era in a venue that really is fitting for such a tribute.


Hoptoberfest at HopCat Knapp's Corner: To Germany and back, one pour at a time

It would not be the fall season without an Octoberfest or two on your calendar, so why not plan on visiting the newest HopCat to open locally at the Knapp’s Corner location as they celebrate Hoptoberfest on Sunday?

For those who are up for this beer adventure, they will experience an array of special tap takeovers of carefully curated brews from the United States and Germany. 

At press time, HopCat Knapp’s Corner will be offering these special beers on tap:
  • HofBrauHaus {Munich, Germany} – Oktoberfestbier – 6.3% - Festbier
  • Cedar Springs Brewing Co. {Cedar Springs, MI} – Kusterer Salzburger Märzen – 6.7% - Märzen
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. {Chino, CA} – Oktoberfest – 6% - Märzen
  • Erdinger Weissbrau {Erding, Germany} - Oktoberfest – 5.7% - Hefeweizen
  • 12oz Bottle Spencer Brewery {Spencer, MA} Trappist Festive Lager – 7.5% - Trappist Märzen
In addition, this brand new and beautifully-styled restaurant will offer a limited amount of Oktoberfest steins, so arrive early if freebies are your bag. 

And no worries if your companion isn’t into German-style brews; HopCat’s Knapp’s Corner has 80 taps so there is certainly something for everyone’s taste. 

A Boy, A Girl, A Dream: And the West Michigan red carpet premiere!

Grand Rapids film history continues to evolve as folks begin to leverage their talents honed here as well as abroad to make an impact in the art of filmmaking.

Case in point is the West Michigan premiere on Thursday night of the Sundance 2018 competition breakout film, "A Boy, A Girl, A Dream,” which was executive produced by former Grand Rapidian Jash'd Belcher.

"A Boy, A Girl, A Dream” is the story of Cass (Omari Hardwick), a Los Angeles club promoter who meets a Midwestern woman named Frida (Meagan Good) in the City of Angels on the night of the 2016 presidential election. This film weaves a hopeful story about the power of our dreams and those around us who help us clear our vision. You can catch the trailer here.

On Thursday night, audiences will have a chance to see the film — which screened in competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival — at Celebration Cinema South (1506 Eastport Dr. SE). The film opens to general audiences on Friday, September 14. 

After Thursday night’s local premiere to benefit Zion’s Dream and a panel discussion, attendees will migrate to Downtown Grand Rapids where at 9:30 p.m., a community celebration of the film will commence and likely continue into the morning hours.

If you cannot attend the Thursday event but want to see the film with a local, excited audience, then consider the special Sunday, Sept. 16, 4 p.m. fundraiser screening. You will need to purchase tickets here in advance to attend the Sunday event.

For advance tickets for Thursday’s special screening, please visit Zion’s Dream website. 

From Mercury with Love: Ultimate Queen show arrives in Grand Rapids via Flint's planetarium

While the new Queen film “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t arrive in local theaters until November, fans of the music of this iconic British rock band are in luck as the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) welcomes a new production set to their music.

“The Queen Light Show: From Mercury with Love”, a rock and roll light show presented at the GRPM’s Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, will open on Saturday night and run through November 21.

Arriving in Grand Rapids by way of the Longway Planetarium of Flint, this projected production brings to life a visually rich experience via the music of Queen. 

Attendees will enjoy 10 of Queen’s greatest hits packaged in “The Queen Light Show: From Mercury with Love,” including favorites like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “You’re My Best Friend.”

The Queen show will only be playing at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Planetarium tickets are $4 each with each purchased general admission to the Museum or $5 each for a planetarium-only ticket. And of course, it is free to GRPM members. To ensure your seat for what is certain to be a very popular show, please purchase tickets in advance by visiting this link

Bands at Blandford: Hollywood Makeout closes out this popular outdoor music series

On Friday, you have one last chance to catch the local-focused outdoor concert series, Bands at Blandford.

Held at the Blandford Nature Center’s farm, this annual outdoor music series has featured numerous local music acts. But the 2018 series ends on September 14, so your time to experience live music in such a unique setting is coming to a close this weekend. 

For the last concert of the series, Bands at Blandford welcomes the WYCE 88.1 FM Jammie Awards XIX Special Jury Prize winners, Hollywood Makeout. 

The band formed in 2012 with Tim Broderick (drums), Cedric Canero (guitar), Tim Warren (guitar), and Erin Lenau (guitar and vocals). They present a sound fully embracing the power of energetic guitars and banging drums, ushering in an instrumental sound and strong vocals that contour up reflections of surf music with a twist of ‘80s LA New Wave vocals. 

Make a night of the occasion by packing a picnic dinner, a blanket, and (of course) your friends. The Center will be selling beer and pop on site, too.

Those worried that this may sell out should order their tickets in advance here or by purchasing tickets at the start of the event.

To hear the music of Hollywood Makeout, visit their Bandcamp site.

ArtPrize 10: A decade of creating community conversations around art

Rolling back into town for the tenth year is the wildly popular Grand Rapids event: ArtPrize.

What started off in many ways as the anti-art festival has developed into a full-blown urban arts event that spans not just the annual public- and curator-driven voting process; it also provides space for pop-up events that in the past have included music, special movies, and even a bevy of private parties all honoring the party atmosphere that downtown becomes for 19 days each year.

And 2018 appears to be just as expansive as in the past with many venues kicking off a full week in advance with preview parties and artist receptions. 

And while Rapid Growth does not cover the artists who are entering the event to ensure that an even playing field is produced for the many who journey to take their shot at the big prize money, the best part of ArtPrize is truly the experience of it all.

And then after year 10 comes to an end on October 7, ArtPrize will return as a biennial event starting in 2020 with the off years being devoted to a new platform called Project X.  Project 1 will launch in Fall 2019.
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