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Pyramid Scheme Turns 6: Birthday weekend celebration

It is hard to imagine downtown Grand Rapids without the Pyramid Scheme. But here we are on the eve of its sixth birthday, and boy is our future weekend looking enticing at this wildly independent venue.

For starters, on Friday night the talented folks at Pyramid Scheme have programmed a birthday showcase of talent with Tunde Olaniran, Paucity, I Believe In Julio, and JADE TV all jamming this intimate stage for an outstanding night of fresh and exciting music. 

And while Friday is a nod to the diverse talent of our region, on Saturday night is another chance to celebrate the anniversary with the indie band that opened The Pyramid Scheme six years ago: Guided By Voices (or GBV to insiders like local super fan and WGVU radio’s on air host Scott Vander Werf). 

Part of  The Scheme’s success is credited to the visionary venue owners, the brother and sister team of Jeff and Tami Vandenberg, who, along with area restaurateur Mark Sellers (Hopcat, Stella’s Lounge), labored to give birth a new kind of downtown indie-focused music venue that also could function as a neighborhood watering hole for residents. The space is unique because of the venue’s eclectic jukebox that is programmed to a seriously lovely array of beer taps devoted to Short’s Brewing Company’s artfully crafted brews. 

But another part of the birthday celebration and success go to the venue’s team of hardworking members, including the music booker Nicole LaRae, who has invited many national and international acts for our enjoyment. LaRae was profiled in Mostly Midwest Magazine in 2016, and we could not be prouder of her contribution to our indie music scene in her role. Check out what the magazine had to say here about LaRae’s work here.

We have a lot of music venues in our city and all are worth celebrating for their unique contributions, but as an arts writer, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of the beautiful  aspects of The Pyramid Scheme is its unwavering commitment to our region’s indie-can-do spirit, from the diverse musical acts welcomed to our city to the numerous community-building events that it has been producing for years in our region. 

So, happy birthday, The Pyramid Scheme. You have forever changed the landscape of our nightlife in downtown, and we are enjoying so much more now because of your diverse programming. 

Mayor's Greening Initiative Arbor Day Planting: Be there for the future city

Actress Penelope Keith once said, “I plant a lot of trees. I am a great believer in planting things for future generations. I loathe the now culture where you just live for today.”

And this has never been more true in our region, as Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss will join Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project to invite the public to press pause on their Friday morning schedule and join their fellow citizens and area businesses for the 2017 Mayor's Greening Initiative Arbor Day Planting.

This concept of gifting a future city something as simple as an urban canopy is already something that we enjoy locally; many of our community’s neighborhoods are filled with a diverse array of trees that were the focus of another generation’s gifting to a generation they would never meet. 

Friday gives all of us an opportunity to be a part of this city gift-giving activity, with the mayor’s Greening Initiative Arbor Day seeking to plant 350 trees at the spacious Martin Luther King Park. 

Be sure to register in advance or arrive early to fill out necessary paperwork and receive instructions. The weather is shaping up to be the perfect temperatures for this activity, but do consider wearing layers just in case you need to peel off a few as you engage in this wonderful city beautification project that has distinct health benefits built in at every level. 

Register for the 2017 Mayor's Greening Initiative Arbor Day Planting here.

Dia del Niño/Children’s Day: See our future city at this community-focused celebration

Earlier this week, Lindo Mexico, a Wyoming, Michigan restaurant with a keen focus on community development, as well as presenting some of the tastiest sit-down Mexican food in our region, kicked off its annual Dia del Niño/Children’s Day celebration -- and the crowds were record-breaking.

While there were some who were not able to attend Dia del Niño/Children’s Day, there will be another chance for celebration this Saturday. More than 40 area organizations and businesses are banding together at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary (1205 Grandville Ave. SW) to create an event that is predicted to welcome more than a thousand parents and kids to celebrate this life-affirming holiday: Dia del Niño (Children’s Day).

This event, brought to us through a partnership with LINC UP -- a community development agency of our city -- and the Grand Rapids Public Schools seeks to celebrate all the children of our city at this day-long celebration. 

Organizers are planning on having a bounce house, food, raffles, prizes, live entertainment, face painting, a photo booth, and a host of community resources with tables at the event to connect citizens to local services. 

If you have never attended a Dia del Niño/Children’s Day, then this is your weekend to change that as all are welcome at this wonderful, community-organized event. 

Record Store Day 2017: Celebrating the indie spirit 10 years 'spinning'

The joy of attending Record Store Day (RSD) is its ability to be many things to so many people. 

This means that you can join the throngs who will be camping out in front of area record stores from Grand Rapids’ Vertigo Music to Grandville’s Corner Record Store in the hopes they will secure that special limited edition release that somehow you must have at all costs. 

And while this first-in-line style is great for the person who enjoys the chaos of a Black Friday shopping event, the other side of this day is the experience of being in an independent record store, where a music recommendation via a real conversation is more powerful than an Amazon reviewer’s perspective. 

Either way you choose to celebrate Record Store Day, don’t miss it because there is nothing else quite like this exciting event that has switched on a new generation, as well invited an established one, to think about the beauty of the local record store.

Highlights from three local venues celebrating RSD:

Vertigo Music - Local bands and DJs will provide entertainment throughout the day, along with refreshments from local businesses. Specials this year are listed on Vertigo’s Facebook event page.

Dodd’s Record Shop - Besides the usual RSD antics cooked up from the Rev. Charles Preston Smith and a host of indie music acts performances, Dodd’s is home to what is probably the first and only Record Store Day Parade. (It’s the Rev’s westside now, so keep bail money handy.)

Corner Record Store - Published list of acts performing this year will be The Other Brothers, Dangerville, Jake Stevens Band, Tired Blood, Oliver Draper, Nate, Devin and The Dead Frets, and Howard on Sax in between sets. Specials on used records all day long. 

Liminal Dissonance: GVSU artists redefine existence in new exhibition

On Grand Rapids’ westside warehouse district are many emerging creative studios and artists’ collectives/businesses. One group committed to the exploration of this region of our city is Grand Valley State University’s  (GVSU) Civic Studio, whose students have been working in the community on a very unique art presentation worth checking out while you have two last opportunities.

Friday night is the second public opening of Civic Studio’s "Liminal Dissonance" exhibition.

From their website: “Daily life exists in tension. The horrific and unjust becomes disguised as normal, the points of reference scrambled. Liminal Dissonance occupies the space between the struggle which is life under the current systems, and our unknown futures. This studio encourages viewers to redefine terms of existence.”

Civc Studio has also welcomed over the last year artists Jen Delos Reyes, Nicolas Lamper, and 2017 Whitney Biennial artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz to take part in GVSU’s 2016-17 Visiting Artists series, Art and the Radical -- a thought-provoking program of lectures from some of the world’s best artists working on projects that aim to increase dialogue as they transform our understanding of art and our world.

Liminal Dissonance’s exhibition will be open Friday, April 21, 4:00 - 8:00 p.m. with a closing discussion on Wednesday, April 26, 4 p.m.

Jake’s Music Festival: 13th year is a game-changer for popular music event

In a break from the past, Jake’s Music Festival shakes things up for its 13th festival by moving to The Orbit Room. The shift is enabling more opportunities for this annual event to continue to evolve in its mission to provide the best of the area’s music talent, who perform to raise funds for our local chapter of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

The lineup is a mixture of styles of music from some of our area’s veterans performers but also newer acts. Joining Jake’s Music Festival this year are The PotatoeBabies, The Autumnatic, The Jet Beats, Papa Vegas, and Lipstick Jodi.

The event will have a bar right in the room as the bands are performing, so you won’t miss a beat of the music as you grab a refreshment. 

Also, besides a host of silent auction items will be the chance to meet and watch artist (and comic) Sarah Jean Anderson create an original work of art live. 

If you are hungry, there is even food this year with Grand Rapids Pizza & Delivery on site and a pretty good chance that Connie's Cakes will be providing free samples of their delicious locally made treats.

As with almost every year, you can expect plenty of other surprises throughout the night but you can only experience them by showing up on Saturday night. One hundred percent of the face price of your ticket is a donation to Juvenile Diabetes Research -- so purchase a handful!

Ticket Donation $10. advance | $15 at the door | VIP $25 
Ages 12 and under FREE

Día del Niño: Celebrate Children's Day at Lindo Mexico

Each year our local Mexican Restaurant, Lindo Mexico, invites the community to participate in their Día del Niño/Children’s Day celebration. 

This event is based on the popular Mexican holiday of Día del Niño/Children’s Day and is celebrated every April 30 in Mexico.

On this special day, communities place their focus on the children -- our next generation -- by making them feel special through creative play and delicious food.  Lindo Mexico’s Owner Gricelda Mata believes that children help to show us how joyful and simple life can be. If you have not witnessed Mata’s event, then this is the year to be there because she really loves this holiday. 

Lindo Mexico’s annual Children’s Day celebration features different games, prizes, snacks, and, of course, free kids meals. 

Lindo Mexico believes that the foundation of our community is built on mutual respect as they invite us to join them again at this positive culture event. 

Be sure to bring the whole family out to this very unique community celebration of our next generation!

#shift: Reformatting a popular dance program with a work of poetry

Saturday, April 15, 7:30 p.m. (doors), 8 p.m. (performance)
Producing an event is really hard work and is something that is often overlooked by most. On April 15, Dance in the Annex (DITA) -- an award-winning contemporary dance troupe from our region -- and ArtPeers will produce their latest theatrical work at Wealthy Theatre, “#shift.”.

While seeking to follow their successful works of the past, “#shift” makes a few big changes that will only increase the benefit of this production and  those attending this one-night-only event.

This work will follow in the footsteps of their past wildly popular theatrical performances of “Trip The Light” and “Salmagundi,” where local and visiting choreographers and dancers perform to a live musical score supplied by area musical acts. 

But for “#shift,” a conceptual show that was originally slated for the fall of last year, the move to this spring has enabled choreographer Amy Wilson extra time to fine-tune what is certain to be one of their greatest performances for a host of reasons.

One key reason is Wilson’s and DITA’s ability to not just create compelling choreography that is visually rich and engaging, but, through this company’s networking within the dance community, they are able to curate a night’s worth of thrilling performances with locals and visiting dancers sharing the stage.

Unlike the past events, when audience members were treated to a constant turnover in the music pit at the front of the stage, by working just with one band, Paucity, and guests James Cornish and Alex Koi, they are able to create a seamless production that flows from music to dance to even the short films from ArtPeers that make up this program.

One standout this year is how the event came to be. When planning this production, Wilson shares that she had a poem that her husband, Erin Wilson, created that provided the thread from which all of these works drew inspiration. 

While visiting a rehearsal last week, Wilson shared that the selection of this poem would go on to become the line that all the choreographers, from herself to Hannah Sullivan, Darrell Haggard, Molly Ross, Amy Cova, and Lisa LaMarre and Dancers, would seek their inspiration.

Over the last few days I have allowed myself time to read Erin Wilson’s poem, “Block Of Now,” in preparation for Saturday’s performance and encourage all who are looking to attend to do the same, as it will help provide the mindset that these dancers, musicians, and filmmakers are all referencing for this night of contemporary dance. 

“I am still standing on concrete. 
Even with my eyes closed, I know I am surrounded on all sides
by steel and marble and glass.
I can feel myself encircled in
the constancy of movement,
all around me, in every direction. Enveloped by sound:
the collective tongue
of anonymous voices,
the harsh screams
of mechanical noise.”
— A Block of Now

Tickets for “#shift” can be secured from the Community Media Center’s website.

Disgraced: A Pulitzer Prize-winning look at a post-9/11 America

It is not often that Grand Rapids gets to welcome a Pulitzer Prize-winning theatrical work to the city. 

But, luckily for us, over the next couple weeks you will have a chance to experience the power of this artform to transform our minds through the Actors’ Theatre Grand Rapids’ production of the Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Disgraced.” 

This play has been a popular work of art with regional theaters that has garnered both praise and criticism -- all the stuff of good theatre, as it deals with contemporary issues ripped from the headlines and Facebook newsfeeds of our world. 

What makes this play so timely is because it is the first theatrical work to hit the mainstream with a frank treatment of Islamophobia in our post-9/11 America.

The production tells the story of two couples, all friends, who while attending a dinner party begin to dive into conversations that center around the nature of faith, race relationships, and those seen as “others” following Sept. 11, 2001. 

“At its heart, it is the story of distinctly human characters, each of whom, in today's culture, might be seen as the ‘other.’ To be viewed as different, or confusing, or strange.  Or even something to be feared,” says “Disgraced” Director and Founder of Actors Theatre Fred Sebulske, “And yet, each finds his/herself at moments in the play ‘victimizing’ the ‘other,’ as Akhtar reminds us that the emotional terrain that they live in is not as clear as we might wish it. Nevertheless, each is our neighbor, attempting to make sense of a world that makes judgments about others without knowing who they really are.”

Actors’ Theatre has partnered with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University, along with a diverse set of leaders from the West Michigan community, to participate in Actors’ popular community-building talkback sessions immediately following all performances, except the opening night (April 13). Their hope is that through the experience of “Disgraced,” a community dialogue will open up as audience members talk about Islamophobia and the stereotyping of “others” in our own community

Tickets can be purchased online or through the box office. Talkbacks will occur after every performance other than Thursday, April 13. Student rush tickets, available one-hour prior to each performance, are only $10. 

Jesus Christ Superstar: An ancient story of upheaval for our modern times

In 1971, when the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Andrew Lloyd Weber debuted on Broadway, the nation was gripped by a time of societal upheaval after so many leaders from the era before had met a similar untimely and violent end as Christ had in his time. 

What made “Jesus Christ Superstar” so popular at this time of history, and how this ancient story has since been s updated and delivered via a rock opera format, is, by all definitions, still the stuff that good musical theatre adores, from “Rent” to “Hamilton.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” explores the last week of the life of Jesus Christ, starting with a triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ending with the Crucifixion. What makes this production stand out is the focus of those popular major characters, in particular, Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene, and how under the pen of Lloyd Weber these relationships might have played out. 

Returning for its second year at St. Cecilia’s Music Center, this year’s production benefits Girls Rock! Grand Rapids, and the show reminds us all of the power of one person to make an impact on this world for the betterment of all humanity. 

A program of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Girls Rock! Grand Rapids is a volunteer-led week-long summer camp that exists to empower girls and women through music. Each year, girls at the camp are able to participate in instrument lessons, workshops, band forming, songwriting, and logo and album art creation. One other critically important element of this camp is that young women get to enjoy special performances from area female musicians.

Be sure to purchase tickets in advance for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as this event will more than likely sell out due just to the sheer amount of talent on St. Cecilia’s stage.

Safari: A transformative expedition of song and dance

One thing that has been missing from local nightlife culture has been the lack of transformation within the spaces where various pop-up events appear. 

But that is about to change on Saturday night, when Adrian Butler of AB and Kelley Hughes of Hunt & Gather take over our local award-winning Long Road Distillers’ upstairs space to create a Safari party

This intimate space has proven its short history to be a favorite but flexible setting for everything from rock concerts, like Chance Jones’ reunion show, to too-many-to-count special community gatherings. But, to the best of my knowledge, it has never hosted an event like Safari. 

AB and Kelley, who are both celebrating their birthdays on this evening, promise attendees that they can expect to hear lots of newer sexy dance, ranging from R&B to hip hop and drawing from the eras of the mid-2000s to today’s current tracks…and, of course, Beyonce.  

Tickets are $7 in advance. If they do not sell out in advance, entry at the door is $10.

Goth Night: Grand Rapids DJ culture dips into the dark & obscure

There are no shortages of places where you can have a beer or a cocktail, but finding a place where you dance to an eclectic night of finely curated music that isn’t Top 40 or a throwback themed party event can be hard.  

Lucky for us, over the last few years a fine group of young deejays have been so successful at mining our past and merging it with our future with a series of analog driven events that it is hard to imagine a time when they were not as happening. 

And while we have had plenty of ongoing events devoted to the advancement of our DJ culture for more than a decade, the excitement around our current crop of DJs emerging in this region is what is fueling a lot of the energy.

On Thursday, one such label, Vinyl Fetish -- a group devoted to all things vinyl (versus digital) -- will launch another edition of their Goth Night in Grand Rapids’ westside neighborhood bar, Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.

Hosted by Vinyl’s Joe Moon, Goth Night is a chance for Moon to spin some classics from an era of sounds that used to permeate many of Grand Rapids’ bars and clubs back in the day.

Joining Moon on the 1s and 2s is special guest DJ Brandon Hill of the deprived relations label. 

I’ve seen this duo together in the past, and you can expect a night of delicious vinyl tracks of heavy industrial and a healthy dose of obscure dark dance music. The chance to encounter such tracks in a setting as this is exciting and, honestly, a lot of fun.

The cost to attend is free, so the risk is even less if it is not your scene. 

Grand Rapids Home History Research: A Saturday “honey do” project that won’t make you sweat

If you have lived in Grand Rapids city limits, then it is quite possible that you have resided in a place that has a rich history of individual lives who have passed through your doorways. 

But what about the home? What is the history that eludes your wandering eyes as you scan the room asking what is the history of this particular space you call home?

Lucky for you, on Saturday there is a chance to don your metaphorical Sherlock Holmes cape, hat and pipe as you join others on a search for your home’s hidden history at a special workshop designed to answer many of your questions. 

In partnership with the Grand Rapids Main Library, our local Heritage Hill Association invites the public to join them on April 8th to learn how to conduct historical research on your home and its history. 

Formatted for the beginner, the event kicks off with an informative one hour presentation followed by a Q & A session. Immediately after you are invited to begin your research with assistance provided by the library. 

If you have any questions, please contact Heritage Hill Association’s Tansy Harris at 616-459-8950 or at Heritage@heritagehillweb.org with any advance questions.

Grand Rapids Film Festival: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Known for its year-round film arts programming, the Grand Rapids Film Festival (GRFF) once a year invites film fans to gather for a film festival that is unlike any other cinematic offering in our community.

For starters, while it is a festival devoted to all things film, the organizers invite the public to intersect with this unique art form via three distinct programming entry points.

On Thursday, they invite the public to join them at Notos Old World Italian Dining (6600 28th St SE, Cascade) for a special film edition of PechaKucha -- a lively and fast-paced presentation where area personalities have to tell a story with 20 slides that each are on the screen for just 20 seconds. 

Scheduled to appear at this special festival kick-off night of PechaKucha are Virginia Anzengruber, Lisa Enos, Shane Hagedorn, Sloan Inns, Michael McCallum, Lucas Miles, Bret Miller, Julian Newman, Tom Norton, John Otterbacher, John Harper Philbin, and Ella Swift. Each of these speakers will address the theme of how film has transformed their lives. 

On Friday is a chance to see how the art of fashion and film intersect during a special night titled “Fashion & Music for Film Showcase” (F&M). 

Featured at F&M is designer Sonja Millie from Belgrade, Serbia who will guide six students from Kendall College of Art and Design through a fascinating insider’s perspective on the process where the artful beauty and innovative design of fashion is merged with the music video industry. 

This event has that late night festival party feeling complete with screenings of music videos and short films, a live fashion show, and DJ dance party.

Finally, on Saturday comes a day-long film viewing event where films culled from the more than 100 submissions entered this year will be screened at Wealthy Theatre (1130 Wealthy St. SE). 

In keeping with the organizers’ mission to provide a diverse festival experience, attendees have two distinct paths they can follow.For 2017, GRFF films fall into two categories: quality entertainment and transformative.

From these two headings are a combined total of 28 films with filmmakers from 14 of these films making an appearance at GRFF on Saturday.

For a complete list of films screening this year, along with which films will have guest appearances, please visit the festival’s website here.

For tickets to all the events listed here, please visit the site for details.

Art.Downtown: Local arts festival devoted to showcasing what is possible to create in GR

It is hard to imagine, but Art.Downtown is older than ArtPrize -- and, yet, each year both of these free public events continue to create a compelling and rich bookend six months apart from each other that serve not just the city, but our local arts scene through their contributions.

Art.Downtown reflects the energy many of us feel as we exit from a cold season, inviting attendees to wander about the city on foot to explore the many spaces that are showcasing art created locally, as well as works from visiting artists. 

All told, Art.Downtown is 36 venues and is the culmination of hundreds of artists, curators, volunteers, gallery owners, and shopkeepers who will, for one day, open their doors to showcase art. It is also a day to enjoy hands-on activities, listen to live music, and discover many artfully crafted goods. 

Maps will be available from volunteers in both English and Spanish, and should your feet tire from all the walking, there will be free trolley transportation. 

If you only come down for ArtPrize, this might be a great time to add another free art event to your schedule. Now’s your time to support our local art scene -- plus, think of the steps you will be able to log as you enjoy a lovely day to walk in the city. 

Art.Downtown is a free event and is sponsored by Kendall College of Art and Design and Downtown Grand Rapids Incorporated. 
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