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Super Soul: Funk steps in a live costumed fun caper

Comics are evolving as the publishing houses that produce some of the most beloved brand of super heroes and villains are embracing the diversity of our real world. They have accomplished this most easily through the swapping of gender roles with some of our most beloved characters taking on new modern story lines, or through the tweaking of a character’s nationality or place of origin.

The remix is infectious and fun as you scan the racks of new releases hitting the shelves all the time in area comic book stores.  

This Friday, another remix of sorts is happening when the Vault of Midnight bands together their superpower with musicality fun and the always festive Grand Rapids Soul Club (GRSC).

Unlike other GRSC events, where guests often are encouraged to dress up and dance away to their great collection of vinyl oldies and fan favorites, this event, with the Vault of Midnight folks involved in the party, encourages you to dress up and compete for top prizes. 

And if you think that superheroes and soul performers don’t mix, then you have never seen some of the old comics from the 1970s where Marvel’s Spidey battles disco madness with Mysterio or Marvel Comics’ “What If Rick James Had Become The Hulk?” special issue. 

So let loose a little this weekend and take a break from lounging by the pool in a bathing suit. By adding a simple item, like a beach towel cape, you have created your own take on the superhero theme and are ready to dance the night away.

Admission: $8 pre-sale tickets, $10 at the door.

Latino Day at Fifth Third Ballpark: Jugar a la pelota!

We are past the halfway point of summer in the city, and if you have not attended a local baseball game this season then now is time. Considering this Sunday is another special edition of the Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Family Days, during which they’ll celebrate Latino Day with the Whitecaps, then maybe this weekend is the most fabulous time to jugar a la pelota (play ball).

Pre-game festivities provided by the Cook Arts Center will include folkloric dancers, mariachi musicians, and plenty of other Latino-centric entertainment. 

The primer lanzamiento (first pitch) of the day will be from local notable Latino personalities. Even the in-between innings games will have plenty of lively and fun youth gaming activities that often involves the fans. 

For the fully immersive Spanish experience the game will have Spanish language play by play in the third, fourth, and fifth inning during Latino Day. 

And in keeping with the family theme and as an encouragement to arrive early and with your kids, the first 1,000 children through the gate will eat for free! 

This is a fundraiser for the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan so take advantage of this event’s special pricing and be sure to visit TicketReturn.com and log on using: UserID: Latinonight / Password: Whitecaps 

¡Jugar a la pelota!

Jazz in the Park: Mary Rademacher Reed takes center stage

You have to admit it is pretty awesome to learn that not only is one of our most beloved jazz vocalists in our city performing a free concert on the banks of the Grand River’s Ah-Nab-Awen-Park, but, scanning her bio, we also discover she has entertained the U.S. troops via a USO tour of Asia and the United States. 

Mary Rademacher Reed, winner of the West Michigan Jazz Society’s Jazz Musician of the Year (2006),  is a long time local favorite vocalist who has built up her career from club shows to the many stages of our theater community. She is also a member of the touring musical act Boogie Woogie Babies.

It is hard not to be moved by her talent as she not only captivates an audience with her stage presence but also attracts local A-list performers, including the men who make her latest combo: the Plaza Towers Players comprised of Paul Lesinski (piano), Jeff Beavan (bass), John Gist (sax), and Scott Veenstra (drums).

“I'm excited - this group really gets funky and seriously grooves,” says Rademacher Reed, “I'm doing a mix of standards, from Chuck Mangioni's Shaker Song to showtunes, but (also) taking a classic tune and giving them a twist like Cherokee, Show Me, I'm a Woman, No Moon at All, and Lady Be Good.” 

And, as always, she hints at other surprises, including something for the fans of the popular TV Mad Men series.

It is a free show, and if you do not feel like packing a picnic basket, they will have food trucks on site. 

Admission: Free

'Life, Animated': Local premier of the feel good summer flick about autism

DisArt Festival may have closed its inaugural 2015 event, which consisted of multiple venues showcasing world renowned artists all over downtown, but since then the popular new festival has been hosting a series of one-off events aimed at advancing its mission “to change perceptions about disability, one work of art at a time.”

On Wednesday night is a chance to attend a special DisArt Grand Rapids exclusive film premier event as DisArt welcomes “Life, Animated” — a real life story about a boy with autism and the fascinating journey he takes his family and others in his attempt to find a suitable platform to communicate with them. 

“Life, Animated” is the inspiring story of young Owen Suskind, a person unable to speak as a child until he and his family discovered a new and right-under-their-nose vehicle for communication. 

The family finds that through immersing themselves in the wonderful world of classic Disney animated films, a new methodology for communication emerges. 

Leaping way beyond the typical emotional coming-of-age story, “Life, Animated” follows Owen from childhood to graduation, where we witness the challenges he takes into adulthood and with a fresh perspective on what this means for his new independence.

Critics and audiences almost all agree that this is one of the highest rated films of the summer that is sure to inspire as well as break your heart. It is rare that we get to premier such works of art where the power to change society’s vision on disability’s abilities is so perfectly presented. 

Admission: $6


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 Rapids’ 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
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