|John Sinkevics: The eight best concerts of summer 2012|
by John Sinkevics
Every summer starts with so much promise for a banner concert year in West Michigan.
Between the ever-expanding summer series at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and major outdoor festivals – from Electric Forest at Rothbury and the B93 Birthday Bash in Martin to Founders Fest, Cowpie Music Festival, Buttermilk Jamboree and Rock the Rapids, plus new downtown events such as GRandJazzFest – my seasonal calendar becomes a messy palette of scrawls, chicken scratchings and underlined “must-attend” shows.
But it’s also like digging into a bag of Halloween treats or Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, because you never really know what you’re going to get (partly because our ever-fickle Michigan weather can wreak havoc on outdoor shows).
\ So, there were some disappointments, namely soul singer Al Green’s abbreviated show at Meijer Gardens on June 18. Although Green’s voice and falsettos are still impeccable and his stage demeanor charismatic, he was on stage for less than an hour and did little to acknowledge his homecoming and hometown crowd in the city where he grew up, leaving some fans a bit grumbly and sour.
There’s also the disappointment of not being able to be everywhere at once. So I present my “best of summer” concert list with one caveat: I’m not Spock, so I can’t instantly beam myself everywhere I’d like and I can’t comment on shows I didn’t see. (I also had to occasionally: A) recharge, B) reacquaint myself with my wife, and C) resort to frustration by watching the Detroit Tigers.)
Enough already. Drum roll, please ….
1. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (Meijer Gardens, Aug. 16) – If ever there was a rising star making a statement, it was this rock singer and multi- instrumentalist simply exploding on the outdoor amphitheater stage with rare energy, spellbinding musical joy and impressive camaraderie with a band that simply fired on all cylinders.
2. Roger Waters’ “The Wall” (Van Andel Arena, June 6) – This would top the list if I hadn’t already seen this eye-popping, sonically stunning production by the ex-Pink Floyd frontman when it passed through Michigan a couple years ago. Unforgettable. Unparalleled.
3. Gov’t Mule (Meijer Gardens, June 28) – Until Potter’s beauty graced the amphitheater stage in August, this was Meijer Gardens’ finest hour: Warren Haynes and company unleashed a wondrous stew of rock, blues, jazz and jams, then topped it off with an inspiring encore that spotlighted Grand Rapids’ own blues guitar legend, Donald Kinsey.
4. Thievery Corporation (Electric Forest in Rothbury, June 29) – Electric Forest is all about wildly garbed hippies and a groovy vibe. And this inventive Washington D.C. act with a rotating ensemble of singers and players turned up the groove quotient, bringing instant energy to the stage in a late-night display, blending reggae, dubstep, world music and acid jazz/pop. (And Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives did themselves proud with a Sunday set.)
5.Bonnie Raitt/Mavis Staples (Meijer Gardens, Aug. 17) – There’s not much more than can be said about Raitt’s live shows, is there? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer and guitarist instantly brings class and high-level musicianship to the stage, with an engaging personality that won’t quit.
6. Ultraviolet Hippopotamus (Founders Fest, June 23) – Surprised? Sure, New York’s Soulive headlined with its compelling funk-jazz, but I was blown away by the visceral energy and buoyant musicianship of Grand Rapids’ own UV Hippo and the way these guys ignited fans. (Flying under the radar just down the street at The Intersection the same night: a moving local tribute to late Grand Rapids blues-folk guitarist Frank Salamone.)
7. Cowpie Music Festival (Shagbark Farm, Aug. 10-11) – Just because. Take two days of top-notch regional and local bands on a cattle farm out in the middle of, well, nowhere, with a giant dollop of camaraderie. The crowds weren’t big, but the musical passion was gigantic.
8. Andrew Bird (Meijer Gardens, July 15) – In my review, I called it a coronation for an indie-rock original. With his avant-garde, multi- instrumental approach, Bird soared amid the beauty of this outdoor amphitheater.
Honorable Mention: Ambrosia, The Intersection, May 4; Jimmy Cliff, Meijer Gardens, June 13; Tuesday Evening Music Club, Meijer Gardens, Aug. 28; Fourth of July Celebration, Ah Nab Awen Park (Donald Kinsey, Kari Lynch Band, Garrett Borns, The Outer Vibe), July 4; Fiona Apple, Meijer Gardens, July 9.
Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at localspins.com, and spotlights artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW).
Published: September 2, 2012
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