Blues on the Mall – Grand Rapids, Michigan

Looking for an amazing cultural experience that is free, musical, and fun for the whole family? Grand Rapids has it all! Each year, for 23 years running, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan puts on a free live concert lineup throughout the summer months for residents and visitors to enjoy. Even though blues music hails from the deep south, those up north can also appreciate and enjoy live music in the summer time. Ten free concerts are lined up for Wednesday evenings each summer, and most of them take place at the Rosa Parks Circle, located at Monroe Center and Monroe Avenue near the Grand Rapids Art Museum.


For years, the Blues on the Mall concerts have incorporated some of the greatest current blues musicians from local areas as well as from other places around the United States. For this annual event, some of the past musical blues and jazz acts have included names such as Samantha Fish, Curtis Salgado, Walter Trout, Big James & the Chicago Playboys, Popa Chubby, Vasti Jackson, and Larry McCray.  The most recent concert schedules of the year have featured the likes of Big James, Ana Popovic, Kelly Richey, and Selwyn Birchwood, all performing on the famed Purple East Stage.

One of the 2014 concerts in the Blues on the Mall, Grand Rapids series has incorporated a unique and special tribute to Walter Trout who has been a well-loved blues musician over the many years of his musical career. In the past, Walter Trout has been involved in the music scene since the late 1960s and has been with several bands in that time including John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex. In 2013, Trout’s most recently recorded album, Luther’s Blues, gained notoriety as it was nominated for a Blues Music Award.  Because Mr. Trout has been seriously ill with liver disease, his protégé, Danny Bryant, has been part of a benefit tour which is proud to be scheduled to stop in at the August 6th concert in Grand Rapids for 2014 for a special, heartfelt tribute to this blues musician who has spent his life providing entertainment and enjoyment for others.

Residents of Grand Rapids, as well as visitors who are planning to attend the blues festival, often try to make it a fun and delicious tradition to stop by at one of the many nearby bars or restaurants for a meal and a drink, or enjoy time to rest on the grassy park areas. Local business owner Bob Johnson ( has been attending Blues on the Mall for many years, and is “continuously amazed at the new and quality bars and restaurants that keep popping up all over downtown Grand Rapids.”

Food trucks and other vendors are located around the area of Rosa Parks Circle, and dancing is always encouraged and welcomed in the location as the stars come out at night. In fact, a World Record was recently set on the same site in 2012, as over 750 people were reported to be swing dancing at the same time. So the Blues on the Mall events are sure to be promising some incredible dancing fun as well musical entertainment and enjoyment.

Even though there is said to be limited seating possibly available at the Rosa Parks Circle, it is often best to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs and maybe even include a cooler full of beverages just for fun. Tailgate partying and enjoying the festivities with friends is all part of the charm of the Blues on the Mall experience in Grand Rapids. After parties often go on in the local Grand Rapids area which include a free Blues Open Stage at The Intersection, fun at The B.O.B., and events before and after at River City Slims.

T-shirts for the BOM event are sold at each of the ten summer shows for those who want to own a wearable memory and show their support for the musical event. Blues on the Mall is typically sponsored by WLAV Classic Rock radio station as well as Budweiser, and the events are safe for the kids and fun for the entire family.

 Image: Flick’r

8 Must Have Items When Going to a Blues Festival

We are on the cusp of summer, and the blues festival movement is well under way. With events popping up all over the world, you have plenty of opportunity to get your fix of your favorite music live and in person. Most of the better events take place over the course of days, in outdoor settings, making it essential that you bring along the following:

Earplugs – This may sound counter productive, but earplugs can actually enhance the musical festival experience. Most are designed to just muffle noise, not stifle it altogether, which you’ll be appreciative of if you end up to close to a speaker.

Fanny Pack – Not the most attractive look, but you need somewhere to stash your cash, cell phone, keys and cigarettes. Backpack you say? Go ahead, and then you’ll find yourself the mule for all of your friends cash, cell phones, keys and cigarettes. The fanny pack makes sure that you are in charge of just your own stuff. You can also upgrade to a Camelbak if you want an easy way to lug around your drinking water.

Porta Potty Stuff – It’s a fact of life so we may as well be adults about it, no one likes the porta potty. To make it less hell-full bring along wipes, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Cell Phone Power Pack – Good luck finding a power outlet in the middle of a festival, but having a back-up or a power pack should do the trick of letting you stay in touch in between sets.

Portable Infrared Sauna – If you are bringing along a power source, or will have access to one, having a portable infrared sauna is a great way to unwind at night and stave off muscle exhaustion in your legs. A portable infrared sauna review site can help you find the best one to bring along to a festival for the right price.

©Jay Blakesberg

Protection from the Sun – You will get fried if you are not careful. Sunblock, hats, sunglasses, chapstick and long sleeves are must haves.

Comfortable Shoes – Measure the distance from your family sized tent at the campsite to the nearest stage. Need we say more?

Candy and Gum – These help with keeping your mouth fresh, and in making friends. See someone who looks interesting to chat with, pull out a pack of gum and then offer a piece when you see them looking.

Blues festival season is short, and you want to make the most of the time while you can. With careful planning and the right gear, every festival you hit up this summer will be one worth remembering.

Is Clean Shaven Taboo in Good Blues Music?

With rare exception, pop bands and artists are baby faced, without a whisker in sight, yet in blues the epic beard abounds. Is there some sort of connection between great music and great looking facial hair, or is the blues artist just too laid back to care. Stop by any blues fest, and chances are you’ll see more whiskers than you could shake a beard trimmer at.

The Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard is one of the best examples of this, as he is generally seen performing his set behind the mask of a very scraggly looking beard. Despite the harsh look, his heart wrenching ballads and soul infused rock will still blow you away every single time.

Then of course is the aptly named Beards, who have taken facial hair to a whole new level of overgrowth. They have even dedicated a song to the beard “You Should Consider Having Sex With a Bearded Man” to help turn the females on to the look.

If you ever are lucky enough to see them perform live, be a dear and throw some beard balm onto the stage. This will help in taming their whiskers. If you don’t know what kind, find some beard grooming review sites and see beard balm brands other beard wearers are using to smooth their styles down.

When it Comes to Playing the Blues a Beard is Almost a Pre-Requisite

The list of beard donning blues magicians is almost as long as the beards themselves. This leads the fan to wonder if the music makes the beard, or if it is the beard that is leading to great tunes. One can certainly not deny that legendary Fitz would not be quite as legendary if he put a beard trimmer to his Gandalf beard.


Ben Caplan may give the most honest insight into the beard and blues music. According to him, his beard grew out of laziness, and as it grew he just decided to go with it. Does this mean blues artists are lazier then the average musician? I beg to differ. Instead I imagine they are just too caught up in the electrifying sounds to really care about something so trivial.

The next time you find yourself at a blues fest, start counting the beards. I bet my guitar that you are going to find more scruff than smooth bringing their musical genius onto the stage.

Music to Get Your Juices Flowing

We all listen to music for different reasons at different times, but a great many of us listen to music to help raise our energy level and get excited. Of course, no place uses music to get people excited better than athletic events. No matter how many times we go to a sporting event or how many times we hear the same song, the songs played always seems to get large crowds engaged and excited. Here are a few songs that you may have heard at sporting events that are sure to get your juices flowing.

Ever since the movie “Rocky,” Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” has been a staple of sports arenas everywhere. It’s such a motivating song, which is why it was the perfect song to get Rocky up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a lot of times it’s played during the pre-game festivities to help build excitement before the start of a game. Even outside the sports arena, it’s a great song to listen to whenever you need a little extra push to get yourself motivated.

Another classic song that sports arenas tend to play before the start of games is “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses. In a sports context, this song is great at creating an intimidating environment, helping to give the home team a distinct advantage. This is one of my favorite songs to listen to before I strap on my paintball gear and head out to play. Outside of the sports arena, the song can be used by anybody looking for a little extra motivation and a confidence boost upon facing a difficult challenge.

There may be no better song to get a crowd at a sporting event rocking than, as its name implies, “We Will Rock You” by Queen. When the home team is playing well and about to go in for the kill, this rock anthem will blare from the speakers as loud as possible. In fact, few songs you’ll hear at a sporting event will bring a crowd together as much as this one. This is what song my paintball team usually plays while dusting off our paintball guns after a victory in a match. Outside of the sports arena this song will rarely be heard, but there’s nothing wrong with listening to Queen, and it will help you to build up a quiet confidence in yourself.

Once the crowd gets going, nothing can maintain that excitement like playing “Jump Around” by House of Pain. This song will rarely be heard outside of a sports arena, or perhaps your favorite dance club, but people tend to take its message quite literally, making it the perfect song for sporting events.

Finally, there is the outlier of the group, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. This song is most popular in Boston, but it can be heard in sports arenas all over the country. It doesn’t bring the same type of energy as some of the other songs we frequently hear at sporting events, but it gets the crowd engaged and brings everyone together, which is why it’s become one of the most popular songs to hear at sporting events.

Live Music in Your Restaurant

If you feel your restaurant needs to pick up more customers, you may want to think about hiring live music performers. This can be a big treat for your customers (especially those who are into music or live entertainment), and you have plenty of options to go for.

Customer Preferences

When deciding on the kind of live music you want to display in your restaurant, you’ll need to think about your current customers and the type of restaurant you’re running. For instance, if you operate a seafood restaurant, you may not want to opt for a live jazz performance. While it may lead for an eclectic experience, it won’t mesh well with the kind of restaurant you have. But on the flip side, having Mariachi players will work ideally in a restaurant with a Mexican theme or an eatery centered on a Southwest ambiance. It’s essential to think about what your customers need and expect in the restaurant they’re dining in.

Chef Preferences

This could also come down to the recommendation or preference of the chef or sous chef. If it annoys the chief cook, it’s probably not a great idea to be doing it anyway. Some will enjoy the music and relax while enjoying their meal, and others will simply get annoyed if they are trying to shout orders to the other kitchen workers over the music.


You’ll have to think about how much space you have available. You may not want to get rid of too many tables and chairs just to make room for a live music performance. Opt for a guitarist instead of a pianist. Having a small stage for a guitar performer is sufficient enough. If you want to go for mariachi players for your Mexican-themed restaurant, they can perform live from one table to another. Your options are limitless.


It’s always a good idea to let your patrons tip the entertainment and allow your music performers to keep all the tip money. This gives you a couple benefits. First off, you’ll be able to negotiate with your music performers for a lower rate since they get to own all tips. At the same time, they’ll dish out their best performances for tips including the amount you’ll be paying them at the end of the night.

Setup Changes

When you have live musical performers, expect a slight change in your business model. Instead of having people dine in your restaurant and leave after finishing their meal, they may end up staying a little longer and watch the musicians perform. You have a number of ways to deal with this scenario.

You may want to set up a separate area for your music performers, where patrons can observe and have drinks without interfering with your dining guests. You could charge higher for meals and drinks since people may wind up staying a little longer.

Having live music (especially in hip places like austin) in your eatery may not be a bad thing after all since it has plenty of advantages from the business standpoint. There are various options to make the most of your live entertainment without disrupting the most important thing there is: getting customers to come in and dine at your restaurant.

Surviving the White Mountain Boogie N’ Blues Festival

For almost twenty years, the award winning Boogie N’ Blues festival has been held in the white mountain region of New Hampshire with raving success. Each year just keeps getting better, with award winning blues artists, craft vendors, food galore, and a climbing wall. Bring the kids, there is plenty for the whole family to enjoy.

This year, the festival is scheduled for the 14th of August through the 16th, and promises to bring a better lineup of blues artists then ever before. If you want to be a part of this incredible festival, you need to make sure that you don’t miss a beat. To spend the three days near by, you have a number of options:

Local Motels

The festival is held in the middle of a large field, but there are plenty of towns close by with clean and inexpensive lodging options. Woodstock, NH is only 4 miles from the festival and is home to Jack o’ Lantern resort and golf course and the Woodstock Inn, Station and Brewery. The Woodstock Inn has 33 rooms to choose from, many of which are equipped with whirlpools and fireplaces.

A little bit further in Plymouth is an Econolodge which offers you all the amenities that a big chain can, such as continental breakfast and interior corridors.


The real appeal of the Boogie N’ Blues Festival is camping on the expansive field. This is a rustic experience as there are no water or electric hook-ups, but for three days it is well worth it. Call ahead and reserve a space for your family tent, and enjoy a camping experience like no other. Roll out of the sleeping bag and be greeted by an incredible list of renowned blues artists. Roast marshmallows while listening to great beats and cook eggs on your camping stove while your favorite artists warm ups.

GettingSetUpYou will need a special camping pass to set up your family tent, but each site is equipped with a picnic table and special fire ring. Everything has been thought of in advance to make sure that you and your friends and family have a blues fest experience like no other on the planet.

Don’t miss out on an incredible opportunity to spend three days and nights with a large group of people who appreciate the blues as much as you do. Combine the event with a family camping excursion, and you will instill a love of blues music into your kids too.

Your Five Favorite Blues Songs and How to Listen to Them

Having the blues has been described as that feeling you get when you have no money. You know that melancholy of knowing that there’s no food in the pantry and no way of getting any. It comes as no surprise than that the origin of blues music comes from American ghettos, and that the original artists were all African Americans.

We all get the blues from time to time. Maybe not for money reasons, maybe for love. Whatever the cause, there are those times when you just want to sit back and feel melancholy by your self. And the best way to do that is by hearing the blues.

Black Betty – James Baker and Gang

One of the earliest blues recordings lamented about the struggles of being at a dead end job. James is part of a work gang where the pay is pennies and the work is hard. This is a song to hear after an unappreciated week of work. Preferably with an ice cold beer and your favorite lounge chair.

Bukka White – Parchman Farm Blues

Just the song you need when you are facing legal issues of your own. This classic blues song was written while White was in prison for murder. Great for listening to on your darkest days, when a little perspective is needed. Dim the lights, swirl some scotch and remember it could always be worse.

Ma Rainey – Call Me Anything, But Call Me!

Use your scented oil diffuser to fill the room with the smell of roses, and then reflect back on the one that got away. This is a classic song of the love that got away. With your scented oil setting the stage, close your eyes and imagine what if.

Robert Wilkins – Rollin’ Stone

Arguably one of the most recognizable blues recordings ever made, Rollin’ Stone is what you need to hear when you want something to sing along with. Break out the Old Spice and dedicate this to the Rollin’ Stone in your life.

BB King – You Upset Me Baby

BB King is the king of the blues, having hundreds of recordings under his belt and one of the few black artists in the genre to become a household name. If you have company and want to share your blues, sit back and let the King guide your party.

bbking_2372999bMississippi John Hurt – Payday

The ultimate in poor man’s Blues. This calls for a can of Schlitz and a bag of chips for when money woes are wearing your down.

There is a blues song to fit any melancholy mood, and somehow the music makes your troubles seem insignificant. While the genre has gotten muddled up in rock and pop over the years, classic blues has never gone out of style.

ZZ Top: Mexico, Beards and the Modernization of Classic Blues

In their humble beginning, ZZ Top always showed their blues roots. But then fame took over, and that crazy urge to remain mainstream that ruins so many great blues bands. In 2012 they finally did the right thing, and channeled that blues energy once again, except this time with a modern (and electronic) twist.

ZZ Top started out in Houston Texas in 1969, a time when there were amazing changes taking place all over the musical spectrum. Over 40 years later, the heavily bearded band still has the same line-up. This consists of Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals, Dusty Hill on bass and vocals and Frank Beard on drums.

Besides the big beards, ZZ Top has always been known for having a strong blues sound paired with rather funny songs laden with innuendo and double entendres. Who can forget “You got it whip it up and hit me like a ton of lead, If I blow my top will you let it go to your head?” It was lyrics such as this that allowed ZZ Top stay at the top of the charts for so long.

They have had their moments, taking brief (thankfully) excursions to the grunge world and even techno but they have never forgotten their blues roots. This is evidenced by the 2012 release of La Futura, one of their most authentically blues sounding albums in decades, with a modern twist. That release put them back on tour and back at Blues Fests all over the world.

Sometimes mistaken for being Hispanic, thanks to the Spanish album titles and references in their music, these three Houstonites are not of Mexican descent, but rather just have a deep love for the culture. This is easy to understand after growing up in an area that is infused with a large immigrant population.

The beards are another story.

The only member of the band who is clean shaven ironically is drummer Frank Beard. Gibbons and Hall grew out their facial hair while on a break in the late ‘70’s and have never looked at a beard trimmer since. They have been offered deals by razor companies to shave and possibly even give beard grooming tips, deals that they have happily turned down. As both bearded boys explain, at this point they are afraid to see what has gone on with their faces during the 30 plus years they have been covered by hair.

The latest album by ZZ Top is chock full of references to their old ways and old music. As only they can, electric blues has been integrated perfectly with the past to create a completely fresh sound that still manages to remind us of the bands very checkered past.

If you haven’t taken the time to listen to La Futura straight through, you are missing out. Grab your air guitar and a bottle of Mexican tequila and get ready to embark on a modern blues laden musical journey that only ZZ Top is capable of delivering.

Discover More About Blues Music

Some may say that listening to music is a part of a person’s life. There is nobody that I know who hasn’t been interested in music at a certain point in their life. One example of the most poplar types of music that people would love to listen to is blues music. This type of music has been popular since the 19th century and it’s still popular nowadays.

A Little Bit of History

blues guitarsBlues music is known to originate from the African-American natives. They are people who are situated in what they refer to as the Deep South. Ancestors of these natives are then inclined in producing songs that are more rhythmic, narrative and for some music that sound like chants.

As time goes by, these songs and music then evolved to be accompanied by instruments and melodies which can be very pleasant to the ear. Some called blues a freestyle music where it is not conformed with the usual Westernized songs and music that we hear. Instead, the music has its own elements to blend as part of a musical piece.

From a wide genre of musicians and singers, African-American people were able to introduce this type of music for everybody to love. Even with the lack of musical instruments to use to accompany their piece, blues music continued to prosper from then on.

At Present

Knowing that this type of music have influenced a good number of soul singers nowadays, the music still continues to evolve. More and more artists find the music interesting that is why they opt to bring their own taste of melodies to blues music. Current musicians are experimenting on their own music to blend with the blues.

What makes blues that popular is that you can listen to it wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Because of the melodies made to be pleasant to the ear, you will find this type of music very appealing. You can listen to it while cooking in the pantry, while relaxing or even while fishing outdoors and waiting for the fish to catch the bait (speaking of fishing, just last week I picked up a new finder for an amazing deal. Just wanted to give y’all a heads up in case you’re into this too!). This type of music gives you that sense of tranquility because of its freestyle melodies.

Blues music over time has inspired a lot of music lovers and artists to use their own style when it comes to composing songs and adding melodies to their music. Probably you haven’t noticed, most of the songs you hear nowadays incorporates blues music. Having said that, there is now a growing number of blues music enthusiasts. Who knows, sooner or later you might be joining them too.

Great Outdoor Blues Venues

Whether it’s at a small town fair, at a huge football stadium,or somewhere in between, it’s tough to beat the feel of live outdoor music, especially in the summer time (I enjoy many other outdoor activities as well, such as hunting, fishing and birding, and just like with some of these venues, you’ll need some good binoculars or a scope). It’s not every daythat people get to experience great music in a wonderful outdoorvenue, so if you get the opportunity to do so, you have to takeadvantage. Here are some great outdoor music venues that music lovers should try to experience if they get a chance.


One of the best-known outdoor venues in the country is the RedRocks Amphitheater in Colorado, a gorgeous arena that’s been builtaround natural formations of red sandstone. Its location and theclimate allow Red Rocks to be open year round and routinely attractsome of the top names in music, although even some of the world’smost popular musicians can find themselves upstaged by the purebeauty of the venue. The open air venue and the typically clearskies in that part of the country allow stars to sparkle in the skyduring nighttime concerts, taking the breath away from concert goers,helping to make Red Rocks a venue that music lovers from all cornersof the globe should experience at least once in their lives.

Not far from Red Rocks is another great venue, Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. Park City is known mostly for skiing, but duringthe offseason it’s a haven for hiking, mountain biking, and otheroutdoor activities, and that includes live music. From late June to the middle of August, the Deer Valley Music Festival takes over and fills the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater with sweet melodic tones. It’s the perfect venue for music lovers who want to take it easy and have a good time, as well as for thrill seekers looking to relax in a casual setting after a long day and listen to some great tunes.

One of the most scenic outdoor music venues is the George Amphitheater in George, Washington. The Pacific Northwest hasproduced its fair share of great musical acts over the years, so it’sonly natural that they would have a few great venues, including thisone on the shore of the Columbia River. With views of the river, as well as the Cascade foothills, the landscape of the George Amphitheater is nothing short of breathtaking. The venue isfrequently host to major artists, as well as festivals of a varietyof genres. Few venues combine the beauty of music with the beauty ofnature quite like the George Amphitheater, making it a greatdestination for music lovers everywhere.

Finally, if you’re on the other side of the pond, the place to check out for music lovers is Gendarmenmarkt Square in Berlin. Thisvenue is home to a wonderful concert house and two magnificentcathedrals, giving it a rather unique location. It’s suited formore classical music, including baroque and opera, and each year theyhost an open-air festival that allows people to watch the sunset tothe sound of their favorite composer. Outdoor music venues don’tget any more soothing or unique than this one.

How I Write Lyrics for My Blues Music

You might think that the words written along with songs just come easily and flow right out, but they don’t. For me, song lyrics are written intentionally to represent what is going on in my life, what is going on with others, and what is going on in the world. Although they may be written poetically and as idioms, there is always meaning behind the lyrics of my blues songs.

Inspired by a Miter Saw

my brand new miter sawSometimes I come up with song lyrics at the most random times. For instance, one of my favorite songs, “Simplify” was written when we were expecting our first child. We were working on the baby’s room, preparing it with some woodworking projects such as crown molding as well as window and door trim. I was working with my brand new miter saw in the workshop to get the angles just right when the lyrics for that song came to me. Of course, they didn’t come out all at once, but the ideas instilled themselves in my mind during this time.

I thought about how much effort we were putting in to planning for this tiny little person who hadn’t arrived yet. With baby showers, room decoration, hospital tours, doctor visits, and birthing plans, there certainly is a great deal of time, effort, and money which goes into the preparation of a baby’s arrival.Continue Reading