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.

grandrapids

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 (appliancerepairgr.com) 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

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.

Spacing

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.

Tips

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.

Camping

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

The Top Blues Festivals

Blues FestivalsThere are truly great blues festivals all over the country. Particularly when spring turns to summer the festivals start popping off. If I didn’t include your cities blues festival in this list, I apologize there is only so much room on the list!

The Top Blues Festivals

Keep in mind these are in no particular order. All of these festivals are excellent events that come highly recommend.

  1. Chicago can boast that they have the largest free blues festival in the world. Generally, I think the idea of free festivals is a bit mickey mouse. Usually, the quality suffers because they can’t pay enough big acts to show up. This couldn’t be farther from the truth with the Chicago Blues Festival. This free three day event has attracted some of the biggest names in blues including BB King and Ray Charles.This is the perfect way to kick off your summer blues fest tour. It usually takes place in early-mid June which means the temperature is just heating up.The festival attracts over half a million people each year to check out the biggest names in Blues. It’s pretty incredible they never started charging gate for this festival as it’s an exceptional experience and event. Perhaps one day they’ll start charging, until then enjoy the free Blues.
  2. Byron Bay hosts a terrific five day event that is truly one of the world’s best Blues festival. Scratch that, it’s one of the best festivals period. It’s an absolute hoot and if you’re a die hard blues fan getting to the Byron Bay blues fest before you pass is a must. That’s a big bucket list item for a big blues fan.The experience is a little bit different because of the camping aspect. Bring everything you would expect to bring camping, a flashlight in case nature calls at night, a good tent, an air mattress or Thermarest, warm clothing and bug spray are also musts. Byron Bays festival is truly located in an amazing setting.
  3. Upton Blues Festival is a completely different experience. It literally happens on the streets of Upton which is located in the UK. The entire town pretty well shuts down for this event and like the Chicago Blues Festival it is entirely free. The venues are provided by local pubs and the city allows them to play in various locations around time.You can also camp at this festival if that’s your thing. Otherwise, you can book hotels around the town which are exceptionally convenient

These are just three of the many great festivals that happen all over the world. Googling “Blues Festival + Your Town/City” will bring up a few local ones if you’re just getting into the blues scene.

 

Strange and Interesting Topics in Blues Lyrics

If your lover left you, your cat died, and your truck broke down on the very same day that you lost your job, then you may just be the topic of a hit Blues or Country Music song.  Blues music often makes use of the most bizarre and unique topics for songs, and here is a list of some of the most interesting ones you might never have heard.

Bad Hair Day Blues

bad hair dayWhen you’ve gotten out of bed and you’re in too much of a hurry to fix your hair properly, you may find yourself wanting to complain about your bed head troubles. Or if you need a hair cut but your stylist is on vacation, who can you tell about the heartbreak of Bad Hair Day Blues? Put it in a song! When you run out of conditioner, your flat iron won’t heat up, or your electricity is out so you can blow your hair dry, pour out your feelings into a little ditty that will make you (and tons of other people with the same experience) feel a little bit better about their bed head or dread head styles.  Even if your friends don’t want to be seen with you and your supremely embarrassing coif, singing a song about it can make you feel a lot better–even if it can’t make your hair look better. It might just make you more popular than a good hair day ever could!

Getting Pregnant Blues

Although trying to get pregnant might sound like lots of fun, many couples have a hard time conceiving a child when they want to.  In an effort to get their hearts poured out through song, some trying-to-get-pregnant blues singers choose to put their troubles to music while they try not to get overwhelmed with tracking ovulation and fertilization. Some couples, when trying to get pregnant, tend to lose the romance and focus only on the medical and clinical side of having a baby. This can lead to a whole lot of heartache and even a little bit of blues music dedicated to the topic. A blues song writer who is composing a song on this topic might do a little research. Surely, they will find that the question that needs to be answered is this: When do I ovulate? Turns out, that could be a perfect title for a blues song. A little humor could be added and this composer just might have a hit on their hands.

Alien Abduction Blues

Just your luck! On the day you have been planning a relaxing beach vacation, or an exciting ski trip with the cute guy you like, you get abducted by aliens.  What a bummer! Never fear. This is the kind of stuff that great Blues Music is made of: stories of heartache, frustration, and extra-terrestrial interruptions of your life. Don’t pout about it or feel sorry for yourself while you’re inside the UFO missing the ski trip. Take the opportunity to do something about it and write a song! Test it out on your new alien friends and maybe they’ll love it so much that they’ll let you go. Then you can head back to your home planet, write the Top 40 Hit “Alien Abduction Blues” song and that cute guy will ask you out on a date to hear your story first hand. You’ll probably have fans and groupies and your life will never be the same. And then you can write a blues song about that too.

Vegetarian Loves Bacon Blues

No matter how much a vegetarian might try to deny it, bacon is one of the best foods on the planet. Crispy, warm, and salty, this superfood may not be the healthiest of foods, but it is totally worth every cheating calorie and there are many vegetarians out there who know it. Bacon isn’t just for eating with eggs or in omelets. On sandwiches, on pizza, in chocolate, The frustration created by knowing how good something is and not being able to eat is can certainly be reduced by singing a song to the pigs about how much it means to save their lives. The Vegetarian Loves Bacon Blues brings to the forefront the grief and loss of having loved something so sweet but no longer being able to enjoy it. Don’t worry, though. There are many bacon-flavored sundries such as room spray, soap, perfume and more. Heck, you may even be able to by bacon-flavored tofu! Just sing the Bacon Blues while participating in these products and you’ll find yourself feeling like you have been eating bacon all along.

While these strange and bizarre topics may or may not be actual blues songs, it’s likely that they should. If you were going to write a blues song, what would you write about?

Image Credit: Matthias Weinberger via Flickr