BY :: BRIAN VANOCHTEN
PHOTOGRAPHY :: TERRY JOHNSTON, ROBERT BOWDEN, DAVE JOHNSON, TIM MOTLEY AND IAN ANDERSON
GRAND RAPIDS — The first Rock the Rapids Music Festival proved it was possible to host a week-long concert series in the parking lots behind Van Andel Arena and the S-Curve serving as one of the hippest backdrops around.
The second Rock the Rapids confirmed the festival is here to stay.
The six-day lineup of acts, stretching from country superstars Toby Keith and Miranda Lambert to modern rock lineups involving the Uproar Festival and Carnival of Madness to hip-hop favorites Boyz II Men and Big Boi, brought almost 40,000 concert goers of all ages into Grand Rapids for a memorable week.
In all, 39,499 people packed into the makeshift venue, which featured a Ferris wheel and midway where food and drink mixed with live music to fill the void left by the demise of Rothbury, which flamed out after a short run, and other outdoor music festivals of the not-so-distant past.
“All in all, a good crowd, but certainly there is room for growth,” said Dan McCrath, a co-founder of Blue Cap Promotions and one of the managing partners of the Rock the Rapids Music Festival. “We like that more fans came out this year. We’re still reaching higher and pushing for more growth.
“We know it can be even better.”
McCrath said it’ll take three to five years to firmly establish the festival concept.
“Rock the Rapids has the potential to surpass other music festivals around the U.S. Our community has resources like no other,” he said. “The goal of providing affordable concerts and building a festival that Grand Rapids can call its own has not changed. We look forward to the next step in continuing the party. First, we just need some more time to evaluate and recap the party we just threw.”
A pivotal part of the growth of the event has been sponsorship support.
McCrath and Denny Baxter, partner in Blue Cap Promotions and the Rock the Rapids Music Festival, are confident the increase in corporate support for the festival from its inaugural season to this summer has convinced them there is a lot of potential to to get bigger and better in the summers ahead.
“We want the most affordable ticket prices to be made available to fans,” McCrath said. “That happens a lot easier with great corporate sponsorship. We were happy that 2012 was a significant increase in sponsorship over 2011. And, if it happens again in 2013, you’ll see some amazing ticket prices.
Here’s a recap, day-by-day, of Rock the Rapids 2012, with final official attendance numbers and some of McCrath’s reflections:
Main stage: Miranda Lambert
Supporting: Pistol Annies
Snapshot: The opening night of Rock the Rapids 2012 featured a cameo appearance from NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, who joined her friend, Lambert, onstage for the encore “King of the Road,” which Lambert turned into “Queen of the Road” just for the occasion.
McCrath’s comments: “The Miranda Lambert show got a lot of buzz when we announced it, and when she performed you could understand why. She has some fun energy onstage. The Danica Patrick appearance was a surprise to even me.”
Main stage: Uproar Festival
Lineup: Shinedown, Godsmack, Staind, P.O.D., Adelitas Way
Snapshot: P.O.D. was an 11th-hour replacement for Papa Roach, whose lead singer, Jacoby Shaddix, needs throat surgery, according to the band’s Web site.
McCrath’s comments: “I felt the Uproar Tour lineup was a great lineup even with the last-minute change from Papa Roach to P.O.D. Starting a show before the dinner hour is tough. The Uproar Tour should have been a Saturday show starting in the afternoon because of how many bands are on their lineup. Although we had hoped to see more ticket sales, it was still a good crowd and they got their money’s worth in entertainment.”
Main stage: Toby Keith
Supporting: Kip Moore
Snapshot: It was Ford F-150 Super Duty infomercial and patriotic concert from the consummate country music showman. Keith closed his set with a supercharged version of Ted Nugent‘s “Stranglehold.” He and Nugent first met on USO tours of Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain U.S. troops.
McCrath’s comments: “Toby Keith was our biggest seller. And, in fact, ticket requests from sponsors and other supporters, including media, far surpassed the requests for all of the other shows on the lineup. The production and the list of popular songs made it a great show.”
Main stage: Carnival of Madness
Lineup: Evanescence, Chevelle, Halestorm, Cavo
Snapshot: Evanescence vocalist Amy Lee joined Halestorm’s Lizzy Hale onstage for “Break In” as the two female singers showed it’s not just guys who make beautiful music in the post-alt-rock genre.
McCrath’s comments: “It seemed to be a show where fans were totally into the vocal side of the performance. I kept hearing things like ‘I love her voice’ and ‘I love the two bands with the girls leading them.’ I also noticed a lot of parents with teens or young adults with a parent enjoying this one together. That to me is very cool to see.”
Main stage: Boyz II Men and Bel Biv Devoe
Snapshot: The old-school tunes from Boyz II Men resonated with fans. They did a set of Motown covers that included the Four Tops‘ “Same Old Song” and “I’ll Be There” and had everyone buzzing about a surprising rendition of Journey‘s “Open Arms” long after the show had ended.
McCrath’s comments: “My favorite show all week was Boyz II Men, maybe because it resonated best with people my age. To see couples swaying and singing every word was amazing. When you looked up, most of the time you’d see thousands of people’s hands in the air slowly going from one side to the other in a full-crowd synchronization. It was very cool. And the band hit it on every song. Amazing how they can still move like they used to years ago.”
Main stage: Big Boi and B.o.B
Snapshot: Extreme heat and fading interest for Big Boi and B.o.B combined to send Rock the Rapids out with its smallest audience on the final night of the second-annual festival.
McCrath’s comments: “The B.o.B/Big Boi show was no less exciting than it was two years ago when we had B.O.B at Fifth Third Ballpark, but, for some reason, we couldn’t quite motivate as many fans to come see him again.”