BWW Review: PICNIC POPS SALUTE TO AMERICA! at Grand Rapids Symphony
Twenty-five years ago in Grand Rapids, the Van Andel Arena still was on the drawing board. Meijer Gardens had opened just three months earlier, but it would be many years before an outdoor amphitheater would be built as a venue for summer concerts. At Cannonsburg Ski Area, on a steamy evening in mid-July, the Grand Rapids Symphony launched a brand new, outdoor concert experience called the Picnic Pops. This season the Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates its 25th Anniversary of its D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops with a series of three shows that are all time favorites with Picnic Pops audiences plus a special event capping off four weeks of concerts at Cannonsburg.
Fast forward back to the present: Thursday, July 11th, to a nice rain free evening in the mid 70's lower 80's with a nice gentle breeze, with a well established reputation for the Picnic Pops series. Associate Conductor John Varineau, who has conducted at the Picnic Pops during 23 of the last 24 seasons, leads us through many patriotic and classic numbers. The evening begins as any patriotic theme event should with the singing of the Stars Spangled Banner, and the Marine Corps Color Guard, followed by a John Williams' composed Liberty Fanfare, Morton Gould's American Salute, then the main theme from Born on the Fourth of July another John Williams tune. Then to close out the first Act of the concert, guest Pianist Richard Ridenour comes out to play George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue to bring it full circle since he played the piece 25 years ago at the inaugural event. This was very cool to see. For those who may know the piece, Gershwin improvised much of the piano part at its premiere and only wrote it out later. But it still feels freshly improvised every time you hear it. It's also worth noting that his wife was the one who came up with the concept and was instrumental in creating the Pops Series including scouting the location, which is where it still is today.
After the intermission we come back with a classic Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein. Following the overture Richard Ridenour comes back out to accompany the symphony on another George Gershwin number, the Allegro Agitato from Concerto in F for Piano. Following another awesome performance on the piano by Richard, the symphony plays Aaron Copland's Variations on a Shaker Melody, followed by a very moving performance of the Theme from The Patriot by John Williams. Closing out the evening you can't go to any patriotic event that will be launching fireworks without having Stars and Stripes by John Philip Sousa, and Peter Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to kick them off.
This is my first time getting out to experience the Pops series, and only second time out to the venue at Cannonsburg Ski Area. With past Symphony events I have attended in mind, along the line up of music to be played for the evening and the fireworks, of course, I knew I was in for a treat. I am going to start by saying if you have always wanted to attend a symphony event, but aren't sure that it's for you, or you don't want your first time to to be so formal, I would highly suggest this series as you are in an outdoor venue, so dress is more casual. Another thing I found very unique to this event compared to all other events, musical concerts included, is they allow you to bring a complete picnic meal right into the venue, drinks included. If hauling in your own meal is not your style there are grilled foods (Burgers, dogs, and brats) available to purchase as well as drinks, chips, and also a few ice cream carts scattered through out the venue.
Although the "Classical Fireworks: A Salute to America" event was this past weekend, there are still three more awesome events this summer! The Picnic Pops Series continues with all-time Picnic Pops favorites plus a special event capping off four weeks of concerts at Cannonsburg.
The most frequent flyer at the Picnic Pops comes special delivery from Liverpool, England. Classical Mystery Tour, the world's best Beatles show with symphony orchestra, returns for its fourth Picnic Pops appearance at Cannonsburg in a show that will be the 100th concert in the history of the Grand Rapids Symphony's Picnic Pops with Here Comes the Sun: A Tribute to the Beatles starting at 7:30 July 18th and 19th. Along with such spectacular symphonic hits as Yesterday and A Day in the Life, the show includes a special segment celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles White Album, released in 1968, with songs including While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This will be performed on July 18-19, 7:30 p.m
Motown: The Greatest Hits welcomes three guest singers to Cannonsburg for songs including Diana Ross' Touch Me in the Morning, Stevie Wonder's Superstition, The Four Tops' Reach Out/I'll Be There and Martha Reeves' Dancing in the Street. The special guest vocalists include Shayna Steele, who wowed the Picnic Pops audience in 2017 for Women Rock! This show will be performed July 25-26.
Last but definitely not least Grand Rapids Symphony presents the very unique event, similar to those you would see only down in Nashville, TN if you attended a singer/songwriter round. These events are traditionally where they go to play new music to test the reaction to them before pitching them to artist/ labels, or where they go to sing there songs that may have become hits for other artist, as well as tell the stories behind the song. Similar to the writers round these are considered acoustic (striped back and no traditional band, just symphony and artist) performances with the symphony rather than a traditional full band. This event is very exciting for me not only as a country music fan, but as someone who knows these writers songs so well, the artist who sang them, and has sang some of them before myself, and loves the acoustic concert style. This is also sure one to please country Music fans who love to hear the back story of there favorite songs, and I can't wait to see the set list performed at the event!
Ironically called "Nashville: The Songwriters. Their Stories", the Symphony will star singer/ songwriters Brett James who wrote The Truth for Jason Aldean, and Hillary Lindsey who wrote Blessed for Martina McBride. The two also collaborated on Jesus, Take the Wheel for Carrie Underwood. The show also stars Rivers Rutherford who wrote Living in Fast Forward for Kenny Chesney and Real Good Man for Tim McGRaw. The three Grammy, CMA and ACM nominated singer/songwriters also have wrote songs for Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum, racking up more than 15 songs that hit No. 1 on the charts. James, Lindsey and Rutherford join Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Pops playing symphonic arrangements by ACM Musician of the Year and Nashville studio legend, Charles Judge, arranger and conductor for Carrie Underwood's concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and Ravinia Festival. They will be singing the songs and share stories about them, and the scene where the Music City Hit-Makers reign supreme. This is a one night special event playing Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m
Lawn tickets for all concerts are $20 for adults ($25 day of show) or $5 for ages 2-18 ($10 day of show). Active duty, reserve and National Guard members of the U.S. Military may purchase up to two tickets for $15 each ($20 day of show). Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.
Other individual tickets are $30 for reserved chairs ($35 the day of the show), $51 for individual table seats ($56 the day of the show), and $408 for a full table of eight ($448 day of show).