The moment arrived just three songs into the first live set in more than a decade at the legendary outdoor theater. Sal Coz Costa, the lead guitarist for opening night opener My Darkest Days, invited fans to tip over a barricade fence and rush the stage. Fans of the Toronto rock band more than readily obliged, streaming forward. Security began to sort out who belonged in the pit and who didn't, but then relented and let the 400 or so fans who'd shown up for the opening set stay up front. The mosh pit was open.
Leaning against a barricade and watching the scene unfold, Val-Du-Lakes owner Brian Lowing shrugged and said: "It's a rock show. It's supposed to be fun."
Lowing and partner Ned Timmer certainly seem to have fun in mind with the newly re-launched Val Du Lakes. In its heyday, the venue hosted the likes of Aerosmith, Metallica and Stevie Ray Vaughn in the '90s. After more than a decade in mothballs, they've reinvented Val Du Lakes as an outdoor venue, with three massive outdoor decks, lawn space for chairs and the pit in front of the stage. The 80-by-48-foot stage pumps out 80,000 watts through a sound system that reaches into every corner of the outdoor venue.
Located north of Muskegon on Silver Lake, Val Du Lakes was a powerhouse throughout the '80s and '90s, before closing in 1996. If you can think of a big-time rock and roll or hair metal band, there is a very good chance they played Val-Du-Lakes. From Stevie Ray Vaughn to Guns 'n Roses to Foghat, all made appearances.
Paul Erickson is basically a rock and roll historian. As one of the original owners of Val-Du-Lakes, he had the honor of 15 years of music history. He worked with Orbit Room owner Don Dorshimer in Grand Rapids who helped bring in the giant headliners through his Belkin Productions company.
1511 N. Wilson Rd.,
Free-kie Fridays (June 3 & June 25); 38 Special with Molly Hatchet (June 4); Summer Soundfest (June 10-11); Collective Soul with Better than Ezra (June 18); Gin Blossoms with Tonic (June 25).
"Belkin Productions was the muscle for bringing in big bands," Erickson says.
Due to this long history, Erickson has a whole host of stories. Like the time when a white hot Guns n' Roses, who went from relative unknowns to chart-topping stars, played a show at Val-Du-Lakes.
"There was a traffic jam for 14 miles" Erickson says. "[But] it was a helluva party!"
Perhaps there can be traffic jams in the area again, as Val-Du-Lakes is reopening with a full line-up throughout the entire summer.
"[Val-Du-Lakes] had been closed for the better part of 15 years," Timmer said.
Timmer goes on to explain that he met with Brian and Mary Lowing, who own the concert venue, about putting on a charity show.
"We figured if we could put on one show, we could do a whole season."
One of the most interesting aspects of this upcoming season is the return of bands that once made Val-Du-Lakes a hot spot.
"38 Special and Molly Hatchet were some of the last bands to grace the stage in '96. They will be among the first bands to grace it again," Timmer says.
That particular show will take place on Saturday, June 4. Other highlights include '90s favorites Collective Soul and Better than Ezra, as well as classic rockers Cheap Trick and Meat Loaf performing on back-to-back days.
Val-Du-Lakes will also host the two-day Summer Soundfest the weekend of June 10. The festival will include many regional, as well as national acts from a variety of genres such as metal, alt-rock and hip-hop. Acts include Glassjaw, Brother Ali, If He Dies He Dies, Stepdad, Super Dre, and others.
Val-Du-Lakes will also present several nationally touring country musicians, including Sara Evans (May 28) and the Xtreme Muzik Tour with Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson.
The venue also has scheduled a series of Free-kie Fridays, a no-cover evening where fans can check out the amphitheatre for free. Timmer says the free shows, which will feature nationally touring artists, will be ticketed events. Tickets will be available at the venue, online or through WMMR 101.7-FM.
For complete concert listings visit valdulakes.com.