With a lineup that encompasses deep Afro-Cuban jazz, classic rock, country, comedy and dance, the 2015 summer concert series at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is filled with perennial favorites and some new faces.
This year’s season repeats 2014’s expanded schedule of 30 shows, which run between early June and early September. “It seemed like, because last year was so successful, that this was a good number to shoot for,” said Meijer Gardens spokeswoman Andrea Wolschleger.
On the bill this year are a couple of new kinds of events, including stand-up comedy with Brian Reagan and a performance by the celebrities from TV’s Dancing with the Stars.
“It’s a whole different reach that we’re trying out and seeing how that works,” Wolschleger said. “We’re just trying to keep it fresh … We’ve always tried to claim that our series is very eclectic, and we’re just taking that to a whole different level this year.”
This year’s roster features popular returning artists like the Indigo Girls, Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and O.A.R. First-time performers include Diana Krall, Sweet Harmony Soul (featuring Mavis Staples, Patty Griffin and Amy Helm), and Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club.
Wrapping up the season will be a 20th anniversary celebration concert with a performance by Tony Bennett on September 7.
“That’s a pretty big deal to have somebody of his caliber performing at our amphitheater,” Wolschleger said. “We had Santana last year, and that was a pretty big deal, but I think Tony Bennett is a different class in himself.”
The Bennett concert was one of this season’s hot tickets, selling out quickly during the members-only presale. Other speedy sellouts included Harry Connick, Jr., the Doobie Brothers, Mat Kearney, the Steve Miller Band, Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri, The Beach Boys & The Temptations, Diana Krall, the Under the Sun Tour featuring Sugar Ray, Uncle Kracker, Better Than Ezra, Eve 6, Styx, Vince Gill and O.A.R.
Not wanting to risk missing out on tickets in the presale scrum, Rebecca Britz of Grand Rapids lined up at the box office around 2:45 a.m. on April 25 and was second in line for the start of the presale.
“Last year I attempted to use the website and it crashed, and we missed out on the concerts we were hoping to get tickets for, and I thought ‘Why not? I’m not doing anything else at 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday,’” Britz said.
She scored tickets for the Steve Miller Band, the Beach Boys and the Temptations, Brian Regan, Trombone Shorty, and the Under the Sun Tour. She said it’s a tossup between Steve Miller and the Beach Boys for the concert she’s most excited about.
“I saw the Beach Boys last year, and I hope I can be half as cool as them when I’m 70,” Britz said.
Meijer Gardens may have some devoted concertgoers, but a quick gander at social media shows that the venue is polarizing as well. Some complain about the ticket prices, which start at $35 and average around $61. That might be steep, but given the number and speed of sellouts, it would be hard to argue they’re overpriced. Others grumble about the lackluster, middle-of-the-road lineup filled with returning legacy acts.
The more legitimate argument might be the audiences, which sometimes tend toward the chatty, more interested in the picnic vibe than they are in the music onstage type. It was this phenomenon that caused Ray LaMontagne’s infamous profanity-filled tantrum last year, where he stormed off the stage and wouldn’t return until some talkers were ejected.
Much to the venue’s chagrin, that ended up being the big story of last season.
“To have that experience was kind of a bummer, because everybody was so excited to see him, and I think it changed a lot of people’s perspective about that artist, which is sad because he’s a really great artist,” Wolschleger said.
All the criticism aside, Britz said she likes the vibe at Meijer Gardens. “It’s a small venue, it’s picnic friendly, and it’s close to home. It’s not a hassle to go there,” Britz said. “It’s just a really enjoyable experience.”
If ticket prices are your issue but you like the venue, the Tuesday Night Music Club series might be a solution. These shows feature regional performers for $12 for non-members. This year’s roster includes Global Roots (July 7), Rock Garden (July 14), Roosevelt Diggs and Bennett (July 21), Skankadank and Vox Vidorra (July 28), the River Rogues Jazz Band with Black Jake and the Carnies (August 4), The Go Rounds with Billy Strings and Don Julin (August 11), Big Sherb with Nathan Kalish and the Lastcallers (August 18) and Ralston Bowles and Friends (August 25).
For more information, visit meijergardens.org.