Living on 12th street near Kollen Park, we often hear music from the bandstand, as we eat outside on summer evenings. We’ve half-heard American Legion Band concerts for years as background music, but a combination of summer-induced laziness, and preconceived musician assumptions meant I’d never actually attended a concert in the over ten years we’ve lived in Holland.
But in early August, our adolescents jumped up from dinner one night and declared they wanted to go check out what that great music was. I was surprised when they returned and our son exclaimed that we had to go the following week to hear that concert. All my assumptions about an American Legion outdoor summer concert – schmaltzy 1950’s favorites chosen for Boomers, boring marches – didn’t seem to fit with this new piece of info (my 15 year old loves it?), so the following week, I needed to go and see for myself.
We packed our bikes with lawn chairs and rode down 12th street a bit late, but in time to get a fine seat near the back of the crowd. There aren’t any bad spots in Kollen Park on a beautiful summer’s evening, watching the sun set, gazing out at the lake, and feeling the fresh breezes.
I should have put it together – Scott Vanden Berg (a fine musician) directs the American Legion Band, and my assumptions were about to be thoroughly upended. Kollen Park was packed with audience members listening attentively. There were families, single folks, dog lovers with their pets, couples, and groups of friends. And the programming was diverse and interesting. There was even a Coldplay medley (shamelessly pandering to 40-somethings like myself!) At the concert’s end, when they closed with my dreaded musical genre, the Washington Post March, it turns out that one can even play and direct a march in a musically interesting manner.
Next summer, we’ll all be checking the Kollen Park schedule, and attending with picnic blanket and snacks. I’m definitely inviting friends. We might even get one of those signs to post in our front yard, letting all our neighbors know where you can hear fabulous summer music on a beautiful night right in Holland.
Speaking of outdoor concerts, even though we’ve been oblivious to the American Legion concerts, since moving to West Michigan, we’ve hardly missed a summer of attending a couple concerts per year at the outdoor pavilion of Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. While I’m a classical musician, I do enjoy all kinds of music.
A highlight this past summer for us was Bela Fleck. If you don’t know Bela Fleck, he’s only one of the most famous banjo players in the world. And if you think that since you don’t like bluegrass, you don’t need to know Bela Fleck, he’s also an amazing musician who has won Grammy’s in multiple genres, from classical to jazz to folk.
I heard a podcast interview with Bela Fleck, where he mentioned how people sometimes say to him that they don’t like bluegrass music, but he figures that since bluegrass is so diverse, they’d probably find something they liked if they investigated further. I believe the same could be said of most (all?) musical genres, but that’s a topic for another time!
My husband and I attended this concert, and we were both blown away. Partly because Bela Fleck can play the banjo like nobody’s business. But another factor that excited me just about as much, is when I can tell the person on stage is having an amazing time, loving what they do, and excited to share that with us in the audience. You don’t have to drive up to GR to see that kind of music making (the Felt Mansion has a wonderful outdoor summer series, for instance) though if you haven’t ever attended a Meijer Gardens concert, you should especially check out the Tuesday evening local acts, which are free with admission to the gardens. Again, you can bring a blanket and a picnic, and enjoy amazing Michigan summer evenings along with the music.
One thing we’ve all learned with the pandemic is how important AND fragile things like live music, and music venues are. Local music-lovers’ paradise Seven Steps Up in Silver Lake will be closing soon, a tragedy for all who love live music in intimate spaces. So don’t spend another weekend on the sofa, scrolling through Netflix or social media – get out there and support musicians and music venues!