BY: JESSICA SCHILLING
PHOTOS: DAVE JOHNSON
Founder’s Fest is anything but “just another beer festival.” While this was my first time attending the event, it certainly was not my first time enjoying Founder’s Brewing Co. brews and bands – Founder’s Fest was the culmination of everything good in the Founder’s world. One of the highlights of the festival for me was seeing the diverse cross-section of attendees. I lived in Colorado for about five years and that is a place that takes music festivals pretty seriously. Founder’s Fest felt like I was at a music festival back in the mountains; bringing together people from all walks of life, spanning the generations, they have created a community with a sense of consciousness for serving a greater good.
It seems like everyone in Grand Rapids was at the festival! I ran into so many friends, and saw people of all ages and professions enjoying great music and awesome beers together. I made a point of speaking with some of the other festival goers and met a couple guys that had come from Asheville, North Carolina to attend the event – a father-in-law and son-in-law. Even while extolling the virtues of their runner up “beer city” they clearly enjoyed coming to Grand Rapids and had great respect for the crafting done in West Michigan. After grabbing beers we enjoyed what shade we could find and the antics of performers strolling through the crowd; everywhere you looked there was something to see! There were also the more “mature” audience members that had brought their own chairs and set up near the back of the crowd, allowing for the 20-somethings to push towards the front to catch their favorite bands up-close.
Speaking of the bands, another impressive aspect is that you rarely had to endure downtime without live music playing. There were two stages set up in close proximity to each other, and as one band was finishing up a set on one stage, the next band was warming up on the other. The variety of music was clearly aimed at providing something for everyone, and they succeeded. I heard everything from the FBC All-Stars covering Rage Against the Machine and Pink Floyd, to Elephant Revival which included a woman playing the washboard and a saw. Rounding it out was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the end of the night, the weather managed to hold so none of the acts were rained out (although the rain might have been nice, it was a concrete jungle out there). But hey, at least when it’s warm outside the beer tastes even more refreshing!
The beer . . . oh, the beer! If you’re not a beer drinker, you could still attend this festival and have a great time listening to the music alone… But let’s not kid ourselves – the beer is definitely the highlight! Prior to attending i saw online that people had problems thinking they would spend all night waiting in line and paying $10 for a beer they could get any other time for $4. That was not the case on either account. The most I paid for a beer was $6 and the longest I waited in line was about 20 minutes – and that was for a KBS! We were standing in line for specialty beers (which was a separate line from the “regular” Founder’s beers), I was planning to have a CBS but the keg ran out about five people before us. We were lucky enough (IMHO) to get some of the fresh KBS that was tapped to replace the CBS! The traditional Founder’s beers were the same price as what you could get in the tap room – $4 – $6 each – and I never waited in line for more than 5 – 10 minutes for one of those. If you were at any other festival, you would likely be paying $7+ for a Bud Light; to anyone who was complaining about having to spend money on both a ticket and beer, you obviously do not go to many music festivals.
Overall, this festival was run very well and the layout provided for a great flow. When we first walked up there was a line to get in – however, they had about six lines and they had an assembly line-like set up so they were able to move people through quickly. There was a good sized ticket booth and beer tent right at the entrance, then another around the corner – both had lines that that went quickly and kept people moving. The whole area was set up in an “L” shape, and the bands were in the corner – this meant you could be almost anywhere and have a view of the stage and hear the bands . . . and with a beer tent at each end, you didn’t have to wander far for refreshments either. My one complaint would be that all of the port-a-johns were at one end – while this may have been good to concentrate the smell and all that, it would have been nice to have a small row near the entrance/exit.
I did not eat at the festival, but I did note that there were food booths. I saw that Slows BBQ was there and I saw people walking around with Gyros. The vendors that really impressed me were the ones selling “stuff.” The festival focused on having local entrepreneurs – there were no booths selling carnival-type-flashy-thingy-
I will be back at this festival again! It was a great time, I saw people I knew from all parts of my life, made some new friends, had some excellent beers and listened to some fantastic music. The festival was well run and set up, I didn’t spend the entire time waiting in line, and didn’t spend any more on drinks than I would’ve in a normal night out at Founder’s. It was a great event and a great way to celebrate this awesome Beer City USA town that we are lucky enough to live in!