The music and art at Return To The River added a special type of vibrant energy to Grand Rapids this past summer.
Return To The River is a two-day music and arts festival that took place in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids on August 26-27. The event, which debuted last year, is fun for all ages. It doesn’t cost a thing for anyone to get in, either. It’s hosted by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and takes place all around the Grand River by 555 Monroe, Sixth Street Park, and Canal Park.
The festival was originally just a single-day event, but they decided to spread it over two days this year. There was surprisingly a ton more to do and see this time around. Guided walking tours were taking off every hour. There was the option for people to rent kayaks and explore the river. An art market and activism fair were happening there as well. Dogs were not only allowed but actually encouraged as long as they were on a leash. Almost every kind of entertainment imaginable was provided by DGRI.
Live art was happening all along the river, and they featured some international art installations like Evanescent by Atelier Sisu, Optik by The Urban Conga, and Lovebirds by Sisu. The Evanescent piece was one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve encountered at any event, with its large iridescent bubbles that you could walk between, making for a perfect photo opportunity.
Face painting, body marbling, and henna were offered at different locations throughout the festival grounds, along with a photo booth for those who wanted a keepsake. Food trucks with different options for food, drinks, and sweet treats were available by the bubbles. Additionally, you could order drinks from restaurants, including Linear, Noodlepig, and SpeakEZ Lounge, to walk around with since they’re in the “Refreshment Zone.”
Two stages were set up, with music kicking off both days at noon and the most beautiful canopies to create a shaded area at both spots. The 555 Stage is where all of the electronic artists played, with incredible sets from Flats Stanlie, Taheo, TAY, JoeBig, and Floppy Drive, while Super Future closed out the first night and KAR POW closed out the second.
Meanwhile, the Sixth Street Stage saw local bands woo the crowd. This included Chirp, Grobe Seen Bierband, Molly, and Last Gasp Collective on the first day, while the second day featured Major Murphy, Loren Kranz Band, Jesse Ray & The Carolina Catfish, and Desmond Jones.
Return To The River is one of the many fun events that take place in Grand Rapids each year, and this one might be my favorite. The art, the music, and the energy were out of this world, and it’s a festival I’m looking forward to returning in 2024. I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow and evolve in future editions.
The third annual event is already set to take place on August 24-25, so be sure to save the date. If you missed out this year but are still in the area, there are a few more days to see some of the installations. They have decided to keep a few of them there for Art Prize, another iconic event that’s happening there now.