Thursday, June 11, 2009

OTR Destination: GR Part IV. Festival and The Cottage

After a great night’s sleep, with the windows finally open, we got an early jump on the day. After all today was Day 2 of The Festival of the Arts. In Grand Rapids, it’s affectionately known as “Festival” the way Mardi Gras is known as “Tuesday” in New Orleans. Say it any other way and they know you are not from GR. No worries though as we found the people of Grand Rapids to incredibly laid back and friendly.

We were able to walk to Festival in less than ten minutes from Peaches B&B. Festival, as we discovered, is an event that pays tribute to all of the arts in West Michigan. There were martial arts, culinary arts, literary arts, music, fine arts and my personal favorite art of keeping mustard off my shirt. It never fails and the streak continues. I digress. Festival is on Ottawa Ave. and stretches from the art museum and Michigan St. with branches off on every street. It’s about 10:30AM and this place is already slammed. We’re confident that this is indeed the place to be.

We enter Festival by the Fountain Stage to the sounds of a bluesy-folk musician named Otis Blueswell Jr. I’m distracted though as the air is filled with the scent of grilled food. My caveman-like instincts are alive and if it weren’t for a decent upbringing, I would be drooling. According to the program that we purchased from the local chapter of Red Hats, there are 27 food vendors and each one of them welcomes me. There is everything from Bosnian, to East Indian, Polish, Italian, American, Asian, Dutch, and more. I’ve had ideas that this is what the pathway to Heaven may look like. I’m easy. We were informed by Festival Co-Director Kate Scheid that all of the food vendors were local non-profits and that the booths were their fundraisers. There were church groups, ethnic organizations, and community groups.

The weather was perfect for strolling and people watching. The diversity of entertainment was remarkable. We took in ballet at the Circle Stage, classic rock by Buffalo Cannon on the Clock Tower Stage, and the Grand Rapids Accordion Ensemble at the Calder Stage. The Accordion Ensemble was a twenty member troupe of seasoned players. They were amazing. There was so much going on. You could have enjoyed gospel, jazz, choral music, indie rock, big band, and even spoken word. There was without a doubt something for everyone.

We took time for a little business and stopped to see a friend of the Made in Michigan Movement, Sarah Diem Cash of Diem’s Designs. Sarah is a jewelry maker from Grand Rapids and also on the committee for the Fulton Street Artisan Market. FSAM is a family-oriented outdoor market for artists and also a long-time supporter of the Made in Michigan Movement. We said goodbye and met up with Kevin Kammeraad and Ryan Hipp of The Tomato Collection. Kevin and Ryan collaborated on a children’s book with a Michigan theme. Kevin also appeared on stage for storytelling. What was noticeable throughout the Festival was the impressive number of hands-on activities for people in general but for children. We talked with sculptors and photographers. We really had no idea how big the Arts were in Michigan but they are particularly strong in West Michigan.

We took a moment to interview Co-Chair Kate Scheid who was kind enough to take time from her obviously busy schedule. Kate is from Saginaw and this is her second year of the three year commitment of being part of the Festival management. She remarked how so much of the Festival is possible due to the generosity of volunteers. Kate also noted that great weather helped in the success of this 40th Annual Festival. In minutes, our time with her had passed and back to work she went.

The Festival was a great experience of West Michigan culture and diversity. We want to thank Kate Scheid for taking the time for an on-camera interview and for a job well done. Additionally, we want to thank Sarah Diem Cash, Kevin Kammeraad, and Ryan Hipp for their time as well.

A busy day in the sun, with more to come, forced us to head back to Peaches B&B. We were thirsty and wanted something quick but most places on Fulton St. do not open until dinner. We noticed a bar and grill called The Cottage. It sits off the corner of Fulton, on LaGrave, and the sign is noticeable yet quiet. More importantly, they happen to be open. The Cottage is owned by the Verhill family who also own One Trick Pony which is right next door on Fulton St. It's a darkened building with a low ceiling that boasts a fine collection of steins. It's an old tavern that is still pouring today by a second generation of Verhills. What started as a stop for iced tea became a great experience. They had New Holland Gold Cap Ale on tap and it was cold. Lynn being the more moderate of the two of us held fast to the iced tea. We had no intentions of eating but a bold claim was thrown at me. The manager said that The Cottage holds the title of having Grand Rapids' best burger aptly called The Cottage Burger. I can’t just leave now. So we decided to split the burger and the fries which were allegedly, at the time, the best in Grand Rapids. The Cottage Burger with battered waffle fries was nothing short of amazing. The burger, which comes on a dark rye bun, was cooked perfectly and had two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, phenomenal bacon, diced green olives, and hickory mayonnaise. I repeat—amazing. I have never had another burger in Grand Rapids but I assure you this was indeed one of the best.

What? You don’t expect me to work on an empty stomach do you?

Come back tomorrow for Part V of VI in our blog series from our On the Road series covering our recent trip to Grand Rapids. Tomorrow’s blog will feature Six.One.Six and Zellars Party Store.


  1. One more thing...could you link FSAM to