Grand Rapids Pops' 'Symphony under the Sky' returns for 24th summer of D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops

When winter finally recedes, and a timid spring gives way to Technicolor summer, West Michigan throws a party.

Just in time for the party, during the heart of summer, the Grand Rapids Pops offers a cadre of concerts that have delighted an incredible range of audiences, from symphony aficionados to new crowds of people for 23 years.

For its 24th annual summer season, Grand Rapids Symphony’s D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops returns in July and August with symphonic blockbusters, pop/rock hits of the 1980s, high-voltage merengue and mambo, and the original songs of Ben Folds.

The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops is symphonic music at its eclectic and exuberant best, offering West Michigan a relaxed, casual setting for guests who come to Cannonsburg Ski Area with a cooler in one hand and a blanket in the other.

The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops begins on July 12-13 with Classical Fireworks and the 3 Maestros and ends on August 3 with the highly influential and wickedly fun Ben Folds. In between, concerts feature a celebration of the 1980s in with 80s Rewind!, a symphonic mashup of Beethoven v. Coldplay, and the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Tito Puente Jr. in a one-night only event.

Prior to the start of concerts, gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area open at 5:45 p.m. for picnicking and pre-concert entertainment including free, kid-friendly activities such as face painting, crafts, and a musical instrument petting zoo.

Guests are welcome to pack your own picnic baskets and coolers or purchase food from the grill at the Cannonsburg concession stand. Alcoholic beverages are permitted on the grounds, and parking is free for concertgoers.

D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops kicks off the program with all three Grand Rapids Symphony conductors – Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, and Associate Conductor John Varineau – on stage in Classical Fireworks and the 3 Maestros, on Thursday and Friday, July 12-13 at 8 p.m.

“I’m not sure it’s legal to have three conductors on one program,” Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt explained, “but we’re going for it.”

The conductors will lead the Grand Rapids Symphony in an Americana-themed concert, replete with An Armed Forces Salute, God Bless America, and Tchaikovsky’s show-stopping 1812 Overture. And, with the spirit of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in mind, fireworks will fill the sky to celebrate the patriotic spirit of the season, along with the warmth and vibrancy of summer.

Teased hair. Acid washed jeans. Copious amounts of neon and Walkman players that made music portable. The 80s were a decade unlike any other, and the Grand Rapids Symphony celebrates the musical stylings of the decade with 80s Rewind! on Thursday and Friday, July 19-20 at 7:30 p.m.

Special guest Mickey Thomas of Starship performs We Built This City, Sara, and Find Your Way Back with his signature crisp and clairvoyant vocals.

Conducted by Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, the Grand Rapids Symphony, together with solo artists and a full band, performs the alternative pop and industrial rock songs that defined a decade, including U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Scorpion’s Rock You Like a Hurricane

Don your favorite George Michaels T-shirt and wear a raspberry beret… or just come as you are: Either way, an evening of the 80s awaits. 

It’s no understatement to say that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 – his “Eroica” symphony – changed the classical music world. With his penchant for exploring the universal themes of mankind, the classical composer crafted a work that traverses time and space with a powerful force – a sort of gravitational pull – drawing listeners from all corners of the globe near.

The British rock group Coldplay, while using vastly different sonic structures, explores universal themes such as doubt, fear and ultimately, hope in songs that have garnered seven Grammy Awards and reached millions of fans.

In Beethoven v. Coldplay, conductor, composer, arranger, and producer Steve Hackman fuses the worlds of Beethoven and Coldplay together to stunning effect, offering listeners a symphonic experience punctuated by a trio of rich voices who sing some of Coldplay’s best lyrics from Clocks, The Scientist and Viva la Vida, among several other songs – in an adaptation of Beethoven’s work that is as harmonic as it is creative.

Guest Conductor Steve Hackman conducts the Grand Rapids Symphony in the masterful mashup on Thursday and Friday, July 26-27 at 7:30 p.m.

Tito Puente, eight-time Grammy Award-winning Goodwill Ambassador of Latin American music, began a musical legacy that earned him the moniker, “El Rey” (The King). The son of native Puerto Ricans, Puente Sr.’s story began in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, where he started his musical career. For over 50 years until his death in 2000, Puente composed and performed extensively, furnishing a vivid array of Afro-Cuban sounds with mambo, merengue, salsa, and samba to a global audience.

Carrying this legacy forward, Tito Puente Jr. offers the music of his father with a unique, symphonic flavor. With the Grand Rapids Pops, the original symphonic arrangements of Puente Sr. are on full display as Puente Jr. takes the audience on a musical journey back to the Palladium Ballrooms of New York City.

Associate Conductor John Varineau is on the podium as Puente Jr. and the Grand Rapids Symphony perform salsa, cha-cha, bolero, and mambo together with Puente Jr.’s all-star rhythm and horn section.

Feel free to bring your dancing shoes! With hits like Oye Como Va, Ran Kan Kan and Mambo Gazon, it may just be hard to keep your feet planted in one place.  The one-night only event is on Thursday, August 2 and begins at 7:30 p.m.

Ben Folds, with piano-driven hits from Ben Folds Five and his numerous solo albums, is regarded as a major music influencer of our generation. With memorable songs including The Luckiest, Brick, and You Don’t Know Me, plus his irreverent, improv-performances on YouTube on songs such as Ode to Merton, Folds has garnered a large following. 

The pianist, singer and songwriter’s reach only further expanded with regular appearances as a judge on NBC-TV’s a cappella show The Sing Off, and more recently, when Folds was named as the first-ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra.

Folds, who last performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony in DeVos Hal in 2014, returns to the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops for a one-night only performance. 

Folds’ music – with lyrics that alternatively pierce and inspire – ranges from snarky to tender, often in the same song. Coupled with pop-rock sensibilities and a penchant for symphonic music, Folds’ genre-bending music is inventive to the core. 

His most recent solo album, So There, soared to No. 1 on both the Billboard Classical and Classical Crossover charts and features his original Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in addition to symphonic-infused pop songs.

Guest Conductor Jacomo Bairos, who has conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony twice before, leads the Grand Rapids Symphony with Ben Folds on Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Single tickets as well as season tickets offering big discounts are available. 

Advance lawn tickets to Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind!, Beethoven v. Coldplay, or Tito Puente Jr., are $20 for adults or $5 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

Members of the MySymphony360, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s club for young adults ages 21 to 35, can attend for $15. Active duty, reserve and National Guard members of the U.S. Military may purchase up to two tickets for $15 each

Members of the community receiving financial assistance from the State of Michigan or U.S. Military households can receive up to four free tickets through the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony Scorecard.

Other individual tickets in advance are $30 for reserved chairs, $51 for individual table seats and $408 for a full table of eight.

Advance lawn tickets to Ben Folds are $40 for adults or $5 for ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

MySymphony360 members can attend for $25. Active duty and reserve members of the U.S. Military may buy up to two tickets for $25 each.

Other individual tickets are $50 for reserved chairs, $60 for individual table seats, and $480 for a full table of eight.

All single tickets for all concerts are $5 more on the day of the show. 

Single tickets are available from the Grand Rapids Symphony office by calling (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 weekdays or (616) 885-1241 evenings; or in person at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100; or online at

Tickets are also available at the gate at the night of the concert for an additional $5 Tickets also may be purchased through Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787, or at Ticketmaster outlets at select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare Stores and Walmart. Tickets purchased at these locations will include a Ticketmaster service fee.

Save up to 30 percent off single-ticket prices with a 3-Concert Series subscription for any seat or save up to 15 percent off single-ticket lawn seats with a 6-ticket Flexpass.

The 3-Concert Series subscription is good for any seats to Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind! and Beethoven v. Coldplay. Subscriptions for lawn seats are $42 for adults or $15 for children ages 2-18. Subscriptions for general admission chair seating are $75. Tickets for an individual reserved table seat are $144 or $1,152 to reserve an entire table for eight.

The Flexpass 6-Pack offers six lawn tickets that can be used in any combination, on any concert night, for Classical Fireworks, 80s Rewind! and Beethoven v. Coldplay. Flexpasses are $102 for adults. Flexpasses cannot be used for the special events in August.

The 3-Concert Series, Flexpass, and individual table and chair tickets can be purchased through the GRS box office by calling (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 weekdays or (616) 885-1241 evenings; or in person at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100; or online at

-- By Jenn Collard, Grand Rapids Symphony Public Relations Intern

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 07:00
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