Founders Fest: Beer and Music with Gov’t Mule

Founders Fest is an annual celebration of beer and music, sponsored by the Founders Brewing Co. and held on the block that houses the microbrewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This year’s headline act was Gov’t Mule, a band that we’ve enjoyed over the years but had never seen live. It was time to remedy that, and mixing a Gov’t Mule show with a celebration of good beer was an easy decision.

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Founders Brewing Co. - home of Founders Fest
Founders Brewing Co.

Founders Fest: Making Plans

Founders Fest is a one-day party held in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. It’s not a camping event like Summer Camp or the Great Blue Heron, so if you’re not a local, plan on getting a motel. We stayed at a Holiday Inn that was a few blocks away from the festival. If you map out a direct route, you can walk it in about 15 minutes. (We took a more “scenic” route on the way from the motel to the festival. I won’t go into details but, seriously, plan your walk.)

It would have been nice if the organizers had posted a map of the grounds in advance, so we’d know where the entrance is. We ended up approaching it from the exact opposite side, forcing us to walk around to the Bartlett St SW gate. That’s where they had maps of the festival grounds available. It’s all good, though – after all that walking on a fairly hot day, we were totally ready for a beer! (Hey, maybe that was part of their plan.)

Founders Fest Beer and Food Selections

Upon arrival, you trade your ticket for a wristband that includes two tear-away beer tickets. I thought, “Cool – two beers included in the ticket price.” Well, not quite – beers were 2-3 tickets each. The 3-ticket items were high alcohol beers (8% and up), which aren’t exactly a good choice if you’re trying to pace yourself for an all-day event. There was plenty of great Founders beer available in the 2-ticket category, including Pilsner, Centennial IPA, All Day IPA, and Solid Gold – their lightest brew. Lisa stuck to the Solid Gold, while I had the Pilsner, All Day, and Centennial. Tickets were $2.50 each, so it’s $5 – $7.50 for a pint of microbrew. Not bad for music fest prices.

Founders Fest food truck
Food Truck (No – the image isn’t reversed. Look at the bumper sticker.)

Several food trucks were on site, selling tacos, pizza, Greek salads, gyros, brats, BBQ, and sandwiches. Most items were in the $4 to $10 range.

Founders Fest Music

There were six bands playing but the headliner was Gov’t Mule, and that’s the main reason we went. Due to a late start on traveling and getting lost while walking from the motel to the fest, we missed the first two acts and arrived when the third was almost finished. The fourth band was sort of in the background as we explored the festival grounds, found our friends who were also going, grabbed a bite to eat, and staked out some territory.

Gov't Mule at Founders Fest
Gov’t Mule

Toots and the Maytals played just before Mule, and they gave us a pretty decent set, including an interesting reggae-style cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Finally, Gov’t Mule took the stage and put on a phenomenal show! Here are a few highlights:

Guardian Angel
I’m a Ram

I know the videos aren’t perfect, but I have three rules for music festivals:

  1. Don’t mess up someone else’s good time.
  2. Have fun, as long as it doesn’t violate rule 1.
  3. Get good videos, as long as it doesn’t violate rule 1 or 2.
Gov't Mule at Founders Fest
Gov’t Mule After Dark

The also played a medley of Beatles songs, doing instrumental riffs from “Norwegian Wood” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” before settling into a complete version of “She Said She Said.”

She Said She Said

Check out the “Dub Side of the Moon” CD (below) for versions of some of those songs, as well as guest appearances by Gregg Allman and Toots Hibbert.

Worth the Drive

Given that it’s only a one-day festival, Founders Fest isn’t really a travel destination for most people. But if you live in or near Grand Rapids, it’s a great way to spend a day. For us, it was a four-and-a-half hour drive each way. Tickets were only $40 and the food/beer prices weren’t bad, so it was pretty affordable. We’ve decided to go again, depending on the headline act. Will we see you there?

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