Written by David Marty, Reif President

I’m a Grand Rapids expert. My last job before coming to The Reif was as Executive Director of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids . . . Michigan. Since making the move to Minnesota, I continue to battle the confusion.

Artists and agents will frequently call me about a performance that is “routing through Michigan,” and asking of our interest in a routed date. Grand Rapids, Michigan is about a 12-13 hour drive.

Occasionally an artist will get confused. A few years ago I had a string quartet coming in to play performances in Duluth and Grand Rapids. They were routed on a flight from Philadelphia through Minneapolis. On the day of their flight, Minneapolis was closed due to fog. Imagine a group of young Italian musicians clustered around a departure board and seeing Grand Rapids posted. Why should they go to Minneapolis and rent a car, when they could fly directly to Grand Rapids? They immediately changed their flights and ended up in Michigan. Their travel in a rental car was much longer than previously anticipated.

There have been a number of close calls. Artists booking travel to the wrong Grand Rapids but we have usually been able to catch them in time. In fact, we changed our performance rider to include an item in this regard. The very first item on the rider is:

The performance shall take place at the Reif Performing Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The artist is advised that in the event of air travel, the nearest commercial airports are in Hibbing (40 miles) or Duluth (85 Miles).

And we require the artist to sign this document so that they know for sure.

Right street, wrong state

But it still happens from time to time. Most memorably in 2009, we invited the Afro-Cuban All Stars to perform at The Reif. This was a particularly important performance, as the Minnesota State Arts Board was sending a representative to make an artistic site visit that would determine grant awards to The Reif for years to come.

The All-Stars were traveling in an artist bus and it was a tightly routed tour. They performed a concert Friday evening in LaCrosse, Wisconsin (about a five-hour drive). The plan was for the artists to get on the bus after the concert and drive to Grand Rapids to check into their hotel and rest briefly before their concert.

At 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I got a call from a perplexed tour manager.

“We are on 28th Street in Grand Rapids in front of the Sheraton Hotel. Where is this Sawmill Inn that you are talking about?”

The band was NOT going to make it to Minnesota on time.

By chance, the band’s pianist was Nachito Herrera, a prominent Twin Cities Cuban Jazz pianist. After the LaCrosse concert, Nachito drove home to Minneapolis to spend the night with his family. When he discovered the problem, Nachito contacted me to offer to bring his daughter, a noted Cuban torch singer, to perform a set.

We took Nachito up on his offer for a second set, and put the call out for local musicians who put together a pick-up band to play Blues music.

We put our audience on notice as to the dilemma and offered to return ticket money. On the night of the concert, most people attended anyway. The local musicians played a very credible set that the audience enjoyed. Then Nachito came out with his daughter, who told a bit of the family story (Nachito escaped from Cuba just before the Castro era, but was thus separated from his family for many years). They captivated the audience. I have never before seen a standing ovation after the first song.

And not one person asked for a ticket refund.