Skip to main content

Women's Lifestyle Magazine

Grand Rapids Symphony Celebrates 25 Years of 'Symphony Under the Sky'

Mar 18, 2019 09:59AM ● By WLMagazine

Four weeks of music in July and August include Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ The Beatles’ White Album, Music of Motown and Nashville’s Music City Hit Makers

Twenty-five years ago, along the banks of Bear Creek, just west of the village of Cannonsburg, the Grand Rapids Symphony stepped on stage beneath a new outdoor band shell, and a new West Michigan summer tradition was born.

Pianist Rich Ridenour was soloist in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and the night ended with a pyrotechnic display over the hills of Cannonsburg Ski Area.

This summer, the 25th season of the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops opens much as it did in July 1995 with Ridenour, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and the rockets’ red glare as part of a star-spangled, spectacular salute to America.

Four weeks of “Symphony under the Sky” also features, from Liverpool, the music of The Beatles; from Detroit, a salute to Motown’s greatest hits; and from Nashville, a special one-night only appearance starring the singer-songwriters who wrote the hits that made Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, and Tim McGraw famous.

Held on Thursdays and Fridays in July, the Picnic Pops season opens with Classical Fireworks: Salute to America on July 11-12. Rock rolls on with Classical Mystery Tour: 50 Years of The Beatles’ White Album on July 18-19, followed by Motown ... The Greatest Hits of Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Four Tops and More! on July 25-26.

Capping off the summer is Nashville: The Songwriters. Their Stories. The Symphony, starring the Music City Hit-Makers for one night only on Friday, Aug. 2.

Season tickets offering substantial discounts, as well as single tickets for Music City Hit-Makers go on sale today. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 during business hours or (616) 885-1241 evenings or go online to Single tickets for the rest of the 2019 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops go on sale on Wednesday, May 1.

Classical Fireworks welcomes Grand Rapids native son Rich Ridenour, a frequent performer in the early years of Picnic Pops, returns to Cannonsburg to play Rhapsody in Blue. Associate Conductor John Varineau will lead the orchestra in such patriotic melodies as John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, John Phillip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever and an Armed Forces Salute along with music by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture leading to a fireworks finale sponsored by Lacks Enterprises.

Classical Mystery Tour, the world’s best Beatles show with symphony orchestra, returns for its fourth Picnic Pops appearance at Cannonsburg in a show that will be the 100th concert in the history of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Picnic Pops. Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt, a huge Beatles fan himself, will lead music from the Fab Four’s celebrated White Album with songs including While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Motown ... The Greatest Hits welcomes three guest singers to Cannonsburg for songs including Diana Ross’ Touch Me in the Morning, Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, The Four Tops’ Reach Out/I’ll Be There and Martha Reeves’ Dancing in the Street. The special guest vocalists include Shayna Steele, who wowed the Picnic Pops audience in 2017 for Women Rock! and who also will be in DeVos Performance Hall this fall for Queens of Soul, a salute to the music of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Adele, on Sept. 27-29 for the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Fox Motors Pops Series.

Nashville: The Songwriters. Their Stories. The Symphony stars singer/songwriters Brett James who wrote The Truth for Jason Aldean, and Hillary Lindsey who wrote Blessed for Martina McBride. The two also collaborated on Jesus, Take the Wheel for Carrie Underwood. The show also stars Rivers Rutherford who wrote Living in Fast Forward for Kenny Chesney and Real Good Man for Tim McGraw. The three will join the Grand Rapids Pops to sing the songs and share stories about the singers and the scene where the Music City Hit-Makers reign supreme.

SpartanNash is the title sponsor of the D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops. All pre-concert entertainment is sponsored by Witness Inspection.

Here’s the 2019 D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops lineup:

Classical Fireworks: Salute to America, Thursday and Friday, July 11-12, 8 p.m. Rich Ridenour, pianist John Varineau, conductor Fireworks sponsor: Lacks Enterprises Benefactor sponsors: Aquinas College and Chemical Bank

The D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops welcomes to Cannonsburg Ski Area pianist Rich Ridenour as soloist in George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Pops in star-spangled favorites including An Armed Forces Salute, The Stars and Stripes Forever and God Bless America along with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture leading to the pyrotechnic display. Come for the music, stay for the fireworks. Preconcert entertainment by accordionist Michael Schaeffer.

Classical Mystery Tour: 50 Years of The Beatles’ White Album, Thursday and Friday, July 18-19, 7:30 p.m. Classical Mystery Tour Bob Bernhardt, conductor Benefactor sponsor: Vredevoogd Heating & Cooling Patron sponsors: Mercantile Bank of Michigan, and Warner Norcross + Judd

Stars of such shows as Beatlemania on Broadway, the musicians of Classical Mystery Tour look and sound just like John, Paul, George and Ringo would have had they played Cannonsburg Ski Area back in the day. Join Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt for music from the Fab Four’s White Album, released in 1968, with such songs as Revolution, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and While My Guitar Gently Weeps along with the very best of The Beatles symphonic songs including Yesterday and A Day in the Life. Preconcert entertainment by guitarist Chris Bursley.

Motown -- The Greatest Hits of Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops and More, Thursday and Friday, July 25-26, 7:30 p.m. Bob Bernhardt, conductor Benefactor sponsors: Gerald R. Ford International Airport and United Bank Patron sponsors: Inclusive Performance Strategies

From the streets of Detroit, captured in the studios of Hitsville USA, the music of Motown made such recording artists as Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Smoky Robinson and the Miracles famous. Relive the magic of Motown with songs including I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and My Girl featuring Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Pops. Preconcert entertainment by jazz and soul singer Kathy LaMar and Bob VanStee.

Nashville: The Songwriters, Their Stories. The Symphony. Starring the Music City Hit-Makers, Friday, Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m. Bob Bernhardt, conductor Benefactor sponsors: Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Fox Motors

You may not know Brett James, Hillary Lindsey or Rivers Rutherford, but you know their work. The three Grammy, CMA and ACM nominated singer/songwriters have wrote songs for Nashville’s most iconic stars including Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum, racking up more than 15 songs that hit No. 1 on the charts. James, Lindsey and Rutherford join Bob Bernhardt and the Grand Rapids Pops playing symphonic arrangements by ACM Musician of the Year and Nashville studio legend, Charles Judge, arranger and conductor for Carrie Underwood’s concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and Ravinia Festival.

About Cannonsburg Ski Area

Gates at Cannonsburg Ski Area open at 5:45 p.m. each night for picnicking and pre-concert entertainment, including free, kid-friendly activities such as face painting, crafts, and a musical instrument petting zoo.

Pack your own or purchase food from the grill at the Cannonsburg concession stand. Alcoholic beverages are permitted on the grounds, and parking is free for concertgoers. VIP parking is available for each concert for only $15 per vehicle.

Ticket Options and Prices

3-Concert Series and Flexpass Packages

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

The 3-Concert Series subscription is good for any seats to Classical Fireworks, The Beatles’ White Album and Motown ... The Greatest Hits. Subscriptions for lawn seats are $42 for adults or $15 for children ages 2-18. Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free. 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, The Beatles’ White Album and Motown ... The Greatest Hits. Flexpasses are $102 for adults. Flexpasses cannot be used for the special event in August.

Individual Concert Tickets

Single tickets are available now for Nashville Music City Hit-Makers. Single tickets for the rest of the season go on sale May 1. All single tickets for all concerts are $5 more on the day of the show.

Lawn tickets for all concerts are $20 for adults ($25 day of show) or $5 for ages 2-18 ($10 day of show). MySymphony360 members can attend for $15 ($20 day of show). Active duty, reserve and National Guard members of the U.S. Military may purchase up to two tickets for $15 each ($20 day of show). Children younger than age 2 are admitted for free.

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 are $30 for reserved chairs ($35 the day of the show), $51 for individual table seats ($56 the day of the show), and $408 for a full table of eight ($448 day of show).

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

Tickets are also available at the gate at the night of the concert for an additional $5. Group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more people by calling (616) 454-9451 ext. 192.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are given each year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities all reached through extensive education and community service programs. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. GRS provides the orchestra for performances by Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet and sponsors the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which was held in March 2017 and returns in 2019.