Photos & words by Tori Thomas
Common Ground Music Festival Quick Facts:
Crowd type: Hipsters/ Young / Family / Country folk
Music genre: Alternative, Rock, Country, Rap, Pop, R&B
How To Get There
The closest airport to fly in to is Capital Regional International Airport, just a 12 minute drive from the venue. Detroit Metro Airport is just under an hour and a half away by car, but is a larger airport with more flight options. Concert goers could travel by car or Uber the rest of the way to the fest; be prepared to park up to half a mile away from the entrance. Take note that Downtown Lansing is made up of one-way streets, so it is best to head north on Grand Ave when approaching the venue.
Where To Stay
Surrounding hotels include Holiday Inn Express, East Lansing Marriot, Radisson Hotel, and Quality Inn University. AirBnB is also available in the area, and if you’ve got friends at Michigan State University, know that campus is just an eight minute drive away.
Food trucks/carnival food offerings ranged from fried to healthy to BBQ to Italian. I was drawn to the Detroit BBQ truck’s smoky aroma and indulged in some pulled pork—very filling and definitely worth the money. The downfall was the water accessibility: there was only one drinking fountain in the whole festival, meaning you needed to purchase a $3 bottle of water and refill or purchase a bottle every time to stay hydrated. Be sure to bring cash as most vendors do not accept credit cards.
Since this is a small festival, everything was condensed: three stages, 10+ food vendors, a craft beer lounge, and two VIP areas (one elevated viewing area at the main stage, and one private bar). The three stages ranged in size from the massive headliner’s stage to a small amphitheater for local acts and a pavilion for artists with an established fan base. Some sound bleeding between the main stage and the amphitheater (Sparrow stage) occurred on the main walkway through the fest, but it didn’t affect the experience too much. Artists had fun doling out high fives and shaking hands with audience members, especially on the more intimate stages.
Artists You May Not Have Heard of But Can’t Miss
My favorite act of the festival was definitely Finish Ticket. I discovered them thanks to a Pandora station, and while I was only familiar with their opening song “Wrong”, I was engaged throughout the set. In fact, it was the only set I stayed for from beginning to end.
Local rock band Heartsick blew me away with their high energy stage presence. Everyone in the crowd was amped, and the lead singer was particularly exciting to shoot. As you can see, the camera loves him, and he loves the camera.
Finally, the locally sourced lineup of small bands at the Sparrow stage in particular gave me the chance to check out artists that had been recommended to me by family and friends. Red Sun Rising and ’68 are two who stuck out, and who I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to catch otherwise. My cousin recommended Red Sun Rising to me about a year ago, and they were definitely worth the wait!
Things To Do
-zip line over the river
-relax in the hammock hangout
-enjoy the craft beer lounge and food trucks
-enjoy the music without a ticket from the river—many fans took to kayaks and boats to enjoy the festivities from outside the festival gates
Why Go VIP
Overall, the difference between a VIP ticket and a GA ticket is not huge for this festival. VIP perks included access to seating on the main stage risers (located on both sides) either by bringing camping chairs or paying for an upgrade, and a private bar with shorter lines.
What Makes The Festival Different?
The intention of Common Ground, unlike most festivals, is that it acts and feels like six different concerts that take place over the course of six days…it’s essentially a collection of concerts grouped together to create a six-day festival. Different days highlighted different musical genres—alternative, rock, country, rap, and pop, and R&B—making it easy for patrons to pick out their preferred style. The drawback to this kind or organization is that it makes it harder for fans to discover new music from a genre they normally wouldn’t listen to.
Michigan is known for having several kinds of weather in one day, so plan accordingly. Event security was quite strict, allowing only 6×6 inch purses or clear 12×12 bags maximum. Anything over these limits and you’d be sent back to your car, even though organizers had announced that exceptions would be made for documented medical purposes. They also didn’t allow sealed or empty water bottles to be brought inside.