by CLIFF and NANCY HILL
The mission of the Rockford Education Foundation (REF) is to promote excellence in education for people of all ages in the Rockford community. Toward that end the REF annually sponsors an eagerly awaited and excellent benefit performance usually held in the acoustically correct and comfortable confines of the Rockford High School Fine Arts Auditorium.
Every year REF Administrator Sue Arend and a committee of REF trustees agree upon and book the finest available performing artist(s) to headline the annual concert. Over the years the selections have been an eclectic mix chosen to appeal to the diverse tastes of the Rockford area.
Last Saturday evening the REF was proud to present the multi-talented singer/songwriter and recording artist, Brian Vander Ark. Vander Ark is a native of West Michigan who currently resides in East Grand Rapids with his wife and three-year-old daughter, Evie. Wife, Lux Land, is an accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s Vander Ark was the principal songwriter and frontman for the Verve Pipe, a band that has sold over three million albums worldwide. In 1997 he wrote and, along with the band, recorded the hit single The Freshmen. His gift as a songwriter has resulted in a collection of original songs of a storyteller relating life experiences that he as well as his listeners, have lived. His melodies and rhythms are unique, intensely personal, and riveting.
Leading off the evening’s concert was Vander Ark’s beautiful and talented wife, recording artist Lux Land, who warmed the crowd up singing a collection of her own penned songs.
What followed was a performance by Brian Vander Ark that resulted in a standing ovation at its close. Vander Ark had brought in a group of accomplished musicians from Texas to back him up for the evening. The group, which remained nameless, was composed of Richard Hewett on drums, Dylan Sneed on guitar, Bryan Frink on bass, and featured Kristy Kruger on keyboard and pedal steel guitar, while at times providing vocal accompaniment.
For the better part of two hours Vander Ark and the band performed a selection of his songs that explored themes of life and family along with love and loss. Crowd favorites included Monday Morning Girl, I Went With The Road, Someone Like You, and 1229 Sheffield. He attempted to close the evening by performing his signature song The Freshmen.
The audience clamored for more with their applause and Vander Ark and the band returned to the stage for an encore. Vander Ark then asked his backup vocalist and keyboardist Kristy Kruger to perform one of her own songs. Kruger introduced the song by telling the audience that she had written the song to honor the memory of her brother, Texan soldier Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, who as an Army Brigade Commander in command of 3,700 men was killed last November (on his third tour of duty) in the Middle East by a roadside bomb on only his second day in Baghdad. She went on to say she had made a personal vow to perform in her brother’s name in every state of the union. “He died in the name of his country, so I’d like him to be remembered in every state in this country,” she said. Needless to say, she had the audience’s complete attention as with a beautiful and emotional voice she sang her song, My Brother, My Friend.
Vander Ark and the band then closed the evening by performing a protracted and entirely rousing version of Little Man. From our seat high in the balcony, it appeared that everyone in attendance got their monies worth and the large crowd in the lobby attempting to purchase CD’s after the show confirmed our opinion.
Here’s a little sidebar to the evening. During the performance we heard from Kristy Kruger that she and the rest of the band had their breath taken away by two things. First was the frigid West Michigan weather and the second was the great food served backstage to the band and crew. It seems that, rather than the usually provided catered food, REF Trustees Mary Polonowski and Cathy Newberg had personally prepared from scratch a deliciously hot home-cooked meal. Is there a band in the country that has ever been treated so royally? That’s Rockford for you.
Sue Arend extends the REF’s appreciation to Herman’s Boy and Reds on the River. Herman’s Boy provided the very rare and expensive Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in the lobby before and after the show. Donations of any size were appreciated. Reds on the River will donate ten percent of food sales when guests present Vander Ark ticket stubs while dining at Reds until the end of February. All proceeds from both will go to the REF.
The 13th Annual REF Benefit Concert was generously underwritten by Wolverine World Wide Foundation and United Bank.