Waterfront Park was transformed into a retro dance party Saturday night, with thousands of people moving in tandem as hits from the “decade of decadence” sounded over the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The second weekend of the free concert and fundraiser for local school music programs is organized and presented by West Shore Bank. It was headlined by the Mega ’80s Band, a Detroit-area ’80s cover group, which took the stage around 7 p.m., launching into a nonstop, intermission-free, 2-hour set filled with classics from Prince, Van Halen, George Michael, Rick Springfield, the Beastie Boys and many, many more.
People in ’80s-themed garb were easy to spot among the crowd — a Madonna here, a David Lee Roth there — adding to the authentic feel of the evening.
With no Rhythm & Dunes concerts in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday’s event was the culmination of a lot of last-minute planning, but Yager said she was glad to see it all come to fruition.
“It’s great to see the people together again and for people to have a free show that everyone can enjoy after a year off,” she said.
The Mega ’80s Band was an instant hit with concertgoers like Joe Urka and his mother, Linda Urka, who were dancing with the younger kids in the “whole Urka clan” as soon as the music started.
“The band sounds great,” Joe said, noting that he’s a fan of ’80s music.
“We’re fans of all of it,” Linda added, “all of Rhythm & Dunes.”
Mike and Kathy Wood of Westphalia are Rhythm & Dunes regulars. They always try to be in town when the concerts are taking place. They said they were big fans of the ’80s theme.
“The songs are on our car radio all the time,” Kathy said. “We know all the lyrics.”
They also attended the first Rhythm & Dunes concert featuring the Landsharks, and they said they had a great time at both shows.
The Woods also see the economic and charitable benefit of the concerts.
“It’s a joy to see these groups come in,” Mike said. “Hopefully it keeps coming in the future; I mean, look at the people it draws — it’s ridiculous.”
Kathy added that the bands are “great for the city” and for the school music programs in the area that benefit from the concerts.
“These high school bands are so lucky to have West Shore Bank put this on,” Kathy said. “It’s just great.”
Lynda Beaton is on the Manistee City Council. She was in attendance with her husband, Bob Slawinksi.
Beaton sees the concerts benefiting the area in more ways than one, and she said she’d love to see something similar in Manistee.
“We’ve been coming here for several years and I love to just take it in,” she said. “I’d love to grab it and take it back to Manistee. We’re talking about building a band shell at First Street beach, so we’re raising funds for that.”
Beaton added that it’s nice to have a large-scale event that’s appropriate for all ages.
“What’s so nice about these concerts is they’re so wholesome. You can bring your whole family. It doesn’t matter how old your children are,” she said. “We’d love to see this in Manistee, but in the meantime we just enjoy coming here.”
The couple has been coming to Rhythm & Dunes for at least five years, and Beaton said it felt “liberating” to have the concerts back at Waterfront Park after a year off due to the pandemic.
Deb Towns was in the crowd with her 7-week-old grandchild, Rykert Pratt, both of Ludington. She also appreciated the family-friendly environment.
“It’s a safe event, you see a lot of families here, and the music’s always great,” she said. “We love it.”
It was Rykert’s first Rhythm & Dunes concert, but Towns said, “it won’t be his last.”
Steve and Dawn Hansen of Ludington enjoyed just kicking back and people-watching. They’ve been to every Rhythm & Dunes concert, as far as they can remember, and Steve said it feels “really good” to be back after missing the event in 2020.
“It’s a good thing to do on a Saturday night,” he said.
The jazz band from Mason County Central High School opened the show, just as Ludington High School’s did the week before, and Dawn said that was a highlight for her.
“I like to watch the people, and I like that the jazz bands play beforehand. One week’s Scottville, one week’s Ludington, so it’s even,” she said, adding that the benefit for music programs was a good cause she was happy to support.
During the concert, A.J. Guertin, who acted as the M.C., announced that it would be Yager’s final year organizing the concerts, and the crowd cheered as Yager took a bow before the throngs of people.
“I’ll be retiring in October, so it was nice to have a memorable event like that,” Yager told the Daily News on Sunday.
She said, all in all, the concert was a success, despite the late planning and some uncertainty about the weather.
“It went fantastic,” Yager said Sunday morning. “The rain stayed away from us, which was wonderful. We had an engaged crowd and it was huge. Probably one of our largest. It was one of the loudest crowds we’ve ever had, and I think the largest dance area we’ve ever had.”
About 3,000 to 4,000 people attended the first concert on July 23, and Yager estimated that even more people came to Saturday’s event. The larger crowd means a better chance of raising more money for local school music programs.
“We raised more than $6,000 last week so I hope we raise more this week,” Yager said.
The actual counting of the dollars raised will get underway first thing Monday morning, and a total will be revealed soon. The bank hopes to top its 2019 fundraising total of a little more than $14,000.
Yager said many attendees had expressed to West Shore Bank just how happy they were to see the Return of Rhythm & Dunes. Yager said the Rhythm & Dunes committee had received several inquiries from the public about 2022’s concerts.
“People are wondering what our dates are but we don’t have those finalized yet,” she said. “We’ll get working on it right away … We’re definitely planning to have it next year.”
Yager said the Rhythm & Dunes committee would like to thank its volunteers, and the employees at West Shore Bank who devote their time to organizing and working at the concerts. She also thanked the City of Ludington and the Department of Public Works, as well as the myriad food vendors who lined the parking lot near the pavilion, serving food to patrons.