Grand Forks prepares for a big week – one of the biggest for concerts and events since the pandemic struck last year
For just a moment, set aside news that COVID-19 numbers are on the rise in Grand Forks and Polk counties. Put to rest debates about masks, vaccines and whether events should or shouldn’t be held as
As executive director of Visit Greater Grand Forks, Julie Rygg’s foremost task is promoting things to do in the community. Over the past 18 months, it hasn’t been an easy assignment.
“The last year and a half has been a struggle,” Rygg said. “If these events go away for too long, for multiple years where they can’t pull it off, it’s that much harder to bring it back. I think it’s really important for these events to get back up and running so they can continue on and continue to grow.”
The vibe in her office this week?
“Much more optimistic,” she said.
For just a moment, set aside news that COVID-19 numbers are on the rise in Grand Forks County. Put to rest debates about masks, vaccines and whether events should or shouldn’t be held as the pandemic continues. What remains is an events calendar in the coming week that possibly is the busiest Greater Grand Forks has seen since before the pandemic hit.
There will be multiple concerts, a park dedication, a circus, a comic convention, a farmers market, college sports, a fun run and a fire department open house, among other events.
It is, Rygg says, “amazing.”
“We’ve had a few (recent) weekends with multiple events going on,” Rygg said. “But definitely, the week coming up will be a bigger one.”
It’s tough to pinpoint the highlights, but here’s an attempt: The big week essentially starts at 5 p.m. Thursday with the Greenway Takeover Festival, which runs along the Red River through Sunday.
For HB Sound and Light, it will be a hectic weekend. Not only is the company the chief sponsor and organizer of the Greenway Takeover Festival, but it’s also supplying production for another big event – Saturday's Veterans Memorial Park dedication – across town.
"It's pretty crazy. I wake up at 4 a.m. – it's a lot of prep work,” said Tricia Lunski, co-owner of HB Sound and Light and manager of the Greenway Takeover Festival. “A lot of T's to cross and I's to dot. I think last week was even busier. We're getting back in shape. We were pretty out of shape (after) such a long break."
The Northern Cruz Car Club’s “Cruz Night” is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday near Sonic on South Washington Street. At 8 p.m. Thursday, the classic rock band Foreigner, a national act with numerous songs on the national charts in the 1970s and '80s , performs at the Alerus Center.
Also Thursday: The third-annual United Way Trike Wars (for adults), presented by United Way and Happy Harry's, will be at 2 p.m. at the Scheels Parking lot. At 5 p.m. at Sky's will be The Fashion Affair, which will raise money for the Grand Forks Police Department Foundation.
Friday, the Greenway Takeover continues with live music and activities from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., headlined at 9:30 p.m. by the national act Soul Asylum. The KEM Shrine Circus is from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena and the Valley Corn Maize is hosting its opening weekend in East Grand Forks.
Saturday, a farmers market will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in downtown Grand Forks, and the Greenway Takeover continues from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with more live music and events, headlined by a 9:30 p.m. concert by Trampled by Turtles. Comic Con begins at 10 a.m. at the Alerus Center and the circus will perform at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Ralph. From 9 a.m. to noon, the Grand Forks Fire Department will host an open house at 1220 S. 52nd St., with special guests, demonstrations and family activities. The Green Dot Trot 3K fun run/walk will be Saturday, starting with a 6:30 p.m. registration near the entrance to the Greenway Takeover Festival.
The UND volleyball team is home against Drake on Friday night in the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center and the Hawks play again at the Betty at 11 a.m. Saturday against Green Bay and 7 p.m. Saturday against Montana.
Also Saturday is an event years in the making: The dedication of Veterans Memorial Park. Saturday’s 2 p.m. ceremony is expected to draw more than 1,000 attendees.
On Sunday, Comic Con, the Greenway Festival and the circus all continue.
Mayor Brandon Bochenski this week said there is an obvious feeling of excitement, but not just about the events. He said the economy appears healthy despite the pandemic, and last week it was announced Grand Forks Air Force Base will be getting another mission, further strengthening the ties between the community and the Air Force.
And, he noted, the region has received much-needed rain – more than 4 inches in August, and another three-quarters of an inch earlier this week. The precipitation has at least partially eased the pressure of this summer's drought.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “I think with all the projects (happening in town) people are getting excited, but there are events, too. They’ve been missing out on events for quite a while and now they get a chance to get out and do things.
“Also, I think there is more hope. If you go around town, you just see excitement. It seems there is hope that things will move on.”
Provided all of the events go off without a hitch – and without some postponements or cancellations due to the weather or COVID numbers – look for an economic ripple, said Jody Hodgson, general manager of Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“The economic impact of events in our community can’t be overstated. A vibrant event schedule is good business for everyone in town, us included,” he said. “We’re really excited to see our event calendar filling up for this year. In our line of work, events are the lifeblood of business, and we all enjoy hosting and producing events. Like fans, we enjoy live events and we’re very happy to see events coming back to our community.”
Hodgson said business last year didn't just slow down at the arena. “It fell off a cliff,” he said.
Now, “we’re optimistic as we look ahead.”
At the Alerus Center, "it's a night-and-day difference" from last September to this September, said Anna Rosburg, general manager. Last year, there were 164 event cancellations or postponements; this year, there have been a few, but the center still is gearing up for a big month, starting with the Sept. 9 Foreigner concert, followed by two big weekends in the next three weeks. On Friday, Sept. 17, the Alerus will feature country music star Luke Combs, followed by UND football vs. Drake on Sept. 18; on Friday, Oct. 1, country star Eric Church will play the Alerus, with UND hosting NDSU the next day. Rosburg said it's the busiest season ever at the Alerus.
"The buzz is in the air already," she said. "We are diligently working on all of the finer details behind every event and are so excited to see the Grand Forks community, hotels and local businesses bursting at the seams this fall from these events. ... It's good to be back in the business of making these important memories for our guests."
The Alerus hosted numerous smaller events during the pandemic, but was void of concerts from February 2020 until Aug. 20, when Bryce Vine played there.
"To be getting back to events that involve mass gatherings – the lifeblood of our business – is incredible," Rosburg said. "It was an irreplaceable feeling to see the crowd and the building come to life."
Meanwhile, COVID remains an issue. On Aug. 30, there were 170 active cases reported in Grand Forks County, compared with 533 cases on roughly the same day in 2020. The county’s high point came on Nov. 8, when there were 1,222 active cases.
While current numbers are considerably lower than historic highs, they’re still higher than earlier this summer. Just seven weeks ago, on July 12, there were 13 active COVID-19 cases reported in the county.
“I think there is always concern. You have to keep following the numbers and the data,” Bochenski said. “I think it’s pretty clear that one form of COVID or another will be with us for the foreseeable future, so it’s about finding a way to go forward and living with it the best we can.”