Grand Rapids: The #1 ‘Normal Town That Became Weirdo Tourist Hotspot’ [Video]
It's nice to see what other people in the world think of us, isn't it? In this Cracked web site article, Grand Rapids used to be normal (they haven't met my neighbors, have they?).
In a feature entitled '6 Normal Towns That Became Weirdo Tourist Hotspots', Grand Rapids is featured in the number one spot, mainly owing to the crazy Rob Bliss video era of the mid-2000s.
Bliss, who is currently a successful video director in Los Angeles, led the city in giant pillow fights, lip dubs and water slides back between 2008 and 2011, culminating in a world record for the number of people in a video lip dub participation with a city wide version of 'American Pie'. (Unfortunately, running up debt with the city in the process, but that's been taken care of, and is another story).
The resulting viral videos racked up millions of views on YouTube and other video sharing services, which was very instrumental in getting the good word about our city.
But these videos don't go away and now they are up there, free to be interpreted as others wish. For the writers at Cracked this week, it means we are the number one 'Normal City That Has Turned Weird'.
Okay, we'll take that title. If having a little fun means we're weird, so be it. At least we don't host a fake German Festival or become the go-to town for Viagra.
Grand Rapids Became A Semi-Permanent Flash Mob
In 2008, Grand Rapids, Michigan didn't have a lot going for it. It was hit hard by the financial crisis, home to tons of struggling auto suppliers, and not famous for much aside from making furniture. How do you get people interested in a small city in the Midwest whose biggest asset is being kind of halfway to Chicago? They can't tell you. It would be impossible to determine exactly which insane stunt revived the town. We can tell you who was responsible: Rob Bliss, a young man on a holy crusade against mild boredom.
The great Grand Rapids stunt drive began with a massive pillow fight, complete with Spaghetti Western music and hundreds of people ready to throw down:
The town turned into a Revolutionary-War-themed water balloon fight with 40,000 balloons and 1,000 participants. And because this is the Midwest, the fight only ended when the national anthem started playing.
They turned the steepest street in the city into a massive waterslide...
There were multiple zombie walks downtown, drawing thousands of zombies (the biggest one had over 8,000). Once, 10,000 pieces of chalk were handed out downtown, just for people to do art on the sidewalk. It all culminated in the Grand Rapids Viral Lip Dub, a nine-minute music video for "American Pie" filmed in one long shot all around the city. Currently it has 5 million views, and Roger Ebert called it "the greatest music video of all time" before he died, so it was arguably their biggest success.
Rob Bliss is one funny suit and a mental breakdown away from Wonka-ing the whole town.