BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Whether it’s East L.A. or East Overshoe, there may be occasional coffee shop chatter that your community is on the brink. First, don’t believe it. And second, find inspiration in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In early 2011, Newsweek magazine published a list of America’s dying cities. Grand Rapids, sometimes referred to as Bland Rapids, made the unenviable list. Seven years later, Rand McNally and even satellite intel suggest Grand Rapids is alive, well, and thriving.
Newsweek’s dire prediction for Grand Rapids led to outcry among its residents and civic leaders, starting at the top with the mayor’s office. He challenged his constituents to prove Newsweek wrong. Along came a barely 20-year old community college student named Rob Bliss. Through corporate sponsorships and fundraising, Bliss produced a ten-minute lip dub video set to Don McLean’s classic ballad, American Pie. For McLean, the untimely deaths of young rock and rollers Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens in 1959 was the day ‘the music’ died. Good enough for McLean; good enough for Bliss.
By mid-2011 the Grand Rapids lip dub was released and immediately became a viral sensation on YouTube. Video scenes wove through downtown Grand Rapids and Bliss used 5,000 participants, including firefighters, police officers, city officials, hankie-waving co-eds, pillow fighters, a wedding party, gymnasts, nerf gun battlers, kayakers in the river, news vans, a marching band, fireworks and sparklers, and a local football team. Each took a turn lip-dubbing the lines of American Pie. The video ends with an aerial scene from a helicopter. The hillside of an urban park reads, ‘Experience Grand Rapids’ which was the subtle message all along. The late Roger Ebert had a long career as a film critic. He called the lip dub “The Greatest Music Video Ever Made.” It has 5.7+ million views.
Grand Rapids enjoyed its moment in the media spotlight as feel good stories were published or aired. By 2013, it made several new lists – ‘Most Livable’ and ‘Happiest City’. The story of Grand Rapids, Michigan is still being written. Let’s hope your hometown can say the same.
As a post script, watch the video here. If compelled, sing along or at the very least, lip dub it. As for the video’s creator, Rob Bliss grew up and runs Rob Bliss Creative in New York City, specializing in viral messaging.