July 11 2016 07:46 AM

Daily Common Ground 2016 digest: Day 5


It’s certainly cliché, but time does fly when you’re having fun. I started my coverage of Common Ground Music Festival on Wednesday, and as I write this, it’s already Sunday with only tonight left to go.

Saturday’s lineup was country day part deux — although more pop-country this time — with artists like Dierks Bentley, Canaan Smith and Drew Hale cranking out their contemporary country hits. But in my humble opinion, Tim McGraw can’t be unseated as reigning country king of Common Ground.

But last night, something stuck out to me — and it wasn’t the music. The Pokémon GO smartphone app, which was released in the U.S. last week, has become a nationwide phenomenon. Watching people hunt for virtual creatures at Adado Riverfront Park became an entertaining sideshow to the musical main attractions.

“Oh, here we go,” you might be thinking, “another kid talking about their Pokémon game.” And yes, I’ll admit I’m a fan of the Pokémon series and the games. But last night the number of people I saw playing with this app at Common Ground was incredible.

At the heart of it, it’s a simple game: One throws PokéBalls at the little creatures — Pokémon, both singular and plural — who virtually appear in the world around you via your smartphone’s camera and GPS. These PokéBalls capture the little guys and, ideally, you’ll catch every type of Pokémon. (Disclaimer: This is incredibly hard to do, considering there are hundreds of types.) Afterward, you have the option to train them and fight at random landmarks — Pokémon Gyms — to make them stronger than others in your area.

In order to find these Pokémon, you have to start exploring the area around you and hope for the best. There are also places — PokéStops —which provide resources for you to better train your Pokémon. This, is where Common Ground comes in.

This week, I’ve been parking my car at a lot a few blocks away from the actual festival itself to avoid the rush of concert-goers flooding in and out of the park. It also gives me some time for an enjoyable walk through downtown Lansing and — you guessed it — a chance to catch some Pokémon.

Last night, I caught five Pokémon on the way to festival. Remembrance Plaza, near the corner of Michigan and Grand avenues, is a designated PokéStop. I counted seven people huddled there, waiting to catch whatever they could before heading to Common Ground. At the festival, in between shows, I would check my phone to see if people were using the app. And they were. They were even using in-game incense to attract rare Pokémon to the park!

The day had a distinct pattern for many concert-goers, myself included: Aubrie Sellers, Pokémon GO, Drew Hale, Pokémon GO, Canaan Smith, Pokémon Go and so on and so forth. I have no way of knowing exactly how many people at Common Ground last night were using the app, but based on the several phones I saw out, I would say at least 20 and probably more.

To me, this was shocking. In today’s society, because of the sheer amount of media available to us, it’s a rarity to see something become such a mass cultural phenomenon. A game that was formerly associated with nerdy kids has become so mainstream that people are unabashedly chasing Rattata at a music festival. Forbes Magazine even wrote an article about the app, detailing how its popularity could be used to lure more customers into one’s business. And it all happened virtually overnight. I hadn’t even heard about the app until 72 hours ago, and I’m well on my way to catching a hundred Pokémon.

On the way out of headliner Dierks Bentley’s performance, I counted 11 Pokémon hunters at Remembrance Plaza.

Overall, is the app fun? Yes, I would say so. Does it bring people together? Yes. And I definitely understand the pull to use it. It’s a chance-based game, so many things happen rarely. However, there is a part of me that wishes people were more “in the moment” at events like Common Ground. After all, seeing someone like Dierks Bentley, Jason Derulo or A$AP Rocky in Lansing is a rarity too, and I hope users of the app at the festival won’t lose sight of that.