Detroit’s Music Events of 2017
January 9, 2017
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Over every year in the Detroit, there are many musical events that display the culture and allow concertgoers to find music that they may not have known about before and they get to see it live with these events.
During the Labor Day weekend (and the weekend after) in the Detroit area, there are a series of music festivals which are held that let local musicians come and show off their talents though some touring and professional acts also play these festivals as well. Here at these festivals, artists from all different styles of music come together and it showcases the rich musical culture that Detroit has to offer. Everything from hip-hop to punk to jazz, if you can name it this city has it and you can see it here.
To begin describing important music festivals in the area, Ford Arts, Beats, and Eats festival is an important one to many local musicians. According to an article by Ellen Piligian of the Detroit Free Press, the festival brings in about 400,000 people every year and features over 200 local and international music acts. The turnout gives the possibility of gaining fans and selling merch which gives reason as to why it is a coveted event for bands in the area. Arts, Beats, and Eats also leaves space for restaurants and other kinds of artists to get in on the opportunity of letting them showcase their talents to such a large audience by having tents that serve food from local restaurants and display visual art from local artists (hence the Arts and Eats part of the name).
Focusing back on music, the festival allows for a diverse selection of music genres that can really expand one’s horizons in the department. The festival sets up each stage specific to a genre — which include Alternative, Rock, R&B, Jazz, Acoustic, World, and Americana. With so many different genres and artists playing, it is virtually impossible to see them all but I did get to see a substantial amount.
This year I stayed mainly by the Rock Stage which is where I first listened to Tripp N’ Dixie. They were a six-piece band with a vocalist, two guitars, a bass, a keyboard, and a drummer that played hard rock with a sound similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern rock vibe. Their set consisted of both hard-rocking jams as well as ballads. All the songs were well written with catchy melodies or memorable instrumentation and would leave a listener wanting more.
The next band I saw was Eva Under Fire at the Alternative stage. I would expect to see them at Arts, Beats, and Eats as they are very popular and respected in the Detroit area with a radio-friendly sound band that many can enjoy. There aren’t many indie-sounding artists that are picked to play the festival as there are for other local festivals like Dally in the Alley. Though, I have seen them play on local TV shows such as Rock 900 and they have a mass of flowing momentum that keeps them relevant. Their set at the festival was lined with the heavy alternative rock songs which have helped them achieve their respected status. Evanescence can be suspected as a possible influence on the band’s sound but it could just be the powerful vocal delivery by the lead vocalist, Amanda Lyberg, that reminds me of them. It is also easy to catch a show of theirs in the area in case you wanted to get in on the action they bring to the stages of Detroit.
Another band I saw was the Twistin’ Tarantulas playing at the Rock stage. This band is a personal favorite of mine with a unique Rockabilly and Punk fusion sound. They also are very well known to the festival as they have played many past years and even when being introduced, the festival director mentioned that he “fought to get them to play the show this year”. The band is a power trio hailing from Royal Oak and were formed back in 1993. Their set was diverse as they picked songs from all the different styles of music that influence Rockabilly, such as Country, Jazz, and Americana, all while putting their own spin on it.
This is just a taste of what Arts, Beats, and Eats has to offer and one can only fully experience the music by attending the festival themselves. It also hosts concerts of more touring and famous bands from outside which provide more variety in the music choice but it’s best known for its lineup of locals.
Also happening during the long weekend is the Detroit Jazz Festival. According to Steve Byrne, also of the Detroit Free Press, it is well known for being the largest Jazz festival in the world that is absolutely free to attend. It has four stages in the downtown area — located in Hart Plaza, Campus Martius, and Cadillac Square. Like Arts, Beats, and Eats the festival featured local and international acts which came to a sum of about 60 acts total.
One of the acts from the Detroit area was the John Douglas Quartet. Which featured a long Jamming set that showcased Douglas’ ability to play the trumpet. His masterful playing really showed how much experience in the world of Jazz as a musician he really had. At the Jazz Fest, he played his funky set but showed a few influences of Latin Jazz in his music as well. It was definitely an experience not to be missed.
Another Detroit act playing was Robert Hurst. He and a few other protégés of David Baker, a famous figure in jazz education, held a tribute set for him as he died last spring according to the Detroit Free Press. The music that he played was very inspiring for one who is a musician because there was clearly much precision and technicality involved in the upbringing in these musicians under the wing of David Baker. It was truly a worthy tribute for such an advanced musician.
As most music festivals, you cannot see them all but you can still get an enriched experience from the few that you see. Though the Jazz is much more instrument and technique based, even non-musicians can appreciate it. I had attended the Jazz Festival for years before I started playing an instrument and was always interesting for me and so I would recommend the festival to anyone because it can astound anyone.
The next festival is different because it is more art biased than Arts, Beats and Eats, but less educational than the Jazz. However, it has been hosted annually for years, making it a prolific event in the the city’s music scene.
Every year Detroit holds its famous street fair, Dally in the Alley, which is the place for local artists, musicians, and food vendors to meet. As I mentioned earlier, it is different from Arts, Beats, and Eats because it features more indie bands than radio friendly bands. It is unique because the pick acts to play based on how different they are. This year will be the mark of the festival’s 39th anniversary and has broken the record of music submissions. Every year has so many bands and artists on the lineup that there is no way that one could be able to watch all of them. The wide spectrum of styles of music — some including electronic, punk, hip hop, and indie pop — ensured that there is always something for everyone. When I went this year, I saw that there was a great turnout with a lot of people coming to watch but it rained a bit so it thinned the crowd out.
Of what I saw, there were a few acts that caught my eye and ear that made a memorable impression on me. One of my favorite acts was the Kickstand Band which are an indie pop trio that played on the Alley Stage. Their set consisted mainly of some catchy upbeat songs which were put together and it made the band an excellent addition to this year’s Dally. Another act, performing on the Forest Stage, was the ERERs. They were a unique rock band that played some fuzzed-out , rock n’ roll songs full of energy and had a touch of funk in them — I think.
Near the end of the festival, the crowd flocked to the Alley Stage to see the Kid Vishis Movement. They were an interesting hip-hop act, putting on a high-energy show that was not to be missed. Around the same time as their set, another popular local act, Caveman Woodman & Bam Bam Moss were setting up at the Garden Stage to play some hard hitting guitar-and-drums punk rock. They were the last band I saw of the night before I moved onto the Green Alley Gathering on a neighboring street. It was a show held at the Third Man Records store in Cass Corridor to benefit the Green Alley project, which is a project to restore the back alley by the store. One of the bands performing was a marching band from Portland called March Fourth. They played the last set of the night with marching-band-style songs covering a wide spectrum of musical styles such as ska, jazz, and rock all while wearing their unusual marching band uniforms. They were from Portland but it shows how Third Man is making Detroit a musical hotspot again. There were, however, local acts like Nina and the Buffalo Riders that kept the event at least a little home grown.
Events like these show the type of community and artistry that is thriving in the Detroit area today. Weather rain or shine these shows get put on and artists have the chance to play and share their music all while making new connections with other people which leads to a brighter future for the city and its art.
Events this big can’t happen every weekend unfortunately, but there are smaller scale events that keep the music alive. These festivals are held at popular venues in the area and often have indie bands like the ones at Dally in the Alley. One of them is known as Fallout Fest.
Fallout Fest is a small annual festival that occurs in the Detroit area every year showcasing some of the city’s favorite local acts. As mentioned earlier it is usually held at a popular local venue and usually ends up having a good turnout. This year, like the last was held at the Loving Touch in Ferndale. There were 8 bands that played the night, shifting between two stages set up opposite to each other. As soon as one band would end, the other would start so it made the the show continue on with non-stop. The sounds of the bands however were not static, as each had their own style which made for a lot of musical diversity within the show’s lineup.
The show started a little late but that was okay because it gave you a chance to look around at the bizarre and interesting visuals that accompany the show. Candelabras were set behind the smaller stage on the handrail and some people were wearing plague doctor costumes, walking around throughout the show. Artist vendors set up shop there every year and display their creations such as sculptures or drawings or any other form of visual art that one could think of. According to the event’s Facebook page, some of the artists that were there this year were Joe Mazzola, Katie Foreman, Kimberly Tomlin, Brent Szczygielski and Calvin VanKeersbilck.
The first act of the night was ISLÀ which was a softer-sounding duo playing some very interesting music that is influenced by folk, soul, pop, and most noticeable to me, jazz. The band is the sole project of Kameryn Ogden, but that night she was collaborating with the fellow musician Daniel Monk who I got the opportunity to exchange a few words with about jazz guitar playing. In some of the songs he played electric piano and others guitar while Kameryn played guitar and delivered a memorable lead vocal performance. Throughout the set they would trade off between an electric and an acoustic guitar, adding much variety to the set. One of the things I found particularly interesting was the electronic kick drum Daniel used when he was playing piano that was quiet enough to bend with their style of music yet strong enough to deliver some sort of punch. Overall my favorite part of their set was the cover they performed of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” which was the song I remember most vividly.
Next on the bill was the band Honeybabe. They were a five-piece band consisting of a keyboard, two guitars, a bass, and a drummer. The names of the musicians in this band are Matt McBrien, Drew Bartosik, Austin Keith, Danny Despard, and Michael La Bella, according to their Facebook page. Playing on the big stage opposite to the one ISLÀ played on, their performance was energetic as they vigorously delivered song after song of funky, psychedelic rock music. They had a lot of different types of songs that brought the intensity up and simmered it down, but the best part of their set, in my opinion, was near the end. The last two or three songs were the most energetic and it showed when the keyboardist and vocalist stood up and started dancing around the stage as the rest of the band jammed on. It made for a strong ending that let them go out with a bang.
At the small stage after Honeybabe, the ERERs started to play. They are a power trio popular in the Detroit area and bring a lot of people in wherever they play a show from what I have noticed. As always, they delivered a hard-hitting, fuzzed-out set of groovy sounds which was not to be missed. I would say the band’s sound can be described as a heavier and more stoner rock with a few garage rock influences. All of their songs have an incredible groove with the rhythms that the drummer lays down. The bass player throws a bit of funk into the mix with his slap-bass playing style as well. The set was full of bouncing around and head banging all the way through. They also put a lot of green duct tape on their instruments The band’s Facebook says the names of the members are Matt Riesterer, Christopher Fichter, and Jamison Winterbottom Mosshart. They are also currently promoting a new EP called “I Can Do Anything”.
Earth Engine, the next band, started to play as soon as the ERERs finished. Playing on the big stage, this band consisted of six members. They carry a sound similar to that jazz-fusion rock which they categorize on their Facebook page as “Dork Rock”. It also lists the band members’ names as Brown, Scott Clam, Doug Prishpreed, Dorris Pringle-Brule,Mickey Dolenz, and Ron Don Vonlonte. What the band performed there is what I would call a jam because they conveyed songs packed tight with instrumentation and they danced and shook the whole time while doing it. Because of their size the band sounded huge while they blended funky beats with jazzy chords, saxophone, and high-flying vocals. There were a lot of dynamics in the songs as well, ranging from soft to sweet to quite noisy — although they stayed very musical throughout the entire set. Playing on into the end of their set, they crescendo into a wall of sound by playing every which note they wanted, including having their keyboardists wipe his hands up and down the keys.
With no sign of slowing down, the crowd once again directed their attention toward the small stage when Earth Engine finished. The next band to play was The Boy Wonders. They were a duo consisting of a bass player — named Jim — and a drummer — named Tim. Aesthetically, they stood out among the other bands because they were a superhero themed band, wearing masks and capes and addressing the crowd as “citizens”. They also mentioned somewhere during their set that they were from a future where Aquaman is president — and he is not a very favored one. Bearing the rock-and-roll sound that a distorted bass and a drum kit brings, the duo beat their way through the set with no trouble leaving a memorable impression. The songs they played were upbeat, otherwise slow and percussive — adding dynamic to their show. Most of the songs they decided to play were off their debut EP called “Let’s Make Moose Noises”.
Next up was another band popular in the Detroit area known as Zoos of Berlin. Their music was quite different from the other bands at the festival with an experimental, shoegazing, pop sound that I found very reminiscent of new wave from the 80s. The band is a quartet made up of musicians Trevor Naud, Daniel I. Clark, Collin Dupuis, and Will Yates. It was getting late but their type of music seemed to fit the atmosphere at that time and it kept people lingering around. The band often played along with an ambient synth backing track that made them sound full and thick with each song they played through to the end of their set.
Next up was ARC PELT, who delivered a droning set of sludgy bass riffs and reverb-soaked vocals backed up by down tempo drum beats. According to their Facebook page, the band is the project of Liz Wittman and Zach Shipps and for the time being, they are accompanied by George Morris as a second bassist. Having been formed this year they come off as similar to the band Om because of their bass-and-drum emulated doom metal sound which the band themselves have dubbed “doomgaze”. The band is a bit more well-known in the heavier music scene having played a show in the past with metal and punk greats like Child Bite, Lord Dying, and Joel Grind.
To finish off the night, a larger act, Queen Kwong hit the big stage. The band is an indie-alternative rock project led by vocalist and guitarist Carré Callaway. She is Los Angeles based but relocated the band to the Detroit area where she has revolving door members back her on stage. The music played in the show was very peculiar with each song adding a new sound to the set. It went everywhere from soft and quiet to loud and noisy all covered by an emotional vocal performance by Carré. One of the most memorable things about the show were the stage antics such as the one where Carré began beating herself with the tambourine among a cacophonous uproar in the music. It was truly an experience not to be missed.
Fallout Fest IV was an ultimate success and probably will be in years to come because the promoters and bookers of the show — who dub themselves “the birds” — do a good job picking bands. They keep their promise on the event’s Facebook page that states Fallout fest is “where you find the good bands a week before everyone else.” This is also why it is a big part of the local Detroit scene: it showcases all the talent in the musical acts of this area. Ending around 2:00 AM , everyone went home satisfied as new fans and with new music to add to their library.
These events often showcase great upcoming and popular bands today, but there are other events that remind us of the rich history the motor city has in music or the establishments that keep the scene going. The weekend of October 8th held two of these events were held in Dearborn.
The first is the WHFR Record Show. 89.3 WHFR is the Dearborn local radio station that broadcasts out of Henry Ford Community College. The station is a pivotal piece of Detroit musical history because the music of many local artists’ is featured there as well as out of town legends and lesser-known musicians.
According to their website, the station began back in 1962 as a campus radio station, intended for playing music to students and to make announcements. The station expanded to FM radio in 1979 when they applied for and received a grant to air from the Federal Communications Commission. The first broadcast aired in 1985 after spending years acquiring the equipment and staff needed for running a functional radio station. Through many other developments and location changes of campus, the radio station now operates out of the Student Center of the college.
The station’s DJs are all volunteers and are oftentimes students enrolled in the “Radio Station Workshop” class. They also operate solely off of donations so they often put on different fund-raisers to help fund their operations — and the annual WHFR Record Show is one of them. The event can be described as one big convention of local record stores and music vendors setting up shop in the student center. From 9 A.M. to 4 P.M., all types of music were up for sale in the form of tapes, CDs, videos, and vinyl LPs and 45s, as well as other musical memorabilia like books and posters. Alongside independent vendors and the radio station having its own stand at the show, others such as Dearborn Music and Stormy Records attended.
The event attracts local music lovers, record collectors, and musicians. I was happy to see one of my friends Nick Marocco who is the drummer for the local band the Twistin’ Tarantulas as well as the owner of the music store Rock City Music Company located in Livonia.
WHFR holds together a community and preserves a vast amount of the rich history based around the rich musical culture that the Detroit area has to offer — and this is just one of the examples of them doing it. On the same day and in the same city of Dearborn they were promoting, in part, another event of the same nature as the Record Show. This would be celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Grande Ballroom.
The Grande Ballroom is located on Grand River Avenue, now dilapidated and missing pieces that scrappers have come in and taken. Although it stands in this condition today, the building still holds a significant architectural and musical significance in Detroit as it was designed by a prominent Detroit architect, Charles N. Agree, and was a concert hall that really
According to an article from Historic Detroit on the building, it was designed by Agree in 1928, for Edward J. Strata and his business partner, Edward J. Davis. The venue started out as a house to hold shows for big band and jazz music that was popular at the time of its first opening. As the 20th century aged on, the swing-jazz style was starting to wear out which brought down the business of the ballroom to where it was then bought out John T. Hayse and his wife in 1955. The couple hoped to carry on and preserve the ballroom’s intended purpose for and the tradition of ballroom dancing.
As the new owners, the Hayes’ customers mainly consisted of Church groups and wedding parties and otherwise marketed their business to young adults. They made sure everything was clean and free of “troublemakers”, and believed that retaining the ballroom dancing style for the younger generations would help them in the future. Trying desperately to keep it proper, they restricted any alcohol or drugs to be sold or brought onto the premises and had a strict dress code.
When the world became more rock n’ roll favoring, the Hayes’ attempt to keep ballroom dancing alive crashed and burned and the venue turned to a roller rink and then a mattress storage house. The type of atmosphere the former owners visioned for the ballroom, however, fully made the 180 degree turn when the ownership went to Russ Gibb, a local radio DJ high school teacher in Dearborn. Russ was influenced by the rock halls he visited in San Francisco like the Avalon and the Fillmore and visioned to bring that kind of venue to Detroit: a place where bands could come and play their own music and make a name for themselves. And he succeeded in making this vision come true when he reopened the venue on October 7th, 1966 with a show featuring The MC5 and the Chosen Few.
This grand re-opening celebrated its 50th anniversary this year in Dearborn at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center with what can probably best be described as a hippie convention. Different events were set up to commemorate its historical value featuring a car show, vendor stands, and a lineup of prolific bands from the Detroit rock n’ roll scene of the sixties.
Walking into the event, you are first greeted by a psychedelic sixties hippie van with speakers playing rock classics from the era in review. The table to buy tickets at is located directly in front of you as soon as you walk in and once you purchase you can proceed in. The evening time event was so popular that tickets sold out within the first hour or two. Adjacent to the ticket booth was the Padziewski Gallery and one of the vendor tables. According to the Grande Ballroom website, the gallery had been showcasing a number of concert poster art pieces featuring Carl Lundgren, Leni Sinclair, John Collier, Dennis Loren, Mark Arminski, Robert Matheu and the work of Gary Grimshaw in the month before the event.
These posters are linked to the concert history of the Grande Ballroom as well as Detroit music, mentioning venues such as the Fillmore and St. Andrew’s Hall and acts like Iggy and The Stooges and the White Stripes. There is a story around these concert posters which are either created by or inspired by the artist Gary Grimshaw. In the story outlined on Historic Detroit, he was introduced to Russ Gibb by MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, who played the Grande every week with his band. Grimshaw became legendary for making these psychedelic concert posters to promote the shows.
Just outside the glass doors that form the gallery was a vendor table. It had piles of flyers that were promoting some of the sponsors — most of which are active advocates of Detroit local music such as Jack White’s Third Man Records and WHFR. The table was also selling old development copies of photographs that held memories of bands at the Grande focusing mainly on the Who — sometimes stopping through town to play. The memories were captured by photographer Tom Wright. The vendor mentioned that he was “cleaning out his closet” and selling off a bunch of his old reject and development copies of photos that captured many rock artists in that day.
Once you enter the Hubbard Ballroom, you find where the main events are. There was a stage that the lineup of rock bands played at with their merchandise tables set up nearby. There were six bands in all lined up to play the event. The names of the bands, in order that they played were The Wha?, The Thomas Blood Band, The Gang, Stoney and the Jagged Edge, Frijid Pink and finally, the Yardbirds. Each band had a history playing the Grande Ballroom and were very active during the years it was open. The Yardbirds were from England opposed to Detroit like all of the other bands but they still fit in because they were pivotal in influencing the rock n’ roll scene in the sixties with their psychedelic blues rock music. All the bands played their own songs as well as covers of famous classics from the early days of rock.
The Hubbard Ballroom was lined with vendors selling incense, shirts, and music memorabilia. One thing I noticed was that almost all of the music being sold was made by artists based from Michigan — or particularly Detroit. Everything from the popular greats like Bob Seger to the obscure like Bittersweet Alley.
Other events that displayed the culture that formed around the sixties consisted of a hippie fashion show and a classic car show. The fashion show was held on the stage where the bands played, and it showed what a lot of the women wore during concerts and as hippies. It was held in between the sets of the Thomas Blood band and The Gang. Throughout the day, a group of classic cars were parked off to the side of the ballroom. They were vintage and from this era as well, including another hippie van.
Overall, this event was a great display of the cultural history of the Detroit music scene that thrived in the sixties along with the counterculture movement and the Vietnam War. It also took a good look at the roots of where Detroit’s rock scene today came from. The Grande Ballroom housed the predecessors who are often credited for the founding of punk rock like the MC5 or the Stooges. WHFR also carries that on with their radio station and the contributions that they make that preserve the art from of music here: even while they are raising funds to continue doing it themselves.
As you can see, Detroit has a thriving live music scene and a rich cultural history that backs it. These prolific events have captured and showcased some of what Detroit is doing today and has reflected on its past as well. It really shows how the city is coming back and is probably why the New York Times have listed Detroit as one of the top 52 places to visit in 2017. As a musician and music listener, I would recommend visiting this part to see a few bands and buy a few records because it is a revolution that everyone would love to say that they were a part of.
*all pictures in article are owned by Luke Hodorek