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Detroit Music Scene

Lauren Wells | March 7, 2014

The History

Since the late 1940s, Detroit’s music scene has been a tourist destination and highly praised experience. Blues and R&B artists like John Lee Hooker, Nolan Strong, Andrew Williams, and Nathaniel Mayer brought their unique sound to Detroit to record at Fortune Records, as the beginning of an iconic music scene was underway. The 1950s and 1960s put Detroit on the map as a hub for jazz, with performers like Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams flocking to play the Black Bottom neighborhood. Fortune Records set the precedent for Detroit labels, and during the 1960s and 1970s, Motown Records, founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., gained popularity by working with musicians like Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Marvin Gaye, among others. While she did not record with Motown Records, Aretha Franklin also got her start in Detroit during this time. As the 70s progressed, acts like MC5, the Stooges, Bob Seger, Amboy Dukes, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Rare Earth, Alice Cooper, and Suzi Quatro honed their rock-and-roll sound in their Detroit hometown. Music got a bit edgier during the 80s, as hardcore punk rock bands like Necros, the Meatmen, and Negative Approach got their start in Detroit. The new millennium birthed Detroit acts like hip-hop rapper Eminem, producer J Dilla, hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse, and rappers Big Sean and Danny Brown. Other contemporary musicians and bands to come out of the city include Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, the White Stripes, the Von Bondies, Electric Six, the Hard Lessons, the Dirtbombs, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Sponge.

The Venues

The Fillmore Detroit, located in the entertainment district, originally opened in 1925 as a movie theater but has since been transformed into a renowned live music venue. Keeping in line with Fillmore venues’ traditional décor, the 2,200 capacity event space features high ceilings, chandeliers, hardwood dance floors, and the iconic Fillmore concert posters we’ve all grown to admire. The historic Fillmore Detroit is operated by Live Nation and is home to the annual Detroit Music Awards show. Having hosted concerts by acts like Fergie, Dropkick Murphys, Arctic Monkeys, the Airborne Toxic Event, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, and the Pixies, the Fillmore Detroit has made a name for itself as a go-to venue for high quality entertainment.

Founded in 1980, Saint Andrews Hall has hosted musicians such as Iggy Pop, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, The Verve, Nirvana, R.E.M., and Red Hot Chili Peppers. A top-notch performance space, Saint Andrews Hall is a sizeable space with a clean, crisp atmosphere that encourages dancing. The Shelter, the site of Eminem’s first shows, is housed in the basement of St. Andrews Hall. Other performances by Eisley, the Hives, and Queens of the Stone Age have been held at the Shelter as well. For the best in established and up-and-coming acts coming out of Detroit, check out Saint Andrews Hall and the Shelter.

If you like a side of gambling with your music, the 100,000 square foot Motor City Casino and Hotel has you covered. Soundboard, one of the many entertainment spaces at the casino, features acts like Jennifer Nettles, Bela Fleck, Musiq Soulchild, Montgomery Gentry, Sublime, 38 Special, and Jay Leno. Chromatics Lounge is located on the casino’s second floor and features the best in local and national music talent.

The Majestic Theatre opened in 1915 and has since featured indie rock, blues, jazz, folk, hip-hop, and worldbeat music. The Black Keys, Black Eyed Peas, Flaming Lips, Wilco, Sheryl Crow, Sublime, Matt & Kim, Drake, Fleet Foxes, Decemberists, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foster the People, and Sonic Youth have all performed at the Majestic over the years. A 1,000 capacity space complete with fully-stocked bars, the Majestic also hosts fashion shows, parties, private events, fundraisers, and weddings. Also located at the Majestic is Magic Stick, a smaller 550 capacity venue that has received praise from publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and Metro Times for being a great live event space. Having hosted the White Stripes, the National, Jack Johnson, Interpol, Kings of Leon, Modest Mouse, the Kills, Sleigh Bells, and Childish Gambino, Magic Stick even has an adjacent side room (known as Magic Stick Lounge) for up-and-coming artist showcases.

The magnificent Fox Theatre brings in names like Robin Thicke, Il Divo, Chelsea Handler, and Tori Amos. Known for its excellent entertainment programming, the Fox is stunningly designed with three levels of seating, Asian motifs, an impressive marquee, and marble floors. The Fox has hosted Elvis Presley, Joe Williams and the Count Basie Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Liza Minnelli. The grandeur of this 5,174 capacity venue will leave you in awe as you admire one of your favorite entertainers.

Detroit’s Masonic Temple Theatre dates back to 1926 and is a massive building with a lavish lobby modeled after a castle in Sicily! Detroit’s Masonic Temple is the largest Masonic Temple in the world, with three theaters, three ballrooms and banquet halls, dining areas, and recreational facilities. Decorative arches, chandeliers, medallions, and extravagant light fixtures are a mainstay at the Masonic Temple Theatre. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Lindsey Stirling, Rodriguez, and Katt Williams are among the many talented performers to come through the lavish Masonic Temple.

The Grand Circus Park Historic District is home to the Detroit Opera House, a 2,700-seat venue that hosts Michigan Opera Theatre productions as well as other opera performances. Opened in 1922, the Detroit Opera House has hosted jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, as well as Luciano Pavarotti. After a major renovation in 1996, the venue has brought in operas such as The Flying Dutchman, La Traviata, and A View from the Bridge as well as dance performances like Diavolo, the Nutcracker, and Geneve Ballet. The Detroit Opera House offers a complete classic entertainment experience.

If you’d rather check out a sporting event than an opera, the Joe Louis Arena is the place for you. Home to the 11-time Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, the Joe, as the locals call it, is a 20,058-seat indoor venue that hit the Detroit entertainment scene in 1979. Aside from hosting hockey, the Joe also brings in other professional sports, concerts, ice shows, circuses, and more. Musicians like Cher, Lady Gaga, Motley Crue, and Rush perform at the Joe.

Also managed by Olympia Entertainment (they run the Fox, and the Joe too!), City Theatre opened in 2004 and is a small 430-seat venue in the Foxtown Entertainment District. Located inside Hockeytown Café next to the Fox, City Theatre hosts concerts, comedy shows, private events, and plays.

Music Hall Center, a 1,731-seat theatre built in 1928, is a historic building that features a new 100-seat jazz café and a rooftop terrace. Originally named the Wilson Theatre, Music Hall Center for Performing Arts is a six-story art deco style building with plenty of charm and tons of talent coming through. Chembo Corniel, Imani Winds, Jonathon Butler, Maysa, Sharon Isbin, and Stanley Jordan, among other performers make time for a special show at Music Hall Center, a truly unique venue.

The NFL’s Detroit Lions call the 80,000 capacity Ford Field home. Opened in 2002, Ford Field has hosted Super Bowl XL, Professional Bull Riding, WrestleMania, and the NCAA Men’s Final Four, along with Monster Truck races. The Rolling Stones, No Doubt, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Jake Owen, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Ed Sheeran, Austin Mahone, J. Geils Band, Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, and Jay-Z have played packed shows at Ford Field. With high caliber entertainment, Ford Field will leave you impressed at its grandeur.

The Festivals

Every Memorial Day weekend, Movement Electronic Music Festival celebrates Detroit’s electronic music scene with performances on five outdoor stages. Hosted at Riverfront Park, Movement features more than 100 artists, many VIP areas, and tons of after-parties. Acts like Bonobo, Boys Noize, Damian Lazarus, Jamie XX, Monoloc, Moon Boots, and Riff Raff get the party started and keep it going during this 3-day festival.

Held in Rothbury, Electric Forest comes to Michigan every June and features jaw-dropping light displays, art installations, and camping areas in addition to some of the most talented names in music (think Flying Lotus, Matt & Kim, the String Cheese Incident, Zeds Dead, Art Department, Conspirator, and Papadosio).

In downtown Lansing, Common Ground takes place in July, featuring an impressive lineup from bands like the Hold Steady, Brand New, Circa Survive, Say Anything, and Flobots. Food vendors and outdoor activities will keep you busy when you’re not enjoying the live music.

The Detroit International Jazz Festival during Labor Day weekend has over 30 years of experience bringing over 100 musicians to its five stages. Prepare yourself for fireworks, educational activities, late night jam sessions, and meet and greets with your favorite jazz musicians.

The Masonic Temple hosts the Motor City Blues Festival featuring the talent of Bobby Rush, Floyd Taylor, Sir Charles Jones, Mel Waiters, Latimore, Theodis Ealey, and Willie Clayton. For a night of pure Blues, the Motor City Blues Festival never disappoints.