Thursday’s public street naming for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, kicks off the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend, a four-day event that will showcase Detroit, its artists and its burgeoning entertainment district.
Franklin is the centerpiece of the weekend. In addition to the street-naming ceremony, she is the subject of a tribute concert Friday at Music Hall and is performing a free outdoor concert Saturday that organizers are touting as her final Detroit concert. (Franklin, 75, for her part has not definitively said whether or not Saturday’s performance is her last splash in the city.)
In addition to Franklin, Detroit Music Weekend will feature performances by rocker Mitch Ryder, ex-“American Idol” contestant Josh Gracin, ex-“Voice” contestant Laith Al-Saadi, gospel group Larry Callahan & Selected of God Choir and more. Mayer Hawthorne’s funk outfit, Tuxedo, will perform at a ticketed event on Saturday night. Dance troupes, theater groups, puppet acts and more will round out the event’s diverse entertainment lineup.
Music Hall’s Vince Paul organized Detroit Music Weekend to show off the city’s entertainment district and to get people to come down and enjoy the city for something non-sports related. He purposely didn’t want the event on the riverfront; he wanted people to roam around the streets surrounding Music Hall, to pop into Punch Bowl Social or Wright & Company, or shop some of the new stores along the Woodward corridor.
“This festival is about illumination,” says Paul, who considers himself something of the “mad scientist” of the weekend. “It’s about getting people to discover what we have in this entertainment district, because I don’t think people have put all those puzzle pieces together yet.”
Paul says he’s designed the festival to comfortably hold about 10,000 people, but it can accommodate more. Video screens will allow performances to be seen as far back as Grand Circus Park, he says.
Centering the fest on Franklin was a no-brainer, says Paul, Music Hall’s president and artistic director. He says it’s a way to honor Franklin and all she has done and everything she has meant to music and to the city, and to spotlight artists coming up around Detroit. (It’s a coincidence that the fest is falling on the 50-year anniversary of Franklin’s album “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” which contained the Top 10 hits “Respect” and the title track.)
Going forward — Paul says he’s already planning next year’s event — Paul envisions Detroit Music Weekend continuing to be focused on one marquee artist, with other acts circling them.
“I like that formatting a lot, with one superstar that does a free concert, and surrounding that star with 40 other acts,” Paul says, mentioning Stevie Wonder as a potential centerpiece for the 2018 event. “Wouldn’t that be a gas?” he asks of Wonder.
He also sees potential to build around the festival. If concert promoter giants Live Nation or AEG were to book a show at Ford Field or Comerica Park, Paul is hoping to work with them to piggyback Detroit Music Weekend — the date is flexible, he says — on that event.
“Let’s all get together and communicate on a specific weekend,” Paul says. That way everyone wins, he reasons — the city, the artists and the people there to celebrate it all.