Summer Highlights

The top picks of events this summer


Scott Gwinnell Dectet

June 14

The pianist-bandleader-arranger salutes one of Detroit's cultural wellsprings in his new release The Cass Corridor Project, forthcoming on Mack Avenue records. This is part of the 25th annual Music on the Plaza series, a presentation of the Grosse Pointe Village Association, every Thursday through Aug. 2 at the corner of Kercheval and St. Clair (or, in the case of rain, at Maire Elementary School, two blocks west at 740 Cadieux). Later acts include Alvin Waddles, Johnnie Bassett, Ron Kischuk's Masters of Music — with Shahida Nurullah. See for the full list. (And if you miss Gwinnell's ensemble here, their dance card includes Cliff Bell's on June 16 and several other nights through the summer.)

Jazzin' on Jefferson

June 15-16

Jazzin' on Jefferson began as a spirited initiative to unite Detroit's lower east side, celebrating its vibrant history with a weekend full of music and food. Now in its ninth year, the outdoor fest features 30 jazz, blues and soul acts including Johnnie Bassett, Chris Codish, the Rootsologists, Gigi Mack and urban youth orchestra Urban Stringz II.  In an interesting twist, the fest is going to forego traditional carnival fare, instead featuring local entrepreneurs from FoodLab Detroit selling fresh, healthy creations. Also new this year, late night pop-up jazz joints will open inside empty storefronts after the fest closes, letting festival-goers keep the party going while getting a sneak peak inside some historic buildings. The free fest happens on Jefferson Avenue between Marlborough and Ashland streets in Detroit; see for more info.

200 Years

June 20

A musical collaboration between Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers, 200 years relies primarily on acoustic guitars and vocals to create quietly mesmerizing music. The hushed tunes are occasionally supplemented with hints of electronic guitars, accordion and pipe organ, but for the most part, the power of the music lies in its delicate minimalism. Ambrogio's soft vocals demonstrate the beauty and power that can be found in gentleness, and her quiet voice and the lush imagery of her lyrics serves as a perfect counterpoint to Chasny's guitar. 200 Years released its self-titled debut last year; the duo perform in support of it at the Destroy Compound, 5984 Lincoln, Detroit; with Dead Machines, M.U.G. House Unit and DJ Mike Connelly.

Detroit River Days Festival

June 22-24

The Sixth Annual Detroit River Days Festival is especially boisterous this year, with more than 75 street performers and musical acts taking over the Detroit RiverWalk for the three-day event. The lineup includes national acts Kansas, Boys II Men and the Whispers, as well as a wide range of local talent, from Ty Stone and Thornetta Davis to the Howling Diablos, Luis Resto and the Detroit Symphony Civic Jazz Orchestra. But the music is just the soundtrack to the party of buskers, which includes magicians, fire artists, circus performers and break dancers. A 5K run, tall ships, poochapalooza pet walk, kids' activities, carnival rides, jet ski demos and riverboat tours are also on the agenda; see for more info. The fest closes just in time for the annual Target Fireworks, which light up the sky Monday, June 25.

"Images" from Detroit's Cass Corridor

June 23

It's a great time for a 101 course on the last half-century of Detroit art. Kathryn Brackett Luchs and Shaun Bangert's film is hyped as "a tense visual montage combining original silent footage with new information and bringing to light the mood and art of the time." The time discussed is the '60s and '70s, when Cass Corridor artists were setting the stage for much of the Detroit art that would follow. Included in the film are such artists as John Egner, Steve Foust, Michael Luchs, Nancy Mitchnick, Gordon Newton, Ellen Phelan, Paul Schwarz and Robert Sestok. Just so happens that some of those artists are on display a block away at the N'Namdi Center in the show Menage a Detroit: Three Generations of Expressionist Art in Detroit 1970-2012, with Cass Corridor artists like Sestok and Newton in the first generation. Some of the figures of the film and Menage overlap again with Jim Pallas' amazing exhibit of 16 portraits Art Giants in Detroit, also the N'Namdi Center. "Images" is a one-night, free-admission event at 8 p.m. on June 23, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (with a soundtrack by the late Mick Vranich), at 4454 Woodward, Detroit; 313-832-6622. Menage and Giants show through July 21 at N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest Ave., Detroit; 313-831-8700. Jim Pallas gives an artist talk about his work at 6 p.m. on June 21 at the N'Namdi Center.

Cinema Barbecue

June 23

The Corktown Cinema may not be up and running yet, but that hasn't stopped the former Burton Theatre from planning some cinematic summertime fun. The art house theater is bringing back the old Cinema Barbecue series that presents double features in the great outdoors served up with some lip-smacking eats. Movies will be shown every other Saturday and will feature food from Green Dot Stables, Porktown Sausage and Supino Pizzeria. The series begins with They Live and Parents; other films shown throughout the summer include True Romance, Heathers and The Muppet Movie. The grill starts at 9:30 p.m., flicks roll at dusk at Corktown Cinema, 2051 Rosa Parks, Detroit; 313-473-9238;


June 24

The funniest man in funk — or is he the funkiest of funnymen? — ought to feel good about playing the D. After all, after helping out James Brown with hits like "Sex Machine," it was here that Bootsy hooked up with George Clinton and the P-Funk collective, putting his fat0 bass bottom in the mix and later spinning off with his own Rubber Band and solo career (hits like "Bootzilla" and "I'd Rather Be With You"). Collins shares the bill with Cameo. About the latter, only this needs to be said: "Word Up!" At Chene Park, 2600 Atwater, Detroit; 313-393-7128;

Stars & Stripes Fest

Jun 29-July 1

This annual fest features a number of free ways to celebrate America's independence, including BMX demos, carnival rides, kids' activities, Friday night fireworks and four stages rocking with local and national acts all weekend long. Headlining bigwigs include Buckcherry, Eddie Money, Tesla and Skid Row; Critical Bill, Amy Gore & her Valentines, Dirty Americans, Bear Lake, the Muggs, Decibilt and others representin' the Motor City. Stars & Stripes happens in downtown Mount Clemens; for info


June 30

The Thunderdrome brings new, bruising life to the formerly abandoned Dorais Park Velodrome a few times a year. Riders of mopeds, pit bikes, scooters, mini-bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes and just about any other two-wheeled contraption put their bones on the line to come out supreme in this rough and ragged racing series. For race spectators, beer, wine and nonalcoholic libations will be available for sale, as well as grub courtesy of area food trucks. After the guts and glory, stick around for an after party featuring bands, booze and other gnarly surprises. Races take place from 2 to 7 p.m. at Dorais Park, Mound Rd. and Outer Dr., Detroit; see


Bill Frisell

All We Are Saying: Bill Frisell Explores the Music of John Lennon featuring Tony Scherr, Greg Leisz and Kenny Wollesen

July 3

Seattle-based guitarist Bill Frisell is one of those string-slingers who can do just about anything, soundtracks for Buster Keaton flicks, Dylan covers, Aretha covers, hyperbaric skronk fests, etc. Following the album of 16 Lennon covers (Beatles-to-solo stuff) released earlier this year, Frisell is touring with bassist Scherr, drummer Wollesen and steel guitarist Leisz. The Montreal Gazette called the disc "stunningly original and sensitive." From what we know of Frisell, we'd expect his group to seriously stretch out live. At the Ark, 316 S. Main, Ann Arbor; 734-763-8587,

Tenacious D

Tenacious D

July 6

Gorilla suits, dancing aliens and massive birds are just a few of the oddities you might feast your eyes on at a Tenacious D concert. The comedic duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass has been pulling a fiercely loyal fan base for more than a decade now, and their goal is simple: to rock harder than any other band in the world, and to make you laugh in the process. They're currently on tour in support of their latest disc, Rize of the Fenix — the creative storytelling and ass-kicking rock makes for a stellar listening experience, but Tenacious D is truly an act designed to be experienced live. With the Sights at 7 p.m. at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; tickets start at $25.

Concert of Colors

July 12-17

There's a shadow over a festival that was to have included Detroit saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey as a poet and musician, but there'll be a special tribute to him as the show goes on. Bey was to be part of the Fifth Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue, billed this year as the "Detroit Jazz City Edition," featuring Marion Hayden, James Carter, Sheila Jordan, Regina Carter, Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Amp Fiddler, Dennis Coffey, A. Spencer Barefield, Joan Belgrave and TBA surprises. That's the big attraction on Saturday at Orchestra Hall. Also in the mix, pipa virtuoso (it's a Chinese lute) Wu Man and cellist Eric Jacobsen with the DSO, George Clinton and P-Funk, Tito Puente Jr. Orchestra, Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits. Mainly at Orchestra Hall. Full details at

Porter Robinson

July 13

This electronic music prodigy scored his first big hit with "Say My Name" before he even graduated high school, packing dance floors at clubs he was barely old enough to frequent. Now 19-years-old, the Chapel Hill, NC-based DJ has toured with the likes of Tiësto and Skrillex and earned the commendation of Deadmau5, notoriously picky about endorsing any fellow artists. Robinson mastered his distinct electro house sound while attending high school in a city without much of an electronic scene to speak of — the first time he saw a DJ perform was at a party where he was also on the lineup. The EDM wunderkind wraps up his first headlining tour in metro Detroit at Elektricity, 15 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-599-2212.

Michigan Elvisfest

July 13-14

The annual Michigan Elvisfest offers some of the most entertaining evidence of the King's undying legacy. Beginning in 2000, it's now the largest tribute concert in North America, attracting thousands each year with its lineup of professional tribute artists and reverently rocking atmosphere. In addition to a massive set of rock 'n' roll tunes, this two-day event also features a classic car show and a special gospel hour, not to mention plenty of beer, food and Elvis memorabilia. Attendees can also share a solemn moment at a candlelight vigil commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Presley's death. This spectacle of burnin' love goes down inYpsilanti's Riverside Park, 515 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti. Dressing the part is encouraged; for info.

Michigan Jazz Festival

July 15

No details on the lineup at press time, but the 19th festival is a go. Expect a cross section of what the local jazz scene has to offer, about 150 musicians in nearly 30 overlapping combos and big bands on a half-dozen stages. It all takes place at Schoolcraft College, 18600 Haggerty Road, Livonia;

Beach House

Beach House

July 18

The Baltimore duo of guitarist-keyboardist Alex Scally and singer-organist Victoria Legrand debuted in 2006 with a self-titled disc of blurry, ethereal dream-pop that instantly made waves in indie music circles thanks to Legrand's hushed, almost somber vocals and Scally's careful instrumentation. Their rep was bolstered even further with 2008's Devotion, which saw Beach House raising its emotive languor to cinematic heights. The upward swing continued with 2010's, Teen Dream and this year's Bloom, a beautiful and shining showcase of the music's understated majesty. With Wild Nothing at 8 p.m. at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-858-9333; $18 advance.


July 21

Detroit's own Elzhi (aka Jason Powers) accomplished something special in 2011: He remixed Nas' Illmatic — one of the most revered hip-hop albums of all time — into Elmatic, a stunning re-imagining that combined his adoration for the original with fresh invention. Critics were love-struck. It didn't hurt that he was already one of the most respected emcees around, serving on the front lines during Detroit rap battles in the '90s, touring as a member of Slum Village in the '00s, and releasing solo mixtapes that are now underground classics. He's an intelligent word-twister, delivering complicated rhyme schemes with bold clarity. Elzhi is currently on a world tour in support of a new album set to release this fall. Doors at 8 p.m. at St. Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit, 313-961-8961; $10.


July 21-22

This interactive art festival returns to Detroit for a second year, expanding to two days of no-cost arty fun on Belle Isle. The goal of the volunteer-run event is to provide the community with a free and accessible art experience, with emphasis on works that involve audience participation and blur the lines between creator and spectator. A wide range of art is expected, from music, performance and games to sculpture, site-specific installations and workshops. Last year's projects included everything from interactive storytelling and screenprinting to dance workshops and even the painting of an ice cream truck. FIGMENT was founded in New York in 2007 and now takes place in multiple cities across the country. In Detroit, the fest happens from noon to 6 p.m. on Belle Isle in Detroit; for a map of artworks and schedule of events, visit

Maker Faire

July 28-29

This celebration and showcase of DIY inventiveness has become one of the most anticipated events of the summer, bringing hundreds of exhibitors, demos and workshops to the grounds of the Henry Ford for two days of mind-bending innovation. Attendees can learn how to fix, make, alter and customize everything from kites and bikes to tools and appliances; participate in musical performances and biology projects; and check out arts, crafts, local foodie offerings, student projects, robotics and much more. At the Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn; 313-982-6001;


Searching for Sugarman

August 3

The career of Detroiter Sixto Diaz Rodriguez begins with his late-'60s discovery in a local bar by producers Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore. Two trippy Dylanesque discs went nowhere as "Rodriguez" sank into obscurity. Improbably, bootlegs of the debut, Cold Facts, became massively popular anti-establishment anthems in apartheid-era South Africa; meanwhile rumors of an onstage suicide and other fictions shrouded the singer in mystery. Two South African fans set out on a years-long quest to find the stranger-than-rumor truth, and, equally unlikely, their journey is now the centerpiece of a film that won Sundance raves: "mixes detective work with the tale of the bewildering and poignant resurrection." The soundtrack Searching for Sugarman (Light in the Attic/Legacy) drops July 24, just before the film's Detroit debut at the Main Art in Royal Oak.

Childish Gambino

August 3

Comedy whiz kid, actor, Internet sensation, TV star, rapper — Donald Glover's rapidly rising career has many facets. Between TV shows and stand-up gigs, his hip-hop persona Childish Gambino has released several mixtapes featuring foul-mouthed rhymes over indie rock samples, as well as Camp, his debut LP released last year. His rhymes are packed full of pop culture references, but that doesn't detract from the intimate references to his own insecurities. He approaches his own trials and tribulations with humor and honesty, demonstrating a lyrical prowess that proves his foray into music is no joke. At the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; tickets start at $25.

Corpus Illuminata II

August 10-11

Corpus Illuminata: An Anatomic Interpretation offers a multifaceted artistic exploration of anatomy, biology, medicine and the human form. Along with anatomy-inspired artworks by an array of international artists, the show also features a display of rare Victorian-era medical equipment and scientific oddities, and demonstrations and lectures on a variety of medical topics. Now in its second year, the event has added a bazaar for the sale and trading of medical antiquities and related items, as well as an auction of particularly obscure and juicy items. Corpus Illuminata takes place from 6 p.m. to midnight both nights at Hastings Street Ballroom, 715 E. Milwaukee St., Detroit; further info at

Bonnie Raitt with special guest Mavis Staples

August 16

Pops Staples' most talented daughter has been in rare form in recent years, with a crack band that understands what it is to play fervently in support of the star attraction (and echo Pops' eerie guitar tremolo). We suspect that her repertoire is going to keep some of the tunes she worked up for last year's Jeff Tweedy-produced You Are Not Alone. And we can't help to wonder whether she'll join headliner Bonnie Raitt's group for a tune or two (or vice versa). Vocalist and slide guitarist extraordinaire Raitt, like Staples, has been at the top of her game of late.

The Wiyos

August 18

This Brooklyn-based outfit explores the complete range of roots music, from Western swing and old-time country to ragtime and Tin Pan Alley. And while the appropriation of vintage American sounds has become something of a tired fad, the Wiyos' seamless integration of so many styles, combined with their superb musicianship, songwriting and boundless energy, make them something wholly new (yes, new!). Their most recent disc, Twist, is an adventurous Americana opus loosely based on The Wizard of Oz, with tunes sure to benefit from the group's notorious energetic live treatment. At New Center Park, 2998 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit; free;

Lamb of God

August 22

Preaching the gospel of real American death metal since the late '90s, Virginia's Lamb of God relies on the standbys of the genre to create their mind-crushing sound — thunderous drumming, smoking riffs and relentless screaming. The raw intensity of their sound is unmatched, although tour mates Dethklok, the virtual band that stars in Adult Swim's Metalocalpyse, come pretty close. Joined by French metal outfit Gojira, the show promises to be the most extreme event of the summer, not to be missed by any self-respecting metalhead. At Compuware Arena, 14900 Beck Rd., Plymouth; 877-271-1280;

Kathy Kosins

August 24

The singer keeps busy on the road with her hometown-area stops too infrequent. This one celebrates her latest disc, To the Ladies of Cool (Resonance), which salutes 1950s jazz stars Anita O'Day, June Christy, Chris Connor and Julie London not by echoing their styles (let alone their mannerisms) but by squeezing Kosin's rather more expressionistic vocals into the cooler trappings these forerunners favored. A flattering fit, and she pulls it off (evoking Frank O'Hara's comparison of good poetry to snug jeans). And while Kosins delivers some of the four songbirds' better-known tunes, she'll also wow you with lesser-known works that sound like they should have been hits. At 8 p.m., Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-769-2999; 

Detroit Jazz Festival

August 31-September 5

The Detroit International Jazz Festival is back for its 33rd year. They're marketing themselves to the extended national (and international) jazz community. This year the festival veers toward the hardcore with nary a feint to blues, rock or world fusion to be heard. But the schedule is chock full of the biggest names in jazz: Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, the Chick Corea-Gary Burton team, Wynton Marsalis and Joe Lovano, for instance. Pat Metheny is here, but even he's with one of his jazz-focused lineups (Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams). Another big change this year is an emphasis on big productions behind local musicians. Charlie Gabriel gets feted for his 80th birthday in addition to his gig with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Marcus Belgrave is featured with an all-star ensemble of comrades and mentees (Curtis Fuller, Kenny Garrett, Geri Allen, Marion Hayden, and Louis Hayes).

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