You don't need a time machine to experience these historic metro Detroit music venues

The Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
The Ann Arbor Folk Festival. Courtesy of the Ark

Led Zeppelin once played the Grande Ballroom. For the Beatles' last Detroit performance, the Fab Four took to a sea of teenagers at Olympia Stadium. David Bowie performed a six-show run at Detroit's Michigan Palace Theater in 1973. The Pontiac Silverdome saw everyone from Elvis Presley, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones. While these venues may no longer be in operation, there is no shortage of living live music history in Michigan. Each of the following venues is still active and finding new ways to make history by booking both up-and-coming future superstars and chart-topping legends. Don't live vicariously through braggarts who recount the time they saw some act before they were famous — instead, you can just buy a ticket.

The Blind Pig

208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555;

When did it open: 1971. The Blind Pig started out as an espresso and coffee bar that featured mostly blues acts.

Historic moment: Just before Nevermind would thrust Nirvana into mainstream greatness, the legendary Seattle grunge outfit took the Blind Pig stage in front of a sold-out audience in 1990. A show that was expected to be at half-capacity quickly sold out in part due to Chris Cornell, who had performed at the venue a week earlier and told the Soundgarden crowd to come back next week to see Kurt Cobain and the boys. Fortunately, camcorder footage exists of the band's Blind Pig show on YouTube. Cobain would later tell MTV that the Blind Pig was Nirvana's favorite venue to play.

Fun fact: The Blind Pig's dressing room walls were once covered in signatures from every act to perform there until the band Gangster Fun decided to paint over them all. Side note — the band is no longer together.

The Ark

316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1800;

When did it open: 1965. For nearly 50 years, the Ark has operated as a nonprofit. It was first formed by several church representatives as a safe haven for students seeking expressive outlets amid political and social tensions before budding into a full-fledged music and poetry hub for newcomers and folk mainstays alike.

Historic moment: Notable acts who have performed at the Ark include Judy Collins, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Lucinda Williams, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, and comedian Gilda Radner. It's easy for the Ark to add to their impressive roster of performers, though — as the venue holds shows more than 300 nights a year.

Fun fact: The Ark also hosts the Ann Arbor Folk Festival — a star-studded concert and fundraiser for the venue. The folk fest is entering its 43rd and takes place at Hill Auditorium, featuring headliners like Emmylou Harris, Richard Thompson, Brandi Carlile, Kris Kristofferson, Donovan, Iron and Wine, and Jeff Tweedy.

The Shelter

431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-8961;

When did it open: 1907. The three-story nightclub and music venue, which includes the Shelter, originated as the meeting spot for the Saint Andrew's Scottish Society of Detroit. Though membership took a nosedive, the venue was rented out for concerts and other events starting in the 1950s.

Historic moment: While acts like Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, No Doubt, and Pearl Jam rocked the stage upstairs on the St. Andrew's Hall stage in the '90s, the 400-person-capacity Shelter downstairs has a life of its own. Acts like the White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age played early gigs here, as did Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, who cut his rap-battle teeth and would develop his Slim Shady persona. (In fact, the Shelter got a serious name-drop during major mic-drop scenes in Eminem's autobiographical rap drama, 8 Mile.)

Fun fact: Eminem produced a "Mom's Spaghetti" pop-up at the Shelter in 2017, where guests could literally eat spaghetti and buy merch as a nod to arguably Em's most quoted and meme'd line from 2002's "Lose Yourself" — he also made an appearance during the pop-up sans vomit on his sweater.

Fox Theatre

2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-3200;

When did it open: 1928. Designed by C. Howard Crane, Detroit's Fox Theatre was revered as "the most magnificent Temple of Amusement in the World." Elegant and sophisticated, the Fox Theatre scored National Historic Landmark status in 1989.

Historic moment: While there have been many incredible moments — namely Berry Gordy's Annual Motown Revue and hunka burnin' love himself, Elvis Presley — the Fox has made very recent history. Prince sold out the Fox in 2015 within minutes of announcing the date as part of his spontaneous Hit N' Run tour. Two years later, the Fox would make tragic headlines as the venue hosted Cornell's final performance as Soundgarden frontman in 2017. Less than two hours after the performance, Chris Cornell was found dead by apparent suicide in his Detroit hotel room.

Fun fact: The Fox first screened movies and christened the space with a screening of Street Angel — a silent film starring Janet Gaynor.


14238 Harper Ave., Detroit; 313-824-1700;

When did it open: 1939. Like many Detroit venues, Harpos was once a movie theater. But it wasn't converted to a rough-and-tumble rock club until 1974. Through the years it has been primarily known for metal and hip-hop acts. Harpos was purchased by the former owner of metal club Blondies, Ruzvelt Stevanovski , in 2017.

Historical moment: While all the metal greats passed through Harpos' curtain (Motörhead, Ronnie James Dio, Megadeth, and Slayer), the craziest stories come from the people who worked at and frequented the club, many of whom shared their experiences for a 2017 Metro Times cover story. From "wet T-shirt" and "hot buns" contests, to 50-cent beers and kamikaze shots in a barber's chair, to the likes of the late Lemmy and other acts roaming around the club like patrons, Harpos has had one wild ride.

Fun fact: Warrant recorded their live CD at Harpos in 1996 and Corrosion of Conformity, Black Label Society, and Hatebreed all filmed live DVDs at the iconic venue.

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