Motor City Muscle festival merges two top Detroit exports — muscle cars and rock music 

click to enlarge Garage rock favorites the Gories perform on Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Motor City Muscle festival.

Doug Coombe

Garage rock favorites the Gories perform on Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Motor City Muscle festival.

It's one of those ideas that's so obvious it's a wonder nobody thought of it before: Extend the Woodward Dream Cruise, our annual celebration of classic cars, beyond Oakland County and into, you know, the actual Motor City.

The inaugural Motor City Muscle festival aims to do just that. The free, three-day festival is part car show and part music festival, a celebration of muscle cars and rock 'n' roll music set to feature more than 120 bands across seven stages and occupying a footprint that includes Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park.

"It's bringing together Detroit Rock City and the Motor City," says festival communications manager Madeline Buchel. "And they go hand-in-hand. There are so many rock songs about cars, and people think about listening to rock music and driving in their car. It was just kind of harmony between the two of them, two icons of Detroit that sort of catalyzed the idea of the festival."

The hope is that the fest will draw people downtown from the Woodward Dream Cruise route, which traditionally extends from Eight Mile Road to the M-1 Concourse in Pontiac. That could be good news for Detroit, traffic jams be damned: Now in its 24th year, the one-day car cruise is estimated to attract more than 1 million spectators (some of which travel to Michigan from all over the world), and is estimated to pump some $240 million into the local economy.

But Buchel is quick to point out that Motor City Muscle is not officially affiliated with the Dream Cruise, nor is it a rival event. "It's very important to us that people know that we think of the Dream Cruise and Motor City Muscle as complementary events," she says. For one, the Cruise features moving cars parading down Woodward Avenue. In Motor City Muscle's footprint, Woodward is closed off to make way for "Muscletown," which will feature parked cars in a more traditional car show format — where they'll be judged, with prizes awarded to the best cars.

"We're excited to have that presence, and to be able to offer something for people who may have come from out of town — something that gets them downtown," Buchel says. "I think they can play off each other very nicely."

The festival was dreamed up by Carol Marvin, an event producer who might be better known to techno-heads as a founder of the original Memorial Day weekend Detroit Electronic Music Festival back when it was a free event in Hart Plaza in 2000. (The present-day Memorial Day weekend electronic music festival, run by Paxahau since 2006, is now known as Movement Electronic Music Festival.) Before that, Marvin served as the corporate sponsorship director for the Detroit International Jazz Festival, which is also in Hart Plaza.

Buchel says the Motor City Muscle name goes back to 2008, when Marvin hosted a one-day car and art show at the now-defunct CPOP Gallery with 2005-6 Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo. (Pardo helped Marvin wrangle the cars for the MCM, and designed the event's official poster.) Motor City Muscle has other origins in Marvin's previous work, as Marvin has been doing corporate sponsorships for Campus Martius Park programming. It's also not the first time Marvin dreamed up a free festival for the park: In 2013, Marvin announced a return of the DEMF brand, envisioned as a free electronic music festival to take place in Campus Martius Park during Independence Day weekend, but that project eventually got derailed due to QLine construction.

Buchel says the festival has a three-year contract, and the first year's lineup is stacked with bands representing the full spectrum of rock 'n' roll music. Classic rock is represented in performances from KISS founder Ace Frehley, former Journey lead vocalist Steve Augeri, and Space Oddity Live, a David Bowie tribute act. There's old-school punk from the Dead Kennedys, and Belinda Carlisle of the new wave band the Go-Gos. There's hip, buzzworthy indie rock acts like Danish band Iceage. And, of course, there's plenty of Motor City rock bands on the bill, too — including favorites like Death, the Gories, Sponge, the Detroit Cobras, Mexican Knives, Tart, Matthew Smith, Craig Brown Band, and much more. In addition, "The Underground" stage, curated by Carey Loren from punk band Destroy All Monsters, will feature film screenings and other programming, including a book reading and signing from MC5's Wayne Kramer, who will read from his new autobiography, The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities.

"The range that we've gotten is something I think is really unique to this festival," Buchel says. "There's a difference between curating a lineup for a festival where you have to sell tickets and kind of having the freedom to just say, 'This is what we think will be really cool, and bring together all different kinds of people, and will represent all these different kinds of rock music.'"

Motor City Muscle is from noon to midnight on Friday, Aug. 17 through Sunday, Aug. 19 in and around Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park, Detroit; 313-829-7373; See motorcitymuscle.us for full map and schedule; Festival is free, VIP day passes include catering and are $75 and available until noon on Thursday or at the festival for $90.

Get our top picks for the best events in Detroit every Thursday morning. Sign up for our events newsletter.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.