How the Detroit All-Star Garage Rock Punk Revue went from punk scene reunion to a full-blown festival

Michael Smith, aka Smitt E. Smitty.
Michael Smith, aka Smitt E. Smitty. Courtesy photo

Known as "Smitty" to all of his cohorts, 60-year-old Michael Smith changed his stage name long ago when he realized "there's about 6 million Michael Smiths out there." The Detroit punk scene veteran says he knew from a very young age that he was destined to be different: "I consider myself very lucky that I was 7 years old the first time the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan," he says. "Because of that, armies of garage bands came to be because everybody wanted to be in a band after that."

Though the Beatles may have inspired younger kids to pick up instruments and try their chops at songwriting, Smith says that the Detroit area carried a specific flavor of rock music — the raw power of the Stooges and MC5 — that started a very different type of rock scene in the Motor City. "The thing about the Stooges and [MC5] when they first came out, a lot of people who were really into rock 'n' roll couldn't stand them," Smith recalls. "So if you liked them, you were a total outcast."

Many of these outcasts will take to the stage — some for the first time in years — on Saturday for the Detroit All-Star Garage Rock Punk Revue III at the Tangent Gallery and Hastings Street Ballroom. First started by Smith in 2015, this year's festival is stacked to be the biggest Punk Revue yet, with more than 20 artists on the bill — hard-hitters like Jerry Vile's 21st Century Boners, the Hysteric Narcotics, Cinecyde, the Seatbelts, and more — along with Smith, who will perform his debut solo record, Just a Modern Guy, live at the Rock Revue III. This year's festival is even getting a little highbrow, with a punk scene panel discussion held beforehand at Third Man Records.

"This is my own personal take on celebrating Detroit music," Smith says. "All my musical sensibilities were already developed and influenced by the Detroit music scene that I had grown up with. By far, Detroit has the most robust music scene of any city — not just in the country, but on the planet — and I am so happy and proud and thankful that I was able to be raised and have my music sensibilities formed by being in Detroit."

Smith went on to form six punk projects, including Figures on a Beach — the band that took him away from Detroit to Boston, where he has resided for the past 33 years. As Smith tells it, the band was gaining some traction in New York, so they decided to make the move to its more affordable neighbor. Soon after, the band got signed to Sire Records, and Smith and company were able to live out their punk rock fantasy.

"Our hearts were always in Detroit, though," says Smith. "We really did look for any excuse we could to get back to Detroit and play shows and that never stopped, no matter what band I was playing in."

What started as a reunion of bands that Smith grew up playing with has grown into a full-blown festival, featuring both punk bands of the past and present. Boners frontman Jerry Vile says he never expected the festival to be anything more than a nostalgic gathering.

"The surprising thing is that I figured punk rock, or whatever, would just be a fad," he says. "I'm really surprised that there would still be interest in this from anyone who didn't live through it and isn't going to it from like a high school reunion point of view."

Vile admits that he wasn't always the most popular guy in "punk high school." "It wasn't 'peace and love,'" he says. "I'm sure there's a lot of people that might still hate me. I was not a gentle soul. There was a lot of fights back then — you know, fisticuffs." All beefs aside, this show will be an emotional one for Vile, who says it well may be his last time performing on stage. "They may think I went on one time too many," he says with a laugh.

Detroit All-Star Garage Rock Punk Revue III starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4 at the Tangent Gallery and Hastings Street Ballroom, 715 E. Milwaukee St., Detroit; 313-873-2955; 18 and older; Tickets are $17 advance, $20 at the door. A panel discussion will also be held from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. at Third Man Records, 441 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-209-5205;; free admission.

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