Metro Detroit concerts come storming back: A look at what’s ahead at DTE and other venues

charlie wilson

Brian McCollum

Detroit Free Press


At 6 Sunday morning, the catering crew will pull up to DTE Energy Music Theatre and make its way backstage. Production staffers will start showing up a couple of hours later. Fans will roll into the parking lot that afternoon, and doors will open at 6 p.m.

And finally, at about 7:30 p.m., Chicago will step onto the DTE stage — presumably to a pent-up roar from the crowd — to end a 665-day concert hiatus for America’s most successful summer amphitheater.

In the era of COVID-19, not much is set in stone. But as things stand, Chicago’s DTE show marks the opening of the floodgates as concerts return in full force across metro Detroit.

The veteran band with the big brass attack is fitting for the return of DTE, which ranked No. 1 nationally in attendance in 2019: Chicago has played the former Pine Knob more than any act in the venue’s history, logging 80-plus performances.

“We’ve been working very, very hard to get to this moment,” said Howard Handler, president of 313 Presents, which produces and promotes events at DTE and five other major venues. “We can’t wait to open the doors wide.”

Live music never technically stopped during the pandemic. Along with the array of online shows and drive-in events that popped up as a stopgap in 2020, there were scaled-down, socially distanced festivals and concerts-in-the-park.

And we’ve already had a taste of bigger stuff in recent weeks, including three shows at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre, country maverick Jamey Johnson’s electric night at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre and last weekend’s Faster Horses Festival, which drew about 40,000 to Michigan International Speedway.

But this is the week concerts come back big time.

Rock band Chicago

At Detroit’s big four amphitheaters — DTE, Michigan Lottery, the Aretha, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre — more than 70 shows are on the books through early October. Comerica Park will also be humming with music again, and some of the region’s familiar music festivals are on the way.

For a 2½-month stretch, there will be a major concert in metro Detroit nearly every night of the week.

“The excitement from the artists and fans is palpable,” said Dave Clark, president of Live Nation’s Great Lakes Region. “You could feel it at Faster Horses — I had goosebumps when the artists walked onstage and heard the roar of the crowd. It’s something you can’t duplicate. That relationship is something so unique and special.”

The indoor action is revving up again, too: Club calendars are heavily stocked with shows by both local and touring acts, while midsized venues will soon welcome music again, including rooms such as Royal Oak Music Theatre (Tanya Tucker, Aug. 11), the Fox Theatre (Il Divo, Sept. 9) and the Fillmore Detroit (State Champs, Sept. 19).Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

At Little Caesars Arena, a busy stretch of shows is lined up, starting with Yo Gotti’s CMG Takeover on Aug. 28.

Notably, more than 16 months after COVID-19 hit, nearly every live-music spot in Michigan is intact — not what many would have predicted in March 2020 if they had known venues would be dark for a year-plus. Clubs in Warren (Hot Rock Bar) and Lansing (the Loft) announced permanent closures, but the scene is otherwise resurrecting to its pre-pandemic state.

“It’s great because that’s definitely not the case in other states,” said Nate Dorough of Audiotree Presents, a concert promoter closely involved with the new National Independent Venues Association (NIVA).

R&B singer Charlie Wilson

NIVA, hastily formed in spring 2020 by onetime competitors, spearheaded efforts at state and federal levels to secure a lifeline for imperiled venues. In Michigan, that led to $3.4 million in state-funded emergency grants, which were distributed to more than 100 venues and promoters earlier this year.

Nationally, the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant — described by some as the biggest single instance of arts funding in world history — has begun to pay out to thousands of US venues, including many in Michigan.

At 313 Presents — which oversees entertainment events at DTE, LCA, Michigan Lottery, Meadow Brook, the Fox and Comerica — Handler said his team has stayed in “constant communication” with health officials and others in the industry as it navigated the pandemic downtime. With so many unknowns as the months unfolded, the concert schedule was a fluid, ever-changing chess game.

“Back in February, we thought September 1 was going to be the date, to be honest,” Handler said. “Things started to percolate as the vaccine rolled out, and by April, there was a certain amount of critical mass. We’ve been ready to come back for a while, and so many artists were itching to get back on the road. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.”

The coming weeks are heavy on country artists, who were the first to get out of the gate as touring came back to life. Brian O’Connell, head of Live Nation’s country division, said it was natural for Nashville’s performers and crews to quickly step on the gas.

“We’re nimble, we’re in one place, and the production doesn’t need 16 months of planning,” O’Connell said. “When it was safe and deemed appropriate to do it, we were coming.”

Chris Stapleton performs during "A Grammy Salute to the Sounds of Change."

As DTE Energy Music Theatre resumes operations, concertgoers will encounter some new developments: To speed up entry times, the venue has enacted a no-bag policy, eliminating part of the security checks at gates. Wallet-sized pouches, small purses and medical bags are still allowed.

Like many venues in the business, it’s also moving toward an all-digital ticketing system — your pass is on your mobile device — although with many fans still holding printed tickets from more than a year ago, it’s not 100% yet.

DTE’s VIP space, the Ivy Lounge, has been upgraded, including a new entrance direct from the parking lot.

And in a significant move on the sponsorship front, the venue has its first cannabis partner. Troy-based Lume, which operates dispensaries across the state, signed a five-year deal that will call for branding throughout the amphitheater and a 6,000-square-foot “Tree House” lounge by DTE’s west entrance. (Cannabis sales and consumption remain barred on the premises.)

DTE Energy Music Theatre

Handler said 313’s venues are in good shape with staffing — something that has been a hurdle for many other part-time and summer employers amid the pandemic. But jobs remain available, and those interested can visit ilitchcompanies.com to apply.

The Aretha, on Detroit’s riverfront, has also issued a callout for seasonal staffing, and applications can be submitted at thearetha.com.

While many of the coming shows have been on sale for months — some even for nearly two years — fans have a chance to grab last-minute seats for $20 and no service fees as part of a US-wide Live Nation promotion.

The $20 deal, which will start at noon Wednesday and run while tickets last, includes 35 shows at 313 Presents’ local amphitheaters, with dates such as the Black Crowes (Thursday), James Taylor-Jackson Browne (Aug. 1), the Counting Crows (Aug. 15) and Boyz II Men (Aug. 26).

The list of eligible $20 shows can be found at 313Presents.com.

“Live music at our amphitheaters is one of the rites of summer for Detroiters. And Detroiters are some of the best music fans in the world,” said Handler, a metro Detroit native who was named 313 Presents president in late 2019. “I’ve been everywhere — there’s just nothing like a Detroit audience. And we’re thrilled to welcome people back.”

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

Notable concerts at major venues through October

DTE Energy Music Theatre

Chris Stapleton, Aug. 6-7: The behind-the-scenes songwriter-turned-country sensation stages a hot two-night stand.

Lady A, Aug. 13: The band formerly known as Lady Antebellum will bring the harmonies and hits as it tops the latest edition of the WYCD Hoedown.

Korn with Staind, Aug. 31: Korn headlines with vintage nu-metal as Staind makes its first appearance here in nearly a decade.

Kiss, Sept. 1: Kiss hits the Detroit Rock City suburbs as its End of the Road farewell tour moves on.

Dead and Company, Sept. 10: John Mayer is on guitar as Mickey Hart, Bob Weir and friends carry the Grateful Dead torch.

Alanis Morissette performs at O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on March 04, 2020 in London

Alanis Morissette, Sept. 12: The Canadian alt-rock starlet revisits “Jagged Little Pill,” with newly added opener Cat Power. (The originally announced Liz Phair is no longer on the bill.)

Jonas Brothers, Sept. 14: The grown-up pop siblings take a break from the arenas for an amphitheater run.

NF, Sept. 24: Making his DTE debut, the homegrown Christian rapper brings the Cloud Tour in one of his biggest Michigan shows yet.

Alice Cooper, Sept. 25: Ace Frehley is in support as Cooper arrives in the wake of “Detroit Stories,” his nod to Motor City rock.

Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre

Erykah Badu, Sept. 11: Badu, a summertime staple on the Detroit riverfront, brings her poetic soul stylings to Sterling Heights.

TLC, Sept. 14: T-Boz and Chilli are “CrazySexyCool” as they celebrate the classic 1994 album.

Glass Animals, Oct. 2: The English quartet brings the gooey indie-pop textures on a tour supporting the 2020 album “Dreamland.”

Little Caesars Arena

Alan Jackson, Sept. 17: The easygoing country warhorse makes his first Detroit visit in eight years.

Harry Styles performs on the Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021.

Harry Styles, Sept. 20: The genre-shifting One Directioner at last gets to perform in the name of his 2019 sophomore album, “Fine Line.”

Blake Shelton, Oct. 1: Shelton’s LCA show was one of the first biggies canceled when the pandemic hit; he’ll finally hit the stage with Martina McBride, Tracy Byrd and Trace Adkins in support.

J. Cole, Oct. 5: “The Off-Season” gets a workout as J. Cole delivers the cinematic hip-hop in a show with opener 21 Savage.

Florida Georgia Line, Oct. 28: The country radio heavyweights arrive in support of the new album “Life Rolls On.”

Comerica Park

Guns N’ Roses, Aug. 8: Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan hit the Tigers’ ballpark for Detroit’s first stadium show since Garth Brooks did Ford Field in early 2020.

Green Day, Weezer and Fall Out Boy, Aug. 10: The Hella Mega Tour plays CoPa one year after originally scheduled.

Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre

Kem, Aug. 28: Suave and sultry R&B from the popular homegrown Detroit singer.

Jeezy and Fabolous, Sept. 3: Two rappers team up for a co-headlining blast of 2000s hip-hop.

Rapper Jeezy

Charlie Wilson, Sept. 18: Uncle Charlie brings the Gap Band hits and solo highlights.

Machine Gun Kelly, Sept. 21: The Ohio rapper visits the hometown of nemesis Eminem following the pop-punk-flavored album “Tickets to My Downfall.”

Meadow Brook Amphitheatre

Counting Crows, Aug. 15: Adam Duritz and company play in support of their latest record, “Butter Miracle, Suite One.”

Modest Mouse, Aug. 20: The veteran indie rockers bring the psychedelic atmospherics as they tour behind the new “The Golden Casket.”

Quinn XCII poses in front of his tour bus on Jan. 25, 2019.
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