Model D Plans Your Summer for You: The Best of Detroit's Fests

Hot-diggity! Summer is here in Detroit, which means a jam-packed calendar of festivals and events that make even the most driven traveler question a departure from D-town. In fact, so much is happening on any given weekend – much of it free – that it's almost painful to head out of town.

Our solution? Stay put.

Save on gas. Instead, spend your energy dancing in the street. Save on hotels. Get a good night's rest knowing you supported the local economy, and local musicians and artists. Save on time. Use it to stir the senses with fanciful performances and wild music, instead of sitting in an I-75 traffic jam. Save on the stress. This summer's events will replenish your soul, provide excuses to ditch the backyard chores, and bring us together under the banner of good music, historic pride, and blossoming art and film.

To get you started, Model D has collected a smattering of not-to-miss events. So grab your flip-flops, Tigers' cap, and spirit of adventure – because we believe that this summer some of the best adventures both start and end in Detroit.

June 6-8
Festival of the Arts, Midtown
Shee-bang – start your summer here. On-stage hair sculpture by a band of freaky stylists; surreal, roving insects on stilts; asphalt chalk art and puppet shows for the kiddos; and block after block of fine art, from glasswork to metal sculpture, are all part of this year's Festival of the Arts in Midtown. Music is wildly eclectic, encircling the globe. Don't miss: A collision of Mexican beats, East European sounds, Balkan gypsy music and American jazz with Slavic Soul Party! at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 7.

June 9
"Even Dwarfs Started Small" at Barbequed Movie Night, Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit
Every Monday night through Labor Day, Mother Nature willing, CAID hosts Barbequed Movie Night under the stars at its Rosa Parks Boulevard hub. Grill fires up at 9 p.m., short films run at 9:30 p.m., features roll at 10 p.m. sharp, and beers are on ice all night. Motel Hell, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and other B-movies, cult classics, and odder-than-odd documentaries are on the docket throughout the summer. Don't worry: You won't miss Faster, Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill! and your other warped favorites: Movies will play inside in case of rain.

June 12-14
Rock City, Majestic Theatre Complex
Phooey to spending those balmy June nights out of doors. Shouldn't every rock n' roll festival that's really a rock n' roll festival take place in a smoky club with sticky, beer-spilled floors? Detour, that ballsy music-and-movie reviewing, live-show-scouting website hosts this quintessentially Detroit event that showcases 50 local bands over three nights (think a summer version of the Blowout under one roof). Don't miss: Thursday night at the Magic Stick with SSM headlining – hold on to your head.

June 13-21
8 Days in June, Max M. Fisher Music Center
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra presents a funky collage of classical, chamber and jazz music with drama, poetry, visual art and plenty of eccentricities thrown in for good measure. Detroit Zoo frogs take the stage in the Music Box; Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody is performed with the first successful electronic instrument invented in 1923; and cool lectures and films round out this baker's dozen week.  Don't miss: In conjunction with 8 Days, New Music Detroit will enchant audiences with contemporary chamber music at MOCAD on Friday, June 13, 10:30 p.m. And Model D hosts its 3-year b-day bash June 20 with a speaker series, cocktails and DJs, followed by the big show – our readers get a discount. Details are here.

June 20-23
River Days, Detroit RiverWalk
Back for its second year, the event along the river in front of the Ren Cen and down to the carousel at Rivard Plaza has six stages of free music, tastings from local restaurants, dog jumping exhibitions and carnival rides. The real action is on the river, where jet skis, Coast Guard boats and hydroplanes offer demos. Plus you can catch a ride on a riverboat or helicopter. Don't miss: DTE Energy Parade of Lights features boats from around the state decked out for the nighttime show at 10 p.m., June 21.

June 26-29
Detroit Windsor International Film Festival, Detroit and Windsor
This inaugural two-country event will showcase films, hold workshops on cool stuff like animation and voiceover, and conduct demonstrations on stunt moves and special effects makeup. Films, events and music supporting our local film culture will happen at arts and education venues in Windsor and Detroit, including Wayne State University, Detroit Public Library, Scarab Club, University of Windsor, College for Creative Studies, DIA and other venues. Don't miss: CineFlow TechFair at CCS for all the cool insider film stuff.

July 2-6
Cityfest, New Center
Free continuous music on four stages, 40 local restaurants doling out their specialties, and an incredibly diverse, friendly crowd that makes you proud to be a Detroiter are all part of this first-rate hootenanny (formerly called Tastefest). Food and drink will cost you, but the mix of local and national entertainment is free. This year's Cityfest hosts big name acts like George Clinton, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, De La Soul and Calexico. Don't miss: Dancing in the street to the Latin groove of Grupo Fantasmo at 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on July 3.

July 11-13
Detroit APBA Gold Cup, Detroit River, east of Belle Isle bridge
Better known at the hydroplane races, this event is a must-see for lovers of speed, sun and water. Taking place along the Detroit River, you can watch vision-blurring boats rev it up to 200 mph. at this nearly 100-year-old Detroit tradition. Don't miss: Viewing from the Waterworks Park grandstands is free on Friday, July 11.

July 13-19
E-M-F Centennial, Piquette Avenue Ford Plant
This weeklong, amazing slice of automotive history celebrates the people, automobiles and legacy of the Everett-Metzger-Flanders Company. Before starting E-M-F, Walter Flanders worked down the street for Henry Ford and helped develop the Model T. Bus tours to rarely seen auto heritage sites, special guests and lectures, gala dinners and optional urban touring are among the activities.
Don't miss: The largest ever collection of E-M-F and Flanders vehicles at the Piquette Plant.

July 17-20
Concert of Colors, Max M. Fisher Music Center
A menagerie of music, food, crafts and activities, the Concert of Colors celebrates diversity by showcasing bands from the far reaches of Africa, South America, Europe and Central America. And there's no shortage of roots music from the good old USA. The only drawback is the festival's move to an inside venue. Behind the scenes: New Detroit's Cultural Exchange Network of 40 cultural groups supports the bands with food and necessities, welcoming them to our region.

August 8-10
Detroit Festival of Speed and Style, Campus Martius
Be part of Detroit's love affair with the automobile at this downtown event celebrating classic and vintage automobiles. A marriage of sorts between the down-home Dream Cruise and hobnob-ish Concours d'Elegance, the Festival of Speed and Style features a car parade, historic exhibits and plenty of cool cars on display all weekend. Don't miss: The low riders custom car show on Friday, August 8.

August 22
Fourth Fridays with Ford, Campus Martius
If it's 8 p.m. on fourth Friday of the month and you're not here, you're gonna kick yourself later. Wind down summer with this high-energy line-up: the Afro-beat, jazz- and funk-infused NOMO of Detroit with internationally known reggae headliner, Julian Marley. (Note, there are also free Fourth Fridays outdoor concert series in June with a focus on jazz and funk, and in July it's the Bacon Brothers' country-folk-rock show -- watch Kevin get "footloose" in Motown, bet he doesn't get that one enough.) Don't miss: Between acts at the August show, Orchesta Sensacional blasts out the Latin beats at 9:30 p.m.

August 29-31
Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
Here's another one for the motor sports fans! Car racing in Detroit doesn't get much better than this as Indy Cars rocket around a track surrounded by the blue-green Detroit River and Belle Isle's fountains and foliage. Back from last year, after a previous six-year hiatus, and championed by Detroit's biggest cheerleader, Roger Penske, this loud and fast Labor Day weekend event will make you a quick fan of car racing. Bring your ear plugs! Don't miss: Free Prix Day on Friday, August 29.

August 29-September 1
Detroit International Jazz Festival, Hart Plaza to Campus Martius
A whopping 29 years and running, this year's Detroit International Jazz Festival focuses on the jazz and soul traditions of Philadelphia and Detroit, and is so dubbed The Philly/Detroit Summit. Whether you're a fan of jazz guitar, a lover of the big Motown sounds, or a straight-line classic jazz aficionado, this three-day, four-night festival won't disappoint. Although gigantic in size – last year's crowd hit 750,000 – the scene is upbeat and mellow, and offerings on six stages are top-notch for both local and national jazz acts.  Don't miss: "A Saturday Night Fish Fry," spotlighting Hammond B-3 masters with Reuben Wilson's Godfathers of Groove, Robin Eubanks + EB3, and Joey DeFrancesco with Karriem Riggins and Christian McBride.

September 6 (rain date: Sept. 7)
Dally in the Alley, Midtown
A perfect cure for those post-Labor Day, end-of-summer blues! Weaving through Cass Corridor alleys at Forest and Second streets, this festival had a pure, sleepy, funky beginning in 1982 (with roots dating back to 1977). Sure, you can still get tie-dyed t-shirts and other local art and eats, but now there are four stages, including one dedicated to electronic music, and no shortage of enthused festival-goers. Get ready for 12 hours of darting between stages, milling through cool art in shaded allies, and rubbing elbows with Detroit's hippest residents. Don't miss: Dally. Seriously. You'll regret it.

Did we miss your event? Want more? No worries, FilterD keeps weekly tabs on all that's going on in the D. Send your info to editor Walter Wasacz.

Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.


Dally in the Alley

In front of Ren Cen, on the River Walk

Piquette Avenue Ford Plant

Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

Read more articles by Melinda Clynes.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Model D. She is the statewide project editor of Michigan Kids, a series of stories that highlight what’s working to improve outcomes for Michigan children. View her online portfolio here.
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