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Why finding live music in Detroit is not as easy as it should be





The message about the upcoming show came from a neighbor via our neighborhood association, and as a lifelong fan/worshiper/follower of the funk and any and all things funky, I knew I had to be there. This was not an option. The message promised the following:
 
Get Funked up Saturday October 11th in Detroit's historical North End! FREE North End Community Event. The Garage, 7615 Oakland Avenue, Detroit, MI, 48211 at Bethune. Doors open at 5. Performances begin at 6:30. The Legacy of Funk Performance will demonstrate that much of the music sampled in today's hip-hop sound originated with P-Funk. For the unprecedented performance, the Funk Band features Parliament/Funkadelic alumnus Carl "Butch" Small (percussions), T-Money Green (bass), GabeGonzales (drums), Walter "Hazmat" Howard (keyboards), Duminie Deporres (guitar), Dames Brown, a soul/house/techno female trio act, produced by soul/funk man Amp Fiddler.
 
I never even knew there was a place called The Garage that close to my house, but you'd best believe I found it that night. I was there with my wife 30 minutes early for what turned out to be an absolutely great show, right there in the 'hood -- for free! -- featuring some of Detroit's finest laying down beats and grooves like only Detroit's finest can. The weather was comfortable and the crowd was friendly and geeked. At least a couple hundred bodies crowded into the spare open-air brick structure which featured a stage, lights, a sound system, and funk. Loads of funk. Straight, no chaser, no extras.
 
So realizing that not everyone at that event got the notice via my neighborhood association, I was curious how the word got out about the show. But on a much broader level, I've wondered for a while how the word gets out on a mass scale about where to go to find the music on any given night or day in what I still contend is the music capital of the world. Music isn't just what we do, it's who we are. It's consecrated in the blood.

Live music at Baker's Keyboard Lounge
 
But to look at how music is promoted in this town compared to other lesser musical Meccas, you'd never know it. Just imagine for a moment that you're not a Detroiter who already has the inside scoop on the scene, but a visitor in from out of town for a conference. You have some spare time to burn and want to hear some music, so how do you locate the best venues to hear some jazz? Blues? Rock? R&B? Is there any central location that everyone knows has it all covered? Is Detroit even promoting itself as a destination music location in the same way that New Orleans does?
 
And no, I'm not at all suggesting Detroit should be New Orleans. But it doesn't hurt to accept a hint and a lesson from time to time when it can make you a better you. In that spirit, I decided to start by checking out how Austin, Memphis, and New Orleans -- music Meccas all -- were promoting their musical bona fides online. Here's some of what I found:
 
Austin -- From a featured page on austintexas.org entitled LIVE MUSIC IS IN OUR ROOTS: "First-time visitors might be surprised to find themselves being entertained with live music as they walk through the terminal at Austin's airport after deplaning. But they shouldn't be. Live music, and music in many other forms, is everywhere in Austin. Musicians play in everything from grocery stores (Central Market, Whole Foods) to city council meetings."
 
Memphis -- From memphistravel.com, THE HEADLINE IS MEMPHIS MUSIC: "It's the Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll, the Home of the Blues and the starting point of soul. Music legends including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, W.C. Handy and Otis Redding made their marks on Memphis, where you can hear their influences today. To complete the 'musical medley,' visit Graceland, Sun Studio, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum. At night, take a walk down Beale Street and listen to the live music Memphis makes today." The site even offers a downloadable app that will guide you to local music venues and sites of interest.
 
New Orleans -- A quote from New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres is featured on neworleansonline.com, 'The Official Guide of New Orleans': "What's New Orleans without music? And what's music without dancing?" Simple and direct. And then there's the built in radio station link for Authentic New Orleans Music that is available "for your listening pleasure 24 hours a day, seven days a week." And the links to the symphony, Cajun music, jazz music jazz clubs, music clubs, festivals, and on and on…
 
Each of these three tourism sites heavily promotes local music and celebrates it as an essential, integral part of what makes these cities great. And yet, as wonderful as each of these three cities is, none of them can rival Detroit when it comes to the sheer depth of musical diversity, history, and talent across the board.
 
So then why is Detroit so reluctant to let its trumpet sound?


 
It's not that there aren't listings of where to go, it's just that you have to know where to look (or who to ask) to find out where to go. To date there still isn't a single all-encompassing location that makes the case for Detroit music in the same way that Austin, Memphis, or New Orleans does so well. The Metro Times, Detroit's alt weekly, remains the region's primary go-to location for arts and music happenings in the area, which is certainly valuable to tourists and locals alike in search of Detroit music.  There are other sites such as Jazz Near You, which does an admirable job of chronicling the when and where of the local jazz scene, or Ixiti, which is somewhat similar to the Metro Times in that it chronicles the goings-on in the broader music and arts scene.
 
But as helpful as sites such as these can be, they don't (nor should they be expected to) rival the full court press of a site dedicated to promoting the music of Detroit as a major part of the reason to visit Detroit; it's rich history and culture combined with current/upcoming musical events and relevant sites/organizations such as the Motown Historical Museum, the Carr Center, the Detroit Sound Conservancy, The Detroit Blues Society, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and many others. Currently on visitdetroit.com, the tourism site sponsored by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, there is the option of manually searching for musical (and other) events, but otherwise there is scarce reference to anything musical about the Detroit area.
 
The rest of the world knows they are standing in the shadow of Motown when it comes to music, but Motown remains strangely, sadly, curiously in the shadow of other lesser musical Meccas when it comes to standing up for and promoting who we are as a global musical powerhouse.
 
Why is Detroit so reluctant to let its trumpet sound?

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Keith Owens is a Detroit-based writer and musician. He co-founded the Green  Garage-based company
 Detroit Ink Publishing with his wife Pamela Hilliard Owens.

Photos by Marvin Shaouni.
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