Hamtramck Rocks Out

Anthony Morrow can hardly contain his enthusiasm. He's on the phone talking about the Hamtramck Blowout, a music festival that he programs and promotes in Hamtramck the first week of March each year.

"Usually, I start to get nervous about now," says Morrow, only days before the four-day event kicks off on March 1. "But I feel so totally confident and excited about this year's line-up that it hasn't hit me yet. I think that's a good thing. I hope that's a good thing."

Morrow and other staffers at the Metro Times — which is putting on the Blowout for the ninth consecutive year in Hamtramck bars, clubs and social halls — have reason to be confident. This year's festival is set to run in 16 locations, including a kickoff party Wednesday at Detroit's Majestic Theatre Center on Woodward in Midtown. There are 200 acts scheduled, about 40 percent of them first-time performers at the Blowout. This year, Morrow says the event will not create showcases for particular styles of music, but will mix and match a variety of musicians at each venue.

"We went with a theme of musical integration," Morrow says. "We want people to see the bands they like at one spot, then jump to another location for another act they want to see. We want to see people moving around the city, walking or taking the shuttle, not just planted at the same place all night."

Why this will work, Morrow predicts, is that the Blowout is held in a community that is built for pedestrians in motion. Hamtramck is a city of neighborhoods, with easy access from one end of the two-square-mile town to the other. "We want to take full advantage of what Hamtramck has to offer," Morrow says. "That's why we chose to bring the Blowout here to begin with. There are not many places in Michigan where so many stages already exist, and where people can get to each location so easily."

Perfect situation

Each year, the Blowout attracts thousands of music fans to a city perfectly situated for commuting music fans. Hamtramck is about 10 minutes from downtown, seven minutes from Wayne State University and Detroit's Cultural Center and 15 minutes from southern Oakland and Macomb counties. You might need a car to get there, but once people hit the sidewalks, walking or shuttle buses provided by the Metro Times become the best options. There is also a sizable population of local fans and musicians who can simply step off their porches, round the corner and be within crawling distance of a Blowout venue.

Some of the area's top music spots are in this town, which national music mag Blender tapped as the country's No. 2 rock 'n' roll city a few years ago. Well before that, Hamtramck had become known as one of the first places in the area to embrace original punk and new wave music in the mid- to late-1970s. A dive called the Misty Inn booked the Romantics long before the band's hit 'What I Like About You" became a favored song at baseball stadiums and hockey arenas across the country. Then Lili's — where celebrity patrons like the Clash, Iggy Pop and the MC5's Wayne Kramer all once bellied up at the bar — started up a storied 25-year run as a hot spot for local and national rock acts. Later, it was Motor for techno, and Lush for electronic lounge and hip hop. All those businesses are now closed, but when the Blowout began in 1998 Hamtown's neighborhood music scene was given new life.

Some of the highlights of past events include appearances by White Stripes, The Go!, Wildbunch (which later morphed into the Electric Six), Brendan Benson and the Volebeats in 1999; the Paybacks, the Sights and Blanche in 2000; the Detroit Grand Pubahs and DJ Godfather in 2001; and 2002's event which featured Matt Dear, Tadd Mullinix, Midwest Product, Warn Defever and Saturday Looks Good to Me.

Size and quality

Jeff Garbus, whose store Record Graveyard is in perfect position to get the benefit of thousands of music fans who attend the Blowout, says the value of having a festival of this size and quality is easy to see but harder to define.

"You see people walking around the city that you don't normally see," says Garbus, whose store that sells vintage vinyl recently moved to a new location at Jos. Campau and Belmont St. "We're especially in a good spot to see all the pretty girls walking by. How it directly helps businesses is harder to measure."

A few doors north of the Graveyard at the Belmont Lounge, owner Darren Grow sees the benefits of the Blowout in similar terms.

"We definitely get people into our bar whose first experience of Hamtramck has been the Blowout," Grow says. "As far as business, I would guess that at least 80 percent of the bars in town double their sales for three days."

But Grow says that the intangibles brought in by the Blowout may be even more important.

"People come to Hamtramck, they like the music, the people, the accessibility," Grow says. "There's a unique atmosphere here that you don't find in too many other places. People come for the Blowout, but they come back later for other events. All of it is good for the city and good for business, in the long run."
Some of the other spots where fans can see bands this weekend include Baker's Streetcar, New Dodge Lounge, Paycheck's, Small's, the Painted Lady — which is housed in the same building that contained Lili's — and Cardinal Mercier Knights of Columbus Hall, the largest venue in the festival.

All over the map

There are potential musical highlights all over the map at this year's Blowout.

Up and comers the Holy Fire and Loretta & the Larkspurs are two of the bands playing the kickoff party at the Majestic; Dorkwave, a team made up of local DJs, promoters and special guests will spin records at the party. Other bands to look for throughout the weekend include the Hard Lessons, the Gore Gore Girls, the Avatars, Human Eye and underground hip hop from DJ Houseshoes with various guest emcees. Click here for a schedule with ticket information, maps and other essential details. Wristbands good for admission to the entire festival can be purchased at Majestic's pre-Blowout party for $15; the price goes up to $20 if you choose to buy it at the Knights of Columbus Hall (9632 Conant) Thursday through Saturday. The event is open to those 18 and over.

Promoter Morrow says he's looking forward to seeing some of the performers in the Blowout — if he can sort out what to see among 200 strong options.   

"There are so many, I can't even pick my own favorites anymore," Morrow says. "I think it's all so good. I'm just hoping for good weather and another great turnout."

Photos, from the top:

Record Graveyard

Anthony Morrow

Painted Lady

Jeff Garbus, Record Graveyard


New Dodge Lounge

All photographs copyright Dave Krieger

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Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.