Sources: SooDetriot | All Things Michael
I rarely (if ever) leave the state of Michigan but when I do, I make sure that I’m “puttin’ on for the D” by wearing my old English “D” fitted (baseball cap). So of course last week when I took a trip to Atlanta, GA, I wore that cap proudly while garnering a bit of attention from the fellow photographers behind the scenes. I was invited by a friend to be one of the photographers for the One Music Fest and this fest featured music artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Jhene Aiko, Daley, Amel Larreaux, and many more. While speaking with one of the fellow photographers, he noticed my hat and said “Hey did you really come down here from Detroit for this?” I replied to “Well yeah I mean because in Detroit we have concerts from time to time but nothing really of this stature.” The gentleman took a step back, and with a shocked face said, “How doesn’t Motown have a music festival?” I said, “Well we do have a techno fest. I don’t know how I forgot that.” He then said with great emphasis: “I don’t think that you are getting me. Why doesn’t MOTOWN have music festival?” I looked at him, and replied with a hint of sadness in my voice, “ I don’t know but that is a VERY great question. When I find that out, I’ll get back to you.” We exchanged contact information just off the strength of networking and I headed back to the stage to capture the next artist to perform. From that walk to the stage to me creating this story, that question stuck with me. Why doesn’t MOTOWN have its’ own music festival?
While pondering this question, I started to search the origins of techno music and learn a little bit more of the history. After all, that was the first thing that came to mind when that question from the fellow photographer inquired. I already knew that Detroit was the birthplace of techno music, but what I did not know was how short the history. Techno music was created in the mid 1980s, and while there are many different genres of techno music, the style of techno music that was introduced in Detroit is widely recognized as the foundation of it. This is proven by the tremendous turnout each year to the “Movement: Detroit Electronic Music Festival” which is held in Hart Plaza in Downtown Detroit. The festival is held every Memorial Day weekend, and has been for the past 14 years. Since 2009 the attendance has been 80,000+, with this years’ festival having attendance reaching over 107,000. It is widely recognized as one of the world’s largest electronic music festivals.
After I did my research on techno, I sat in my chair perplexed. Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and The Jackson 5 are all artists that paved a way for a great deal of the music that we listen to today. When you listen to a Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Tank, or Kanye West (on a rap level), you hear traces of these artists in their music. The photography studio turned Motown headquarters has produced a sound in the heart of Detroit for nearly 13 years before Berry Gordy relocated Motown headquarters to Los Angeles. Since 1985 “Hitsville U.S.A.” as it is dubbed, has operated as a museum that still rests at its’ original spot on 2648 West Grand Boulevard. Is a museum enough to honor the Motown legacy though? I think not.
Many cities across the country are known for different types of roles in the history and evolution of music. New Orleans & Cincinnati are known for their jazz festivals. Atlanta is being known for the many hip-hop and R&B festivals that take place during the year. Austin, Texas is known for “South by Southwest” (SXSW), and “Austin City Limits “(ACL). Now in fairness to Detroit, “Summer Jamz” and more recently, “The Big Show at The Joe” are staples in the Detroit music scene that are anticipated each year, but they are just concerts. With a city so rich in soul music due to the Motown origins, it is nearly criminal that there is not a Motown Music Festival. Take a look at the current Motown roster. Stevie Wonder is still with the label after all of these years but then you have Kem, Ne-Yo, Babyface, Mila J, Erykah Badu, Chrisette Michelle, India. Arie, and Kem. If you just took that current roster of Motown artists, and had them perform over a two-day span during a festival that celebrated the history and contributions of Motown to music, I believe that would definitely be a great starting point. Why stop there though?
There could be networking seminars with a panel of well-respected individuals in the music industry guiding indie artists on how to make it in the business. You could follow that by having a banquet at the newly renovated Cobo Hall, where it would serve as a special and intimate time to honor the legacy of Motown. To end the festival, you could have a Motown theme parade or Firework show to send everyone off as a grand finale. These may not be the greatest of ideas, but they are a few that came to mind.
The rich roots of Detroit music origins can’t be debated, but it also must not be half celebrated. With the city currently on the rise, recognizing the rich past that is has must be a part of this transition. Citizens of Detroit should not have to travel to others states to partake in music festivals featuring many of the top musical acts in our country. That should be right in our own backyard. In my personal opinion, I feel a great deal of artists should want to come and perform in Detroit. Where is music today without the contributions of Motown? Think about the fact that if there was no Motown, we may have never heard of Michael Jackson, who is recognized as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) music icon we have ever seen. Where would a Beyoncé have been if there weren’t a Diana Ross paving the way? While I don’t know if my outcry for a music festival of this magnitude will come to fruition, I do know that if you’re reading this, you’re wondering the same thing the photographer in Atlanta did.
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