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Lost treasure found in Detroit

Robert Downes - May 11th, 2009
Lost treasure found in Detroit...
“Don’t forget the Motor City -- All you need is music, sweet music, there’ll be music everywhere...”
- Dancing in the Streets
Robert Downes 5/11/09

Recently, National Public Radio aired a program wondering why it is that Detroit has created some of the best music in the world, and yet has failed miserably in marketing itself as a capital of creativity.
Good point: While Detroit and Michigan have obsessed for years over what to do about the auto meltdown, we’ve ignored the potential of our other top export: music.
Consider this partial list: Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Jack White, Madonna, Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent, Eminem and all the stars of Motown: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops... Then there was Detroit’s electronic music scene in the ‘90s, which was better known worldwide than it was in most of Michigan.
To paraphrase an old Talking Heads hit, this ain’t no Arkansas, this ain’t no Wisconsin, this ain’t no fooling around: few states (or countries for that matter) can boast anywhere near the amount of musical talent that has come out of Michigan.
That should make Detroit a lively entertainment destination on par with Nashville, Branson, or Las Vegas. Detroit should be to music what Hollywood is to film. Yet, like a pauper walking along a road paved with gold without a clue as to its value, our state has failed to capitalize on a resource before its eyes.
We never needed the state’s Cool Cities program -- Michigan was one of the inventors of ‘cool‘ back in the ‘60s when Motown was going head-to-head on the airwaves with the sounds of London or Southern California.
What Detroit needs is the imagination to capture that energy in the same spirit as Branson, Memphis or Nashville, with music showcases, non-stop shows, package tours, historical sites, recording studios, museums, a music college and more.
When you go to Nashville, you can walk the hallowed halls of the Grand Ole Opry, check out the pink Cadillac Elvis was chauffeured around in (complete with on-board shoe polisher and 45-rpm turntable), and wander through the Musicians’ Row of old honky-tonks where generations of country legends got their start.
Then there’s Beale Street, “home of the blues” in Memphis, where you can check out the haunts of B.B. King or Muddy Waters. Branson, Missouri? This world-famous destination was virtually invented out of thin air, based on the fact that Patsy Cline and Hank Williams used to play the Ozarks decades ago.
But Detroit -- a place that arguably outshines them all with its depth and diversity? The Motor City’s music scene is spread out among dozens of small clubs, with nothing holding it together.
So consider some of the following ideas for recharging Detroit. They may be facetious, but this is what a former homeboy would suggest:
First, the Motown Historical Museum is presently located on West Grand Boulevard about three miles from downtown, which might as well be on the moon, even for most of the three million people living in the metro area. Detroit needs to move “Hitsville USA“ and the Motown museum brick-by-brick downtown, where tourists are more likely to see it.
Next, Detroit missed a tourist goldmine when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was built in Cleveland. Take it back with the city’s own ‘hall of fame’ featuring the likes of Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem, the MC5, the Stooges and the next wave of rappers.
There‘s a tribute to Dolly Parton called Dollywood in Tennessee; why not MadonnaLand in Detroit? A big, tacky musical funhouse downtown with a cone bra roof and an IMAX theater inside that would play Madonna concerts and special guest pop artists such as Britney Spears or Hannah Montana.
• A restaurant arcade based around Detroit music: The Motown Rib Shack, Kid Rock’s Cracker Stack, Stevie Wonder’s Midnight Taste Experience, the Candy KISS Chocolate Factory, Ted Nugent’s Natural World...
• A rock & roll music college. L.A. has one -- why not Detroit? Classes could cover everything from electronic music to guitar, drums and home recording.
• A big Times Square-style electronic billboard scene in the heart of the city, reminding every visitor that Detroit is one of the music capitals of the world. At the heart of this district would be a Hard Rock Hotel, a House of Blues and Detroit’s Fillmore and Fox theaters.
Well, you get the picture -- the idea would be to create a ‘scene’ big enough to put a new tourist destination on the map, with half the population of America within a day‘s drive.
Who will pay for all this? For starters, tap some of the musicians mentioned here who rake in tens of millions of dollars each year. Perhaps, like the pharoahs of Egypt, they‘d enjoy leaving a monument to their success and helping to old home turf to boot.
Detroit currently has a few downtown attractions, such as Greektown, Bricktown and the new stadiums, but nothing that’s ever going to rev anyone’s propeller in a big way. But knocking out about six square blocks in the heart of downtown for a world-class music district would also knock some socks off and maybe get the Motor City back on its feet... and dancin’ in the streets.


 
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