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Concert Reviews:
Aretha Franklin is the big, but not only, draw for Detroit Music Weekend

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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DETROIT -- The Queen ruled at the inaugural Detroit Music Weekend festival on Saturday, June 10, in her home town’s entertainment district.

But her “court” proved to be pretty royal as well.

Aretha Franklin, aka the Queen of Soul, was certainly the focal point of the festival, from the unveiling of Aretha Franklin Way on Thursday, June 8, to a tribute concert Friday, June 9, at Detroit’s Music Hall Center and, finally, her headlining show on Saturday, June 10 -- possibly, she says, her last ever in her home town as she plans for a retirement from performing live. But Saturday’s wealth of entertainment -- three-dozen acts keeping four stages busy for 12 hours, plus a late night party on the Music Hall rooftop -- proved the city’s creative potency beyond one formidable icon.

Related: Aretha Franklin tribute soars, even without her

Franklin’s hour-and-50-minute show was a genuine celebration, if a bit rough and tumble in spots, including an inexplicable 90-minute wait after Mitch Ryder’s preceding performance. But the crowd of at least several thousand (organizers claim 14,000) -- including luminaries such as civil rights activist Jessie Jackson, Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, boxing champion Thomas Hearns, Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and fellow musicians Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Freda Payne, Vickie Winans and Ivan Kral -- was more than happy to wait despite the 90-degree heat, and in addition to a dozen songs that spanned much of Franklin’s 60-year recording career it also witnessed the presentation of a key to the city by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Motor City Lyric Opera’s Metropolitan Detroit Virtuoso Award from Franklin’s opera coach Mary Lynch.

Sporting a long white ball gown with gold embroidery, Franklin was gracious and in good spirits throughout the show, although she had some trouble navigating the stage steps both entering and exiting. After one of her shoes fell off during “Ain’t No Way” she “commanded” her music director Fred Nelson III to play “Prince Charming” and put it back on. And she deftly negotiated a dodgy start to her version of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” to deliver a powerhouse rendition of the song. The set also touched on favorites such as “Do Right Man,” “Chain Of Fools” and “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me” and touched on her early 60s jazz work with “Skylark” (accompanied by the late Marcus Belgrave’s son Kasan on saxophone) and dug deeper into her catalog for fare such as “Hooked On Your Love,” “Brand New Me” and “Sweet Sixteen.”

Franklin closed the show by vamping “Freeway Of Love” into a gospel testimony call-and-response with her backup singers. She opted not to return for a planned encore of “Respect,” however, and gave credence to the possibility that it could be her last Motor City show by revealing that she’s “just getting over a bit of a spell, but I’m getting over it.” As she left the stage Franklin asked fans to “keep me in your prayers,” and there’s no question they’ll be doing that -- and maybe slip in the hope for another audience with the Queen at some point.

Franklin certainly capped an eventful day featuring plenty of artists -- not only music but also dance and theater performances. Among the Detroit Music Weekend Saturday highlights along Madison Street and Grand River Blvd. were:

Country singer and former “American Idol” finalist Josh Gracin previewed his upcoming single, “Nothing Like Us” as well as covering John Cougar’s “Hurts So Good.

Laith al-Saadi, a finalist on “The Voice,” used much of his set to pay tribute to the late Gregg Allman with renditions of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” and “One Way Out.” al-Saadi also referenced his TV fame with his versions of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” from the show.

The Detroit Superband dedicated its performance of Steve Wonder’s “Love’s In Need Of Love” to victims of the Ariana Grande terror attack nearly three weeks ago in Manchester, England.

With the festival’s main stage running late due to technical issues, an exceedingly gracious Mitch Ryder took it on the chin and reduced his set to just five songs and 25 minutes -- but he made each one count as he rocked through favorites such as “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jenny Take A Ride,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and, of course, “Devil With A Blue Dress.” His courtesy didn’t get Franklin on any sooner, of course, but Ryder’s genuine emotion about being “back where I started...It’s a pleasure and an honor,” was touching.

Tuxedo -- the duo of Ann Arbor’s Mayer Hawthorne and producer Jake One, both of course sporting tuxedos -- struck a good groove and held it during the festival afterparty, harking back to vintage 70s and 80s funk and R&B for a small but fully engaged crowd.

The Detroit Music Weekend concludes at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 11, with the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame 2017 Induction Ceremony -- including Ryder and Payne -- at the Music Hall Center. 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $45-$75. Call 313-887-8500 or visit detroitmusicweekend.org for all events.

Web Site: www.detroitmusicweekend.org

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