Let's rock again: DTE, concert venues prepare to welcome back fans
Big concerts are back, from Guns N' Roses to Dierks Bentley, and DTE Energy Music Theatre, Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre and more are ready to go.
If 2020 was the Year the Music Died, 2021 is the year it comes roaring back.
After COVID-19 sideswiped the live music industry, artists are returning to the road, and venues are welcoming fans back with open arms and sanitized hands. In Michigan, the green light came last month when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that outdoor capacity limits were kaput as of June 1.
In Metro Detroit, promoter 313 Presents has 40 concerts on the books at its outdoor venues — which include DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre in Rochester Hills and Comerica Park in downtown Detroit — with plans to raise that number even higher.
"We are getting ready to put on a big summer season," 313 Presents president Howard Handler said Wednesday. "Ever since we had to shut down, we have been working hard to prepare our venues to work with promoters, managers, artists and the whole touring industry to figure out a way to return and give people what they love, which is dim lights and loud, loud music."
That loud music begins with country star Jamey Johnson, who takes the stage at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre on June 26. The DTE schedule kicks off on July 25 with Chicago and has concerts booked through Oct. 7, when Dierks Bentley headlines the former Pine Knob. Meadow Brook has a trio of shows, beginning with the Michigan Opera Theatre's performance of "Cavalleria in Concert" on June 12, and Comerica Park has a pair of monster stadium concerts on deck with Guns N' Roses on Aug. 8 and Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer on Aug. 10.
Those concerts — along with indoor shows at Little Caesars Arena, which return with Alan Jackson on Sept. 17 (World Wrestling Entertainment on Aug. 1 is 2021's first full-capacity live event set for LCA) — are likely to look similar to concerts of the past, with a few key amendments. Vaccinations won't be required to attend events; fully vaccinated guests won't be required to wear face masks or social distance, while unvaccinated guests are encouraged "to use their best judgment," Handler said.
Bags mostly won't be allowed inside venues, and throughout the company's properties, "high-touch areas" — entry points, door handles, countertops, restrooms, seating areas, concession stands — will undergo increased sanitization and disinfection measures. Cleaning and preventative products registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be used throughout 313's venues.
"We're working very hard to make sure that people feel comfortable and confident and safe, so they can focus on the entertainment and enjoy being with their friends," Handler said.
That entertainment is a long time coming, and Handler said fan demand has been "very, very high" as the concert industry has started to gear back up. While he declined to disclose the percentage of fans who have requested refunds for rescheduled shows, concert giant Live Nation reported in its 2020 earnings report that 83% of fans have skipped refunds and opted to hang on to their tickets.
The return of shows also means the return of staff to the venues, and across its properties 313 Presents is hiring crowd managers, parking attendants, maintenance workers and other positions. Interested parties are encouraged to visit ilitchcompanies.com to apply.
Handler, whose work in the Detroit entertainment industry began with a job as a security "ranger" at Pine Knob in 1978, is especially looking forward to this summer. He started his role with 313 Presents in early 2020, just before the live event world shut down. Since then, "the past 14, 15 months have been quite a ride," he said.
He said he's looking forward to the house lights going down and the music kicking in at that first Chicago concert at DTE, a nice piece of synchronicity with the first concert he can remember going to — Chicago at Pine Knob in the late 1970s.
"I’m just like a lot of the fans," he said. "We just can’t wait to be back together."