Detroit does Detroit
Pint-sized Temptations. A female Mayer Hawthorne. A one-man Aretha Franklin show. It’s all just another year at Detroit X Detroit.
The covers show, which returns to the Magic Stick on Saturday for its fifth year, features all Detroit bands stepping into the shoes of other notable local groups. Event founder and organizer Melissa Rowe says she originally conceived the idea when she heard Detroit power-pop band the Handgrenades noodling around on a cover of another local artist in rehearsal.
“There’s so many talented acts that come out of Detroit, and that are still in Detroit,” Rowe says. “It just seemed like a great celebration of Detroit music, a great way to showcase that.”
Rowe started the event in 2011 with 12 bands and it’s caught on well since, drawing bigger attendance numbers each year and growing to a 15-band bill this year. Proceeds benefit the Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music, a Royal Oak rock music education facility for kids. The school supplied last year’s preteen Temptations, decked out in suits, ties and dresses with old-school choreography to boot.
“It was more than adorable,” Rowe says. “It was impressive. There were a lot of people that walked in and didn’t even realize they were kids playing.”
School of Rock students will open this year’s Detroit X Detroit again as Ted Nugent, but costumes aren’t just for kids at this show. Some acts choose a more stripped-back tribute (as Mike Galbraith did last year with his acoustic Aretha Franklin set), but many bands emulate the fashion sense as well as the sound of the acts they’re covering. Kaylan Waterman and her band the Normandies will play as Mayer Hawthorne this year, ditching their usual folk-rock stylings to try on Hawthorne’s neo-Motown sound. But who in this female band will take the role of the suave male crooner?
“Actually, I am,” Waterman laughs. “I don’t want to let out any secrets, but I probably won’t look like a girl.”
For some groups the showcase has been a formative experience. John Bissa, bassist for Six and the Sevens, says playing Detroit X Detroit as power-pop legends the Knack last year turned out to be “really good” for his previously blues-rock-oriented band. Six and the Sevens will be expanding their horizons again this year, adding six additional horns and vocalists to perform as Edwin Starr.
“[The Knack’s] songs are simple on the surface, but if you really kind of study them you learn a lot,” Bissa says. “And what we learned was that our band was actually pretty strong in power pop. So for us it turned our band in a really power-pop direction… and we’re just more comfortable with what we’ve discovered as a result of doing the show.”
Rowe says enthusiasm for the show is “tremendous” among both bands and audience members, and that’s thanks to the strength of Detroit’s music community.
“Bands know the other bands, they appreciate the other bands, bands go see other bands’ shows,” she says. “I think an event like this is able to be so successful in Detroit because of the nature of our music scene.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
8 p.m. Saturday
4120 Woodward, Detroit