Guitarist Gilby Clarke helps kick off Summer Magic Fest
Mount Clemens’ first-ever Summer Magic Festival will fill downtown to the brim with entertainment for all ages this weekend.
The festival includes a carnival, loads of kid-friendly activities, and several food vendors offering Greek, Mexican, Polish and American cuisine, all leading up to the city’s annual Independence Day fireworks on Sunday.
The festival’s main attraction is its jam-packed lineup of nearly 40 musical acts. Local treasures like The Amino Acids and The Muggs will play back-to-back with ’80s rockers like The Babys, Ratt lead singer Stephen Pearcy and Jack Russell’s Great White.
Paul Shalhoub, the event’s producer, says none of those big names hold a candle to Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, who plays the Gemini Moon Stage at 6:15 p.m. Friday.
“It blows me away that he was in the biggest rock band in the world,” Shalhoub says. “I’m really excited.”
Not only has Clarke traveled the world with Guns N’ Roses (he replaced rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin for the band’s three year “Use Your Illusion” tour) but he’s played sideman and producer for all manner of rock royalty, from Heart to Nancy Sinatra.
Clarke grew up in Cleveland, (“just down the street from Detroit,” as he puts it), and he had the similar musical training wheels to his peers in the Motor City.
“Back then we had a lot of the same radio, like Michael Stanley Band and Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper and MC5,” Clarke recalls. “I remember hearing that stuff way back when, and it was a part of what made me a musician and a music fan.”
His parents divorced when he was 17, and Clarke moved with his mother to California. He dropped out of school, got a gig in a record store, started a band and made music his focus from there on out.
“All I thought about was being in a band, playing gigs, making a record, writing songs,” Clark says, recalling his teenage years in L.A. “That was definitely my priority, but I can’t honestly say that I knew things were gonna work out. We just did our thing, and the way took me.”
Clarke quickly became a staple of L.A.’s fabled Sunset Strip music scene, where his signature style of playing, which emphasizes personality over technical virtuosity, helped him stand out against the local guitar heroes of the day.
“A lot of my friends were flipping out about guitar players like Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen, where all I cared about was Mick Ronson and Johnny Thunders,” he says.
Though Clarke also maintains a steady career as a solo musician, he says he prefers the sidelines to the spotlight, whether he’s twisting knobs in the studio or jamming with his friends on stage.
“50 years in my dream is still that magic of being part of the band, being able to contribute what I’m great at to hopefully make a greater good,” he says.
The audience can expect that kind of magic when Clarke takes the stage on Friday. Whether he’s touring solo or with Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses alumni in the supergroup Kings of Chaos, Clarke’s performances are just as fresh and vital as ever.
“We might change the setlist on the spot and do ‘Dead Flowers,’ instead of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ ” Clarke says. “It’s about keeping that spirit of rock and roll alive. It’s a little bit reckless, which doesn’t really happen that much anymore. You never know what you’re going to get, but the guitars will be loud, I’ll be yelling over it, and the drums will be pumping.”
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Summer Magic Festival
5 p.m. Thursday-7 p.m. Sunday
Downtown Mount Clemens
Admission $3, free on Thursday
Carnival wristbands $15-$20