Don Was brings rebellion songs to Concert of Colors

Melody Baetens, The Detroit News


Oak Park native and rock-n-roll legend Don Was

When it debuted in 2008, the Don Was All-Star Revue at Concert of Colors wasn’t supposed to be a yearly thing, and it certainly wasn’t expected to last a decade, but it became a tradition and “a whole lot of fun.”

“It’s like the best time I have all year,” said Was, an Oak Park native, musician and Grammy Award-winning producer who currently calls Los Angeles home.

“The Concert of Colors is a world music festival, basically, and about 10 years ago, Ismael Duran and myself we had a conversation, and we said we also need to feature the indigenous music out of Detroit, that’s part of world music,” he said. “At the core, that’s what we’ve always tried to do is present a really broad cross-section of local talent.”

For the past decade, Was has gathered a group of Detroit musicians from all genres for his All-Star Revue, and this year his group’s theme is “Music of the Rebellion” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Detroit uprising of 1967.

Was said when there is a culture of rebellion, great music follows. On July 15, he’ll lead the Revue in performing a wide range of music, like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and “Respect Yourself” from the Staple Singers. (Was didn’t want to give away too much of the set list.)

“We’re going to tap into music that, for me, has some great resonance from the late ’60s and early ’70s, and it’s pretty wide ranging... pretty wide in its portrayal of rebellion,” he said.

Rebellion is about descent from convention and the status quo, Was said.

“It takes all kinds of forms,” he said. “It’s really just about people trying to improve the quality of their lives, that can be individual, that can be deciding not to go to law school but to become a hippie bass player, or it can be marching from Selma to Montgomery to get your right to vote.”

Was’s band for Concert of Colors — which is celebrating its 25th anniversary — features a laundry list of local talent from all genres, including Dennis Coffey, Melvin Davis, Jessica Care Moore, the War & Treaty, Corktown Popes, Luis Resto, David McMurray, Rayse Biggs, Sir Harry Bowens, Sweet Pea Atkinson, Donald Ray Mitchell and many more.

One member in particular is one of Was’ heroes, poet and activist John Sinclair, who also participated in the first Don Was All-Star Revue.

“I met John Sinclair at the opening of Plum Street,” said Was, explaining that the Detroit neighborhood was an attempt to be like Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco or East Village in New York City. “It was a one-block section just off the freeway, kind of near Tiger Stadium, just north of Corktown, and there were hippie stores ... my band was the first band to play there on opening day. Mayor (Jerome) Cavanagh cut the ribbon or whatever and my band played on the back of a flatbed truck.

“John Sinclair was standing out there handing out Detroit Artist Workshop poetry, like a mimeographed book of poetry, and I just thought he was the coolest guy ever. And yet, he was. He spoke to something deep inside me, and I think really shaped my sensibilities both politically and as a musician.”

While the Concert of Colors’ overall theme isn’t the 1967 rebellion, it does have some programming that looks back at the historic event.

On July 13, the Arab American National Museum will host a forum, “Community, Culture and Race.” On July 15, Sinclair will be part of a White Panther reunion at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. He and other members of the anti-racist political group, like Pun Plamondon, Leni Sinclair and Genie Parker will be part of a panel discussion from 2-4 p.m. Later there will be a book signing and merchandise sale from 5-6 p.m. at the museum store.

“The White Panthers were from heroic times,” Was said. “They were speaking my language, and I’m definitely attending that seminar. John’s a good friend; he’s my hero.”

Was, who was 14 that summer, remembers the Detroit Riots/Rebellion as being “terrifying.”

“It’s during an era where injustice and inequality was being brought to light, but something about the rebellion of ’67 made it really impossible to operate in any kind of state of denial about it,” he said.

“I think it forced some people really to confront what was going on and not just gloss over it — that’s an important thing. Sometimes rebellion appears in a tragic and messy form and there’s certainly a lot of tragedy involved with that, but the main thing is it made it really, it made it very real.”

(313) 222-2402


Musician Don Was will headline the 25th anniversary Concert of Colors.

Concert of Colors Schedule

All events are free. Visit for more information.

July 12

Third Man Records, 441 W. Canfield, Detroit

6:30 p.m.: Pure Heart Travelers

7:30 p.m.: Warren Defever

8:30 p.m.: Nikki D. Brown and the Sisters of Thunder

July 13

Arab American National Museum, 13624 Michigan, Dearborn

6:30-9:30 p.m.: Forum on Community, Culture and Race – Art and Rebellion: Detroit Since ’67

July 14

Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, 1211 Trumbull, Detroit

Noon: Las Cafeteras workshop and performance

Alkebu-Lan Village, 7701 Harper, Detroit

2-4 p.m.: Song, Dance and Drumming Workshop with Mokoomba

John R Stage, John R between Farnsworth and Warren

5:30 p.m.: Onyx Ashanti

6:15 p.m.: De’Sean Jones – Underground Resistance/Knomadik

7 p.m.: Efe Bes

7:30 p.m.: Kuumba

9 p.m.: Aurora Harris

9:30 p.m.: Griot Galaxy

Detroit Historical Museum, 5401 Woodward, Detroit

11 p.m.-1 a.m.: After party with DJ Michael Elliott

July 15

Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

Wolverine Outdoor Stage

1 p.m.: Misfit Jazz Quintet

2:30 p.m.: Sumkali

4 p.m.: Charlie Dentel and the Strange Angels

5:30 p.m.: Isis Damil

7 p.m.: Emmalee Jazz Quartet

8:30 p.m.: Chris Canas Band

Comerica Diversity Stage

2 p.m.: Yoga session with DJ Alsultany and Detroit Community Yoga

4:30 p.m.: Voices of Hope featuring Victor Ghannam and Ismael Duran

7 p.m.: Las Cafeteras

9:30 p.m.: DJ Alsultany

Meijer Main Stage (Orchestra Hall)

3 p.m.: Mokoomba

5:30 p.m.: Sidestepper

8 p.m.: 10th Annual Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue: Music of Rebellion

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren, Detroit

2-4 p.m.: White Panther Party: A Historic Reunion Commemorating the 1967 Rebellion

5-6 p.m.: Book signing and merchandise sale

Detroit Film Theatre, 5200 Woodward, Detroit

2 p.m.: “Sita Sings the Blues”

4:30 p.m.: “Mali Blues”

July 16

American Indian Health & Family Services, 4880 Lawndale, Detroit

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Community Talking Circle with Martha Redbone

Max M. Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward, Detroit

Wolverine Outdoor Stage

1 p.m.: Ndeep

2:30 p.m.: Bad Ronald Revival

4 p.m.: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

5:30 p.m.: C3 & The Third Generation Band

7 p.m.: Sean Dobbins

8:30 p.m.: Bill Moss Jr.

Comerica Diversity Stage

2 p.m.: Sun Messengers

4:30 p.m.: Laura Rain & the Caesars

7 p.m.: Mokoomba

9:30 p.m.: Rocky Dawuni

Meijer Main Stage

3 p.m.: Martha Redbone

5:30 p.m.: Sweet Honey in the Rock

8 p.m.: Big 4 Palladium

Detroit Film Theatre, 5200 Woodward, Detroit

2 p.m.: “Sita Sings the Blues”

4:30 p.m.: “Chasing Trane”