In a stare it happened. I saw it in the slowest of motion.
I was standing across the dance floor at the Whisky Parlor, a lounge perched a story above Woodward Avenue near Campus Martius. The record I played was just about to end, then bam! When the ever talented drummer and avid record collector Djallo Djakate dropped the needle on a rare soul 45 record in the dimly lit lounge, it was magic from the very first measure. It immediately got everyone’s attention, but he stared right at fellow percussionist and DJ Craig Huckaby like he just tasted the sweetest potato pie. Ah, the deliciousness of unspoken communication. It was the mmmmmmmm stare. I’ve seen this look before from fabulous musicians on stage to these knowledgeable, lovable, garage sale chasing vinyl fiends in the lounge. After agonizing for weeks what to write for this blog, that linking moment and its importance presented itself like a baseball in the strike zone and I found the sweet spot of the bat. It’s the love for music, the art form, the striving to “one up” each other in a friendly way, the fruits of the relentless, dusty dig. Craig came right across to Djallo and said “hell yeah.” I captured their photo in time so I could remember it forever. And I will, but it won’t be the last between these two and so many of the passionate artists here in this city, the Detroit I Love.
Music and people have always been my passion and I put my all in always. My music roots stem from my Uncle Joe’s records and cassettes back in the mid 1970’s, to early MTV, to college radio (WBNY, Buffalo State radio), and CFNY (Toronto). From Soul, Rock, R&B, Jazz to Pop, variety was always king. On one Saturday night (1983/84ish) I was grounded, bored and was making a new cassette on my boom box. I heard Ministry’s “Every Day is Halloween” morph seamlessly into New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I was thinking, how did this blend happen so perfectly? And then it happened again, and again. This was my first real exposure to a mix show. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more, but being in a suburban Buffalo basement, having no friends understanding, no internet and no money were big setbacks. One thing I did know, I wanted to be a DJ and mix like that someday. Nothing in Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia could help me figure out this magic trick.
The rabbit stayed in the hat until I moved to Detroit. In 1995, I walked into Record Time in Roseville and saw the all vinyl dance room. It all hit me then. The styles of music, the art… this is a scene. Dance records all over the walls. I had all CDs at that point, but screw that, I thought. Records are much better. I bought two that night and turntables the next day.
I became the over-excited puppy dog that people kept in the basement when friends came over, wanting to learn all that I could about mixing music and the electronic music scene. I was “that guy.” A few hard, cold Detroit stares and dismissals put me into the “this is the underground, STFU” state of mind. I remember one guy who dismissed me at first, but then turned to me and said “lock yourself in a room with five or six records for a day. You’ll figure it out.” I took a lot longer than that, but in that experience I realized that I had to respect the art form enough to learn it my own way, to become original, and to chill out. This is the Detroit I love.
Re-channeling my energies I began to not only fall in love with this music, but with so many of the diverse, worldly, talented and fun people in this city. There is no shortage of creative types hustling. Making it happen. I became a promoter because I like bringing open minded people together to connect and get away from the computer while presenting a wide variety of musical styles to feed the crowd. Great jazz, soul, classic r-n-b, house, techno chosen tastefully on vinyl by skilled DJs. Breaking down social barriers. A love bubble, you could say, promoting togetherness and community. That good vibe wave between the performers and the crowd is one I will surf until my time runs out. This is the Detroit I love.
This resurgence is real. And that’s encouraging. It seems like it is a lot easier to bring people downtown these days to visit and to live. I am grateful. Seeing these once broken down structures turn into beautiful lofts, Airbnbs, restaurants, clubs, galleries, boutiques and more is really inspiring.
My girlfriend and I recently had the chance to stay in a beautiful Airbnb in Woodbridge. It is a tall, two-story, ‘work in progress’ home rich in character. The owner, recently surviving brain surgery, has his business office on the first floor. We stayed on the spacious second floor wonderfully decorated by his wife who specializes in interior design. As soon as we opened the door, we felt at home. Huge ceilings, blonde hard wood floors, art deco style chairs, a picnic table made of reclaimed hardwood in the dining area, claw foot bathtub with shower, subway tile in the kitchen, appliances from the 40’s (I think) and so much more. It was the perfect mix of old and new styles. With such attention to detail, it was the experience that you don’t get at a hotel. The owner’s kindness and creativity are evident in every inch, revealing the building’s charm. This care is happening in businesses all over the city. This is the Detroit I love.
We found out about this space though the Airbnb app. There is no doubt the internet, with its’ speed and convenience, is the biggest game changer. It is the vehicle that turns this elbow grease into progress (that is if you choose to see it that way.) There’s so much contagious, easy self promotion through social media not to mention the media as a whole that is very hungry for quality reporting.
From bloggers to TV stations, they want a piece of everything downtown and their power is no joke. There are countless positive stories to cover. As the founder of this blog Steven Reaume said “If we only had the internet like this in the early ‘90’s… good lord what we could have done.” It’s making the Detroit I love easier to become the Detroit I love.
Yes there’s still a long way go, but the energy so many people put into their work here makes this movement forward possible. This has always been a hustling, proud city. The poor U.S. economy and exportation of jobs (pre 2008 in my opinion) muddied the landscape and had people spinning their wheels in the mud. Many people left. I left. I lost my house in Woodbridge. Club attendance was declining, record stores were closing, crime rampant, too much fighting over a small piece of the pie. This chapter of my life was closing.
With my burned out engine, in 2008, I packed it in to live in New York City and Buffalo, New York to be with family for about six years. Even though I was gone, my heart never left Detroit. My bond with this city and my friendships here will never be broken. I came back to live downtown in 2015 to a city ripe with possibilities and enthusiasm. Progress made from people loving their crafts and finding new ways to make a living at it with promotional vehicles to make it possible. A world spotlight not so much for the blight, but for the diligence people put in daily to make the Motor City shine. Communication through fixed up historic buildings, to beautifully prepared meals, to friendly competitions, to conversations spoken and unspoken… care spilling into the streets of the city I love, Detroit. As I see it.
With all this success, let’s hope we can all afford to live here in the near future. 😉