The Governor was still on stage talking that May afternoon when the wheels started to spin in Jon Witz’s head.
Amid ongoing pandemic restrictions in Michigan, the veteran Michigan festival promoter had postponed Rock ‘n’ Rides, his carnival and music event in Royal Oak, to a date in September. But now Gretchen Whitmer was unveiling plans to reopen the state. Could Witz actually organize Rock ‘n’ Rides in June as originally planned?
Whitmer’s announcement sparked a wave of phone calls between the developer and officials at Royal Oak, who ultimately gave their blessing. This is followed by meetings with sponsors, vendors and non-profit partners. One by one, the pieces fell into place.
And here we are: Rock ‘n’ Rides will arrive in downtown Royal Oak on Thursday to kick off four days of family attractions – including 18 carnival rides – food trucks and a block party featuring local bands and DJ on two stages.
What might have been just another event on a summer calendar takes on added significance in 2021: Rock ‘n’ Rides is the largest entertainment event staged in the Detroit subway since COVID-19 disrupted large gatherings 15 months ago.
For Witz and his team, getting here was a crazy three-week race to put on a festival that typically involved months of planning. Witz, who started Arts, Beats & Eats in 1998 and led Detroit’s Super Bowl outdoor activities in 2006, described the effort as organized chaos.
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“We’re just ‘leaving’ right now,” he said. âIt’s really intense. It’s the fastest, craziest pace of work I’ve done since Super Bowl days.
While outdoor events are officially back to 100% capacity, the reality of COVID-19 is not lost in the debates: unvaccinated guests will be encouraged to wear masks and socially distance themselves, food and drink servers also being masked. The festival has also adopted disinfection protocols for the rides and other areas of the site.
Additionally, a vaccination clinic will be hosted by Henry Ford Health System from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday just outside the festival grounds. Those who get vaccinated there will receive free entry to Rock ‘n’ Rides (valued at $ 5) and a wristband valid for one day of free rides (valued up to $ 28).
The festival’s vaccination initiative was led by Dave Woodward, chairman of the Oakland County Commissioners Council, who said such events will be crucial as Oakland County aims to achieve a 70% vaccination rate. . The county sits at around 66%, with another 60,000 people needed to reach the goal, he said.
âRock ‘n’ Rides is a demonstration that we are going through this, but we still have to be vigilant,â said Woodward. âWe want more of these fun events. We want to get back to normal, and the best way to do that is to get everyone vaccinated. “
For the bands and other musicians involved in the festival, this weekend is a highly anticipated step: a chance to do their thing again in a large audience. Fifteen artists are scheduled on the Rock ‘n’ Rides music scene – including headlining sets from Raising the Dead (Friday), the Reefermen (Saturday) and Cast Iron Cornbread (Sunday), with electronic musicians performing on a DJ scene sponsored by the Michigan Cannabis Channel. Dank’s house.
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Both stages will close a block party Friday through Sunday on Fifth Street in Royal Oak.
Many artists have found ways to continue playing music over the past year, including online shows, bar dates, and private events. But for bands like Detroit Trouble, the kind of platform Rock ‘n’ Rides offers is a welcome return to normal.
The group, specializing in heavy rock tinged with blues, takes the opportunity to finally publicly launch its new singer, Austin Moore. Detroit Trouble will perform at 2 p.m. on Sunday with its full stage presentation – a Motor City-themed ensemble filled with car parts, mic stands made from automotive gear, and working fireplaces.
âAs a veteran band in the local scene, we’re trying to take it a step further,â guitarist Ray (Kid Lightnin ‘) Kaan said. âAn event like this allows you to gain a new fan base. It’s perfect for showing off what we’re doing.
Rock ‘n’ Rides was born in 2019 from a logistical dilemma: River Days, the long-running Detroit Riverfront Conservancy festival produced by Witz, moved to downtown West Riverfront Park. The new site wouldn’t be conducive to River Days’ array of carnival attractions, which is why the Royal Oak fest was created to host the rides this weekend.
With only three months to prepare, Witz thought he had a real stampede on his hands.
“Which I would do for another three months,” he said this week with a laugh.
Still, like everyone in the events world, he’s just happy to have things in motion again. And he feels that the public’s appetite is there too.
Witz cites the big response to the festival’s community day on Thursday, which is partnering with several youth associations to provide free admission, rides and lunch to 1,500 children and their families. In the two weeks since Rock ‘n’ Ride was announced, over 800 families have signed up.
âThat kind of short-notice response was really cool,â he said. âA lot of people do a lot of things quickly. The spirit is just fantastic, and they’re pumped up. People are hungry to get over it.
Contact Detroit Free Press Music Editor Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]
Rock ‘n’ Rides
Royal Oak Town Center
$ 5 entry per day. (Friday, free until 5 p.m.)
Carnival bracelets all day $ 15 Thursday, $ 28 Thursday through Sunday. ($ 1 from each bracelet sale will go to the Open Handed Pantry and the Forgotten Harvest.)
Rock ‘n’ Rides musical stage
5 p.m .: Church Mice (Alt Rock / Radio Rock)
7 p.m .: Raye Williams (Pop Rock / Soul)
9 p.m .: Raising the Dead (Grateful Dead Tribute)
11:30 am: Acoustic Ash (singer / songwriter)
1 p.m .: Jibs Brown & The Jambros (Bluesy Rock)
3 p.m .: IS Evolution (Rock)
5 p.m .: Mac Saturn (Rock ‘n’ Roll)
7 p.m .: Damon Terrell (Funk Rock / Latin Jazz)
9 p.m .: Les Reefermen (Rock)
11:30 am: Lilly MacPhee (singer / songwriter)
12:45 p.m .: Wiltsie’s songwriters (singer / songwriter)
2 p.m .: Detroit Trouble (Blues Rock)
4 p.m .: Frame 42 (Rock / Classic Rock)
6 p.m .: Corktown Popes (Caledonian Rock & Soul)
8 p.m .: Cast iron corn bread (Rock)
DJ Rock ‘n’ Rides House of Dank Stage
4 p.m. Zen Zero of the 5th Dimension
6 p.m. VSRL 5th Dimension
8 p.m. Movement Festival presents MASTERIA
10 p.m. Movement Festival presents Wave Point
2 p.m. Zen Zero of the 5th Dimension
4 p.m. DJ Dav of City Air Detroit
6 p.m. VSRL 5th Dimension
8 p.m. Movement Festival presents Botez
10 p.m. Movement Festival presents King Saaidii
3 p.m. VSRL of the 5th Dimension
5 p.m. Zen Zero of the 5th Dimension
7 p.m. VSRL of the 5th Dimension
9 p.m. DJ SKYrise