Memorial Day in Detroit: How the Motor City Celebrated

Mike O'Brien

Detroit’s socio-economic woes have been well documented – the city that was once held up as the epitome of the American dream became a nationwide symbol of urban decay.

The Motor City may be down, but it’s not out and the place that brought the world Motown still knows how to party.

As the events of this past Memorial Day weekend showed, music and laughter is in the DNA of Detroit.

Metro Detroit was bustling with activity over the holiday weekend, from an electronic music festival at Hart Plaza and Detroit Tigers baseball at Comerica Park to a celebration of veterans through Civil War reenactments and parades around the region.

The city has plenty of unique events not seen elsewhere. Deanna Majchrzak, of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Movement Electronic Music Festival remains one of the main attractions.

She said: "Electronic music fans filled Hart Plaza this Memorial Day weekend to see more than 100 artists on five technologically-rich outdoor stages at Movement Electronic Music Festival."

For those who wanted to celebrate their musical heritage, the Motown Historical Museum was open for business.

"This is the house where all the Motown greats such as Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder got their start," Ms. Majchrzak told The city is also the hometown of famous singers such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Bob Seger, Eminem, the Winans, and Kid Rock

Detroit, also known as The D, undoubtedly has a gritty reputation, but the arts are still well represented.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, which is among the top art museums in the country, was busy over the weekend, with visitors treated to more than 100 galleries with art from ancient to modern times.

The city’s Fox Theatre is also a popular spot, a historic jewel that was built in the tradition of great movie palaces and hosts Broadway-style shows, dramas, comedy and musical events.

While the auto industry has severely contracted, the "Big Three" – General Motors, Ford and Chrysler – remain a major presence in the city and its transportation heritage is rightly celebrated.

At The Henry Ford, "America’s Greatest History Attraction," there’s the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The Henry Ford Museum houses millions of historical artifacts, including the Rosa Parks Bus, presidential limousines and a DC 3 airplane.

Ms. Majchrzak said: "Right next door Greenfield Village provides an authentic historical experience with 83 historic buildings, Model T rides, working train with a 19th-century steam engine, world-class artisans and costumed presenters. At the Ford Rouge Factory Tour you can watch as the Ford F-150 is built."

Detroit’s financial meltdown led to Michigan State Governor Rick Snyder formally declaring the city to be in a state of "financial emergency" in March 2013, with the appointment of an emergency manager to take over the running of the books.

Memorial Day Weekend, however, is all about ushering in the summer and getting out in the great outdoors (which is free).

Ms. Majchrzak said: "There are several popular spots for families over the Memorial Day weekend. Metro Detroit has a fantastic network of state and metro parks that are full of scenic, quiet places. They also offer hiking, biking, walking and ski trails. They have beaches, pools and sled runs, and also wildlife sanctuaries year-round."

In July, Detroit will play host to IDGA’s Military Vehicles summit, the largest stand-alone vehicle event in the U.S.

The event, held at the Cobo Convention Center, brings together more than 200 exhibitors, over 2,000 international/domestic attendees and 28 participating countries. For more information, go to

(Thumbnail photo: Bill Bowen)