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Downtown Hoedown makes successful return to Detroit Riverfront
DETROIT -- There was plenty of musical starpower at Friday's (June 5) opening night of the 33rd Annual WYCD Downtown Hoedown.
But it was also a case where the place trumped the performers -- at least a bit.
The big story at this year's Hoedown was the two-day country music festival's new home, at West Riverfront Park after three years at Comerica Park and the previous 29 as a free event at Hart Plaza. While the 20-acre site west of Joe Louis Arena had some smaller events last year, the Hoedown was its first large-scale festival, a chance to introduce the public to the picturesque venue -- with views of the downtown Detroit skyline, Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge -- in a somewhat unfamiliar part of town.
The park was tested early, too; storms came through before gates opened at 4 p.m., leaving the grounds soft and muddy, with some particularly puddled areas covered with straw. Nevertheless, rain held the rest of the day and evening, and Friday's show went off smoothly, with 13 acts playing on three stages and plenty of folks trooping through the grounds throughout the seven hours.
"This is a prefect event for this (place)," said Rick Franks of Live Nation, which co-produced the Hoedown with Olympia Entertainment. "If the weather was nicer it would be spectacular. (Saturday) will be."
Friday's fans largely agreed with that assessment. "I like that it's not on blacktop or cement" like at the other sites said Sharon Mishek, 48, of Brandon Township, a regular Hoedown attendee. "If this was a nicer day it would be awesome." But her husband Mike Mishek, 52, said he didn't like the fact that West Riverfront Park was isolated.
"There's no restaurants around or other places to go," he explained. "Hart Plaza was free, and I didn't mind paying at Comerica but at least there were all sorts of other places around that."
Greg Wojtas, 46, of Royal Oak, attending his first Hoedown, added that, "I like it by the river. I think they need to work on the landscaping, but it's nice to be by the river and downtown."
WYCD program director Tim Roberts says it was always his intention to bring the Hoedown back to the Detroit Riverfront, and he felt that "being on grass is so much better." Roberts acknowledged it would require some "education" to familiarize people with the park, but he said that, "It looks better here. It's beautiful. Hopefully people will like it."
Metro area music fans will have more opportunities to visit West Riverfront Park this summer -- when Jimmy Buffett plays there on June 25 and when the Mo Pop festival is held July 25-26. But on Friday they were treated to plenty of memorable musical moments from up-and-comers such as A Thousand Horses, Craig Wayne Boyd and the Brothers Osborne -- who closed their set by coming off the main stage and into the VIP pit to perform The Band's "The Shape I'm In -- or Brett Eldredge singing a crowd-pleasing rendition of Detroit icon Bob Seger's "Night Moves."
Darius Rucker's closing set, meanwhile, featured several songs from his band Hootie & the Blowfish, including an all-star version of "Hold My Hand" with Eldredge, the Brothers Osborne and A Thousand Horses. Rucker also joined the Military Warriors Support Foundation to present a wounded veteran with a 2,500-square-foot house in Marquette.
Rascal Flatts, the Eli Young Band, Eric Paslay and Rochester's Jana Kramer perform during the Hoedown's second and final day on Saturday, June 6, Gates open at noon, and tickets are $35. Visit www.wycd.cbslocal.com and www.olympiaentertainment.com schedules and other details.
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