Hoedown in Motown
Detroit’s Hillbilly Lovefest
Published: May 29, 2013
“Tim Roberts is not only a colleague, he’s a friend,” says 2010 Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley. “We met in the late ’90s before I had a song on the radio and anyone knew or cared who I was. I played him three songs that later became hits, and ever since he has supported my music on WYCD. Tim cares about this format, its artists, and is one of those people who builds careers. I’m living proof of that.” Hometown hero Gracin adds, “Not only does he exemplify what a program director should be, he does it without arrogance or entitlement. You don’t have to look too hard to see what kind of man he is. Look at the success of his family, his success as a father. I’m proud to know and call him a friend.”
It’s those relationships, those friendships that keep the entertainment quotient of the Hoedown at a high level. “Tim is the person who gets these bands to come in and play for the Downtown Hoedown,” says WYCD morning co-host Steve Grunwald. “It’s almost an art to get national acts to play all weekend. And we’re not talking about two or three bands. It’s more like 12 to 15 national acts. It’s because of Tim’s great relationships over the years that he can do this. Nowhere else in the country does this happen, or could it happen.”
WYCD has been the presenting station for the Hoedown since Detroit’s late lamented W4 (WWWW-FM) abandoned the country format in 1999. Live Nation produces the onstage performances and Olympia Entertainment is the station’s site partner for the second year because of the Comerica Park location and because “it’s such a labor-intensive exercise,” says Roberts. “It’s very crazy. First of all, you’re dealing with bands. Then you multiply that times three days. Forty different band managers, 40 different record guys. You’re trying to balance everything so all the bands feel the love. Then there’s the logistics of the stadium, and all the permits, and insurance, and the whole digital side of our website, and making sure the on-air product of the station is working in conjunction with all of it.
“But I think we have really creative people at this radio station. Really, the best staff I’ve ever worked with in all those stations I’ve been a part of, and I’ve had some good ones. That makes it easier. But I think we all learn together, and we work to make the event better every year. I think everybody sees the value that it brings to the city. It’s been nice to bring revenue and people into Detroit, and I’m very proud of that. You know, there have been umpteen offers to move this event out of the city, every year. But Debbie [CBS Radio vice president and market manager Debbie Kenyon] and I committed a long time ago that we wanted to keep this in Detroit. We think it’s good on many levels, and it seems to work.”
The TV Anchors
Should any further proof be required that Detroit could double as Nashville North, consider this: two of the four lead news anchors for the city’s network television affiliates, Devin Scillian of NBC/Channel 4 (WDIV) and Stephen Clark of ABC/Channel 7 (WXYZ) are prominent local country singer-songwriters in their off-camera hours. And while neither singing head is performing at the Hoedown this year – the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix held the same weekend may need some coverage – each has played the event at least a half-dozen times in the past.
“I think it’s great, because you don’t necessarily think of Detroit when you think of country music,” acknowledges Clark, whose Twitter ID (@stephenclark) states tongue-in-cheek, “I’ll keep at the music until this TV thing works out.”
(He assembled his backup band through communications on Twitter and named it, appropriately, the Trending Topics.)
“So I think the opportunity to bring live country performances from the top names on the charts right now is a big thing,” Clarks adds. “I think it exposes people.”
Scillian says there are some inherent hassles for local acts playing the Hoedown. “To be honest, my band doesn’t always love it,” he says. “Parking is crazy, and trying to get your gear loaded in and out can be a challenge, but my experience has always been a good time. What’s really cool is that, as opposed to some other places you play where people show up to be nice, you know you’re getting a serious country crowd at Hoedown.”
The dueling anchors once played dueling guitars for fun at the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, and while they’ve never collaborated, Scillian says the two keep each other aware of their musical progress via YouTube. “I think when you get down to it, it might mean that anchormen are big hams,” he says, laughing. “But Steve and I have talked about it, and what journalists do, at least the good ones, is tell stories. And that’s what songwriters do. Underneath it all, what we really like to do is write songs.”
Huel Perkins better get a band together.
Jim McFarlin is a regular contributor to the Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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