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  • City Slang: DJ AvA, Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp preview Movement at Urban Bean Co.

    It’s a really, very cool idea. Paxahau, the good people behind the Movement Electronic Music Festival, are hosting a series of warm-up events, or previews, to the big festival which takes place Memorial Day weekend. On Thursday evening, Movement moved into the Urban Coffee Bean on Grand River in Detroit. While Dj AvA and Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp ably worked the decks, the regular coffee shop goings on continued behind them. It made for an interesting and amusing webcast experience – one guy was taking a nap on camera, while others supped coffee and tappd their feet. It should come as no surprise – the Urban Coffee Co. people have always been big supporters of electronic music. The place includes a DJ stand, and co-owner Josh Greenwood encourages customers to bring their own vinyl and spin on the open turntables. Not on Thursday night though. This being a coffee shop, and it not being particularly late at night, the music remained pretty chill throughout. DJ AvA (real name Heather McGuigan) includes Beth Orton, Madonna, the B-52’s, Daftpunk and David Byrne among her list of influences, so you know that she’s capable of both whipping up a storm and also […]

    The post City Slang: DJ AvA, Chuck Flask & Keith Kemp preview Movement at Urban Bean Co. appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Here is why landlords could do well in Wayne County

    CNN has a message to all prospective landlords: Head to Wayne County! Occupancy and rental rates are increasing, the report says, creating an opportunity for serious returns on investments. In fact, after comparing the median sales price of homes to average monthly rents in nearly 1,600 counties, RealtyTrac found that Detroit’s Wayne County offers landlords the best return on their investment in the nation. Investors who buy homes in the metro area can expect a 30% gross annual return from rents. That’s triple the national average of 10%. RealtyTrac, an online real estate information company, says the county offers investors low prices for larger homes — with a median price of $45,000. “We’ve got some steals here,” said Rachel Saltmarshall, a real estate agent and immediate past president of the Detroit Association of Realtors, told CNN. “There’s a six-bedroom, 6,000 square-foot home in a historic district selling for $65,000.” For more, read the entire report here.

    The post Here is why landlords could do well in Wayne County appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • The Record Store Day Guide for metro Detroit

    This Saturday, audiophiles across the world will venture out to their favorite independent record stores in search of limited releases that quickly become collectors items. The third Saturday of April marks the fairly new international holiday Record Store Day. There are certainly dos and don’ts to know for RSD — like where to shop, and how to shop. That’s right, there is an etiquette to shopping on Record Store Day and violating that code makes you look like a real asshole. In my experience of celebrating Record Store Day, I’ve seen stores use a few different tactics as far as stocking the special releases. Some establishments will set up a table, somewhere in the store, where a few shoppers at a time can flip through records in a calm and contained manner. Other places will have a similar setup, with all the releases at a table, but shoppers ask the store employees for the releases they want. It’s like a record nerd stock exchange. This process gets loud, slightly confusing and incredibly annoying — this is where elbows start getting thrown. Then, there are places that put the releases on the shelves, usually categorized by size — twelve inches with the twelve inches, seven inches with the seven inches and […]

    The post The Record Store Day Guide for metro Detroit appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • City Slang: DEMF 2014 canceled

    The Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which was supposed to be making a triumphant return this year, has been canceled. A statement on the website says that the festival will be back in 2015. Back in November, Ford Field hosted an announcement party for DEMF, where it was revealed that a new DEMF festival would take place at Campus Martius Park in Detroit over the July 4th weekend. “I’m proud to be involved in the biggest and best electronic music festival in the world,” said Juan Atkins. “The future’s here. This is techno scene.” Not the immediate future, apparently. The DEMF people claim that the M-1 rail construction is partially to blame for the cancellation/12-month-postponement. Read the full statement here. Follow @City_Slang

    The post City Slang: DEMF 2014 canceled appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Metro Times wins heavy at the SPJ Awards

    Despite a turbulent 2013 which saw Metro Times change owners, move buildings and change editors twice, we picked up eight awards at the Society of Professional Journalists Awards on Wednesday night. The big winner was Robert Nixon, design manager, who picked up a first place for “Feature Page Design (Class A)” for our Josh Malerman cover story, first for “Cover Design (Class A)” for our Halloween issue (alongside illustrator John Dunivant), and a second in that same category for our annual Lust issue. In the news categories, our esteemed former news editor and current contributing writer Curt Guyette won third in “General News Reporting” and third in “Best Consumer/Watchdog” – both Class A – for the Fairground Zero and Petcoke Series respectively. Music & Culture Editor Brett Callwood placed third for his Josh Malerman cover story in the “Best Personality Profile (Class A)” category, and former editor Bryan Gottlieb picked up a couple of Class C awards for “Editorial Writing” and “Headline Writing” (third and second, respectively). We were also pleased to learn that our investigative reporter Ryan Felton won first place and an honorable mention for work published while at the Oakland Press. The MT ship is steady now, […]

    The post Metro Times wins heavy at the SPJ Awards appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.

  • Detroit’s grand bargain still needs Lansing’s approval

    In this week’s Metro Times we took a look at the state legislature’s role in Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy — in particular, how it must approve a $350 million pledge for the so-called “grand bargain” to remain intact. And, with last night’s announcement of a significant deal between the city and Detroit’s pension boards and retiree groups, the ball is Lansing’s court now. The new deal, first reported by the Freep, would cut general employees monthly pension checks by 4.5 percent and eliminate their cost-of-living increases. Police and fire retirees would see no cuts to monthly checks, while their cost-of-living increases would be reduced from 2.25 percent to 1 percent. Under the original offer, police and fire retirees cuts were as high as 14 percent, with general retirees as high as 34 percent, that is, if the groups rejected the “grand bargain,” an $816 million proposal funded by foundations, the state, and the DIA to shore up pensions. The sweeter deal for pensions, though, it must be noted, entirely relies on the state legislature approving $350 million for Detroit’s bankruptcy.  And while this broke after Metro Times went to press, that was the focal point of this week’s News Hits column — so, it’s worth repeating: The […]

    The post Detroit’s grand bargain still needs Lansing’s approval appeared first on Metro Times Blogs.



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Cover Story

Motown revival

Remembering the Marvelettes and the hit factory's beginnings

Photo: Justin Rose, License: N/A

Justin Rose

Photo: Doug Coombe, License: N/A

Doug Coombe

The Marvelettes: Looking for that postman, again?

"The only place we did our warm-ups was in our basements, but we were basically doing the very same thing these kids are doing here," said Contour Joe Billingslea. "You had to keep that energy up the whole time and I'm noticing these kids already got the juices flowing, so they should be really good."

"Even before we went to Motown, we'd get together and practice, but when we got to Motown we had a vocal instructor that had us working the scales," added Vandella Ashford-Holmes. "I think they're sounding wonderful."

Vandella Beard-Helton hoped to impart some wisdom to the young thespians. "Education has to come first. Entertaining is up and down, it can peak and fall back down." 

But Billingslea wanted them to respect and maintain the dream of finding success. "There's going to be a lot of people they'll meet, family and friends even, who'll doubt them at some point. I hope that if they really believe in what they're doing they'll never doubt themselves and stick with performing, even when it gets really hard, which it will." 

Sperling pointed out the guests in the room, letting the company know that more than a few Detroit media outlets and The New York Times were represented. Having the full attention of the company, one last introduction was made. 

Smiling proud and warm, a tall woman took a seat among the other Motowners. In his introduction, Sperling, who wrote and directs Now That I Can Dance, said "more material has come from her than anyone else for this play. She's the source, she's our narrator, it's her story as much as anything. Ladies and gentlemen, original Marvelette, Katherine Anderson-Schaffner — Kat!" 

The crowd went crazy. 

Then all eyes were on Mosaic's Marvelettes, who performed an inspired run-through of "Too Many Fish in the Sea," choreography and all. The song appears in a soul-shaking fantasy concert scene that even includes founding member Georgia Dobbins.

A professional performance of Motown material comes with a serious and unique responsibility. Motown has been more than cooperative with Mosaic since they first started discussing this production more than five years ago. (It's the second time Now That I Can Dance has been staged since the inaugural run in 2005.) 

To put it in perspective, Gordy is a famously stingy (or at least protective) businessman when it comes to licensing out Motown material for film and theater. That, in large part, is why we're left with vague, rehashed versions of the Motown story in productions like Sparkle and Dreamgirls, stories acted out to the accompaniment of songs that strive to capture the Motown era. But as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang on the 1968 Motown hit: "Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."

Think of the cash that could be made from producing a string of Motown biopics, each one starring all the same actors as the last, but the main story arc in each focuses on an individual act or group. Kind of crazy to think we haven't even gotten a one-off called Hitsville. So, until we start seeing some big-ticket projects getting the official Motown stamp of approval, it's mostly the young people in Mosaic who get to fill this cultural void. 


After "Too Many Fish in the Sea," the floor was opened up for a Q & A with the resident stars.

With the show's opening night just a few weeks away, here these kids were, trying to perfect their roles with sacred authenticity, and then they got to pick the brains of some of the subjects they're portraying. 

Actor Matthew Webb portrays several parts in Now That I Can Dance, including a period-perfect concert announcer, a confident Contour, and a bluesman named William Garrett who played a role in the Marvelettes story. Webb wanted to hear "what the vibe at Hitsville was like on a regular day."

Billingslea described it as an open-round-the-clock space: "No matter what time of day or night you stopped by, someone was there practicing, writing or hanging out trying to pick up new songs from the writers as they finished them. We were all very fond of each other." 

That last line came with a built-in caveat, as it's well-known that there was internal competition and sometimes tensions would flare. Billingslea continued: "Oh, you had your competition, of course. The Marvelettes were put up against the Vandellas and the Supremes. And the Contours were against the Miracles and the Temptations."

Billingslea said he still gets a rise out of prodding his old labelmates.

"The Temptations were very, very good performers. Voice-wise, they were of the highest quality," he said, "but they could not perform with the Contours on stage. They knew it. Everyone in the company knew it. We could outperform them on stage, but we couldn't touch their voices." 

He told Webb and the Mosaic cast and choir that, after the first time he performed at the Apollo, someone told him something that he immediately took to heart: "When people come to see you, they come to see you perform. If they wanted to hear the record they could sit at home all day and listen to it. They want to see you perform. We were acrobatic, doing all kinds of splits, flips and somersaults."

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