Over the next few days, people from around the globe will fill Detroit and Hart Plaza for three days, taking over the city with many genres of electronic music. It's something that I have had the privilege to do every year since Movement started in 2000, back then know as Detroit Electronic Music Festival or DEMF.
I didn't know that much about Detroit in 2000. I was in college at Wayne State, went to events downtown sometimes and of course the legendary club Motor in Hamtramck. At that point, I wanted to go to NYU and move to New York like every music industry-bound person was supposed to do.
But something happened that changed my life-path forever. In a single moment, within a sea of people and bliss in Hart Plaza, I decided to move to the city and work for a Detroit music icon.
I had similar moments before, experiences that change your inner being. Seeing Michael Jackson for my first concert at age six, attending music school at Wayne State and being able to play the piano for the first time, and seeing legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins live at age 86 as part of the Detroit Blues Society's Anti-Freeze Blues Festival in 2000. All had major effects on how/where I lived my life.
Still, the first DEMF was epic on every level. There are few moments in life that capture that long, glorious weekend. My friends and I had been down at the festival the second night of the festival and saw The Roots just absolutely kill it for what felt like three hours. Probably my favorite hip-hop show I've ever seen to date.
One night later, a little after 9 p.m., techno originator and icon Derrick May was DJing the main stage. My friends and I were right in the middle of the Hart Plaza bowl, dancing and swaying to the music. For some reason I stopped. And then the moment happened. I remember everything getting very slow and turning in a circle, getting a 360 degree view that was both what I was experiencing in the moment but also what Detroit could be and the future that it held.
Looking around and seeing so many people, of so many ages and backgrounds, their exuberant "I am happy" faces, all swaying together, the stage overlooking the pit and all the lights, seeing the river and the music setting the soundtrack. Finally my eyes settled upon the Detroit skyline and a moment of clarity happens inside. "I am moving to Detroit, and I'm gonna work for this guy Derrick May." It was so calming and emotional at the same time. I started to work for both Derrick May's record label and the Movement festival less than two years after that. I have been living in Detroit for almost 10 years now.
In that moment, I set in motion different energies that lead to the paths I walked for years -- and so much of who and where I am today. Working for the Movement festival itself, starting the record label the Few Records, working at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. All of it adding up to creating Forward Arts in 2010, an arts organization who's mission is to grow, sustain and preserve Detroit's vibrant art industries.
Over these past 10 years, I've seen many moments like this, these raw moments of artistry that can transform lives and the paths we take. I've seen it happen to nurses, teachers, venture capitalists and more. It's who we are and what others are attracted to. Detroit's trump card over everybody is that it is authentic. And it's those moments that help equate into such emotions.
Moments like Seun Kuti killing it at the former CityFest (which I dearly miss). Walking into Theatre Bizarre for the first time. Seeing Stephanie and Julie Howell's "Plasticity" installation at the 5th Belle Isle Art Exhibit in 2011. (This year's exhibit opens June 23rd, go see it!)
All these events and moments are less about me than they are about businesses and organizations providing "Detroit moments" of inspiration and motivation.
Yes, the arts can make your child's grades higher and become a better person. Yes, the arts can create commerce and make living in places more desirable than others. Yes, they create a positive city culture and moments of community, of interconnectedness across all backgrounds, ages and races -- all of which we need more.
But more than anything, we should support these moments because they define and are a reflection of who we are as a city. It's what inspires us, and others, to create and become something better.
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