Hidden Detroit – Music and Entertainment


Part of our 2017 City Guide, Hidden Detroit

Singers Jonathan Harris (from left), Dan Kitzman, Katrina Van Maanen, and Rehanna Thelwell perform in Albert Herring at the Detroit Historical Museum.

A ‘Gateway Drug’ to Form Opera Habits

You don’t need an opulent 2,700-seat venue to put on a truly breathtaking opera performance. Opera Modo is proof of that.

During one sold-out performance, a couple dozen ticketholders pack inside the Gothic Room inside of the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, taking their seats in folding chairs.

Once the show begins, performers belt impressive recitatives. The powerful vibrato voices bounce off the walls, captivating spectators.

During these intimate performances by Opera Modo, guests are fully immersed in the show — an experience unlike any other in Detroit.

“We really want the audience to feel like they’re in the story, instead a voyeur observing it from afar,” says Opera Modo founder Danielle Wright.

The company predominantly calls the Carr Center in Detroit home, but they’ve taken a pop-up approach as well, hosting small-scale shows in diverse locations such as the Dossin Museum on Belle Isle, The Jam Handy, and on the “Streets of Old Detroit” exhibit in the basement of the Detroit Historical Museum.

Originally formed in New Jersey in 2011, the company found its way to the Motor City in 2013 after Wright had been in a performance with the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Wright says she created the organization to give budding performers the opportunities to sing without having to pay for the experience. (Many opera industry programs for young performers are tuition-based and are commonly referred to as, “pay-to-sings.”)

Now in their third year as a nonprofit, Wright hopes they soon qualify for various grants that would allow them to pay their performers.

Shows put on by Modo are anything but stuffy and are perfect for first-timers.

“Everybody keeps saying how art is dying, opera is dying, it’s a dead art form,” says Wright. “Well, it’s only dead when you don’t allow it to evolve.”

In that vein, previous shows like Carmen take on a new twist, incorporating a storyline inspired by the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. For their rendition of Don Giovanni, the company pulled inspiration from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Wright calls these types of shows a “gateway drug of opera.” — Lexi Trimpe

For a full listing of shows in their upcoming season, visit operamodo.com

Stef Chura

Music Acts You Might Not Know 

(There are so many, but here are just five you totally need to know about) 

Indie: Stef Chura
Messes (2017, Urinal Cake Records) 
Stef Chura tears through 11 songs in just over 30 minutes on her debut record. It’s a total blast, musically and nostalgically. Chura’s raw, warbly vocal delivery is balanced by her six-string Fender, fed through vintage-sounding distortion, chorus, and reverb pedals. It’s a sonic melange that speaks to a couple of eras, like if 1975 Patti Smith fronted a rock band in 1995 (think Hole, Belly, and Throwing Muses).

Folk: Escaping Pavement
The Night Owl (2016)
It’s a good habit to search for a sense of earnestness in music, but folksters often over-write, producing songs that are overwrought or cheesy. In that sense, Escaping Pavement is lactose intolerant. Emily Burns and Aaron Markovitz, multi-instrumentalists who share vocal duties, produce lush and sincere songs. Listen for a proper Americana arsenal of guitar, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, etc.

Hip-Hop: Nolan The Ninja
Lo-Fi Flips (2017, Left of Center)
F*** The Hype (2015) 

Nolan The Ninja is young, focused and prolific. As a producer, he’s a legitimate torch-bearer, creating unctuous instrumentals that feel rooted in the grain of classic hip-hop. As a rapper, he’s cunning, relentlessly frenetic, and timeless — serving up a dish of sweet beats that have been well-seasoned, roasted, and flambéed. Yummy.

Freq Tape (2017, Self-Released)
Time will tell, but the most sultry, Detroit R&B summer soundtrack might’ve been released on Jan. 30th. Remember the thaw? I blame ONEFREQ. On their official debut, Freq Tape, the band meshes beat-oriented electronic elements with funked-up live percussion and bass guitar. Songs sometimes fall into Latin rhythms (and Spanish lyrics), with appearances from tasteful, restrained guitar lines and soulful saxophone.

Production: Jon Zott
Executive producer/engineer/remixer/house music producer Jon Zott doesn’t stand in front of microphones. He’s usually separated from them by soundproof walls or hundreds of fans. Zott’s a sound engineer, and he’s quickly becoming one of the most stealthy and sought-after producers and remix artists in Detroit. With an effervescent approach to making and remixing tracks, Zott’s deft touch creating magical sonic cohesion as a producer is something to behold. Notable projects include studio-production and remixes for artists such as Tunde Olaniran, Absofacto, Britney Stoney, Humons, and more, as well as running live sound on national tours for JR JR and BØRNS.  — Travis Wright

Planet D Nonet, led by RJ Spangler, performs at the Scarab Club.

8 venues

Bert’s Warehouse Theater
While most who frequent Eastern Market are sure to enjoy barbecue joint Bert’s Marketplace, Bert’s Warehouse Theater may not be as well known. Situated behind the eatery, the theater hosts rap, blues, jazz, and DJ acts. 2739 Russell St., Detroit; 313-393-3233; bertsentertainmentcomplex.com

John’s Carpet House
Nationally touring blues and R&B artists play free concerts every Sunday afternoon in the summer. 2133 Frederick St., Detroit; 313-995-8715; facebook.com/johnscarpethouse 

Motor City Wine 
House, jazz, and blues musicians provide live entertainment six nights a week. The back doors open to a patio with outdoor entertainment. 1949 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-483-7283; motorcitywine.com

Paramita Sound 
Detroit hip hop and electronic music artists fill the West Village record store for album release shows and the Beat Profile, a monthly music showcase featuring popular and coming artists. 1417 Van Dyke, Detroit; 313-423-6844 

Scarab Club
The art-covered walls serve as the backdrop for intimate monthly chamber music concerts in the heart of Detroit’s museum district. 217 Farnsworth St., Detroit; 313-831-1250; scarabclub.org 

The Jam Handy 
An unassuming front opens to an industrial space in Milwaukee Junction. Detroit artists and musicians offer diverse monthly performances. 2900 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit; thejamhandy.com 

Since 1993, two historical homes in Woodbridge have housed an anarchist housing collective, art space, and zine library. 4210 Trumbull Ave., Detroit; trumbullplex.org 

Whisky Parlor 
The second-floor venue above Grand Trunk Pub hosts live jazz, blues, and vinyl electronic music every weekend. 608 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-3043; whiskyparlor.com 


North American International Banjo Convention
Date: April 27-29
The Dearborn convention includes jam sessions, workshops, performances, and vendors. naibc.org

Midnight Madness
Date: Fridays and Saturdays
The Main Theatre in Royal Oak plays a midnight showing of an iconic film every weekend. Tickets $7 a person. 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-542-5198; landmarktheatres.com

MotorCity Tap Fest
Date: Aug. 9-12
Watching La La Land isn’t the only way to get your tap fix. The 10th annual MotorCity Tap Fest features classes, a young choreographers competition, guest performances, and more. motorcitytapfest.com