Detroit’s Summer Festival Season Kicks Off with GM River Days

Summer has arrived – it’s time to celebrate

After years of work by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the waterfront has emerged as one of Detroit’s most vibrant public spaces — playing host to everything from relaxed Friday night strolls to packed summer festivals.

One of the biggest events, GM River Days, celebrates its 11th run this June 23-25, with a mix of music, food from local vendors, and activities showcasing the beauty and importance of the waterfront.

“More than a decade later, the festival is incredibly popular, and, to a lot of people, it is the unofficial kick off to summer,” says Marc Pasco, director of communications for the nonprofit Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which is hosting the three-day event.

This year, musical headliners include classic rock icon Ann Wilson of Heart, soul artist Freddie Jackson, and Grammy-winning R&B group 112. In all, more than 40 acts will be spread across four stages.

The serene wetlands of William G. Milliken State Park will become the backdrop to one of the festival’s new attractions: A 30-foot-high tube slide, where riders can pick up enough speed to hit 20 miles per hour. Or, check out what has become a River Days favorite: A 34-foot-high zipline that runs along a 300-foot stretch of the riverwalk. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is also staging an all-ages climbing wall.

Event organizers also see River Days as an opportunity for residents to get to know some of the plants and animals that call the riverfront home. Wildlife experts will be on hand to field questions, and hunters can test their marksmanship on the archery range. And if the full slate of events leaves you a little hungry, the food court will be stocked with pizza, ice cream, burgers, and other festival staples from a dozen local vendors, including Atwater Bistro and Beans & Cornbread.

Admission to the GM River Days festival is free on Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and $3 before 3 p.m. and $5 after 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Proceeds benefit the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which has overseen the revitalization of the riverfront since 2003. The group recently unveiled designs for several new projects along the east waterfront, including plans for a beach and new connections for east side neighborhoods.

Check out the full lineup of events at