Metro Detroit Bucket List: The Music Spots You Need to Check Out

In our 2022 City Guide, we roundup what every local must do in their lifetime. Here are the venues, record shops, and festivals that made our list.
cliff bells
Cheers to good jazz at Cliff Bell’s.

Catch a low-key jazz set at Cliff Bell’s

Cliff Bell’s was the first place I went to see live music once the pandemic relented. I almost cried while watching Detroit jazz legend Wendell Harrison perform on stage. It reminded me how powerful a place like Cliff Bell’s can be. Here, you can see touring and local musicians (emphasis on the local — the Detroit jazz scenes, new and old, are largely programmed through this joint). Each Thursday evening, jazz musicians kick off a three-night run. It’s slow. It’s intimate. It’s often experimental. It’s a must for any self-respecting Detroiter. Detroit: cliffbells.com

Embrace the good ol’ days at the newly rechristened Pine Knob

You’re not here to discover something new. You’re here to see Tears for Fears one night, Matchbox Twenty the next. If you’re over 40 and grew up in metro Detroit, you have memories here. If you have kids, they are ready to experience their first show from the hillside of Pine Knob. Clarkston: 313presents.com/venue/pine-knob-music-theatre

Live life loud at PJ’s Lager House

This Corktown staple is slowly gaining a wider reputation for its food — which includes one of the best brunches in the city — than for its live music. (It’s tough to book bands during a pandemic.) If you’re catching a live show at PJ’s Lager House, it’s likely a local artist you haven’t heard before or an out-of-town touring act you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the region. Detroit: pjslagerhouse.com

Hit the cycle at the Majestic 

The cycle? Bowling a game at the oldest (though updated)bowling alley in North America, seeing a show at the Majestic Theatre (its lobby’s massive new bar, news of which was drowned out by the pandemic, is fantastic) or the Magic Stick upstairs, and then blurry-eyeing your way to Sgt. Pepperoni’s for a hot slice of pizza. Bonus points for stopping by on a Monday, when you’ll catch a bingo night that’s mostly a stand-up comedy showcase and one of the best ways you could start your week. Detroit: majesticdetroit.com

Visit Outer Limits to see what happens when a bar becomes a record label, recording studio, and live music venue

There’s a real community built around Outer Limits Lounge in Hamtramck, but that doesn’t mean outsiders ain’t welcome. This bar boasts a great indoor music venue (that hosts some of the best live sound engineers around), as well as a backyard with an outdoor stage that’s an absolute riot in the summer. Rotating events, such as a recurring punk rock and vintage flea market called Fleatroit, ensure there’s always a reason to stop in and clock a cold one. Show off your insider knowledge by casually telling friends, “Oh yeah, they actually record bands upstairs and release records by local musicians. You can buy them behind the bar.” Hamtramck: outerlimitslounge.com

cliff bells
We asked locals to experience our Bucket List. Here, model LaPorcshia plays the piano at Cliff Bell’s.

Discover the best of Detroit’s new alternative scene at UFO Factory

While the crowd at PJ’s skews a bit older, UFO Factory is undoubtedly the cool, hip, “oh, we’re wearing that again?” spot. Still, the joint has a truly welcoming atmosphere, regardless of your age or wardrobe. The upstairs “cloud bar” deck overlooking Corktown is one of the best hot-summer-night spots in the city. Detroit: ufofactory.com

See what classical music has to offer the city at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

If you haven’t experienced live classical music before, the 100-plus-year-old Orchestra Hall is the spot. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has made it more accessible than ever to give it a shot (it’s OK if you’ve never been before or you think it might not be your thing), including offering cheaper tickets on weekdays and for matinees. Detroit: dso.org

See how the sausage (read: vinyl) is made and catch a show at Jack White’s Third Man Records

This has to be one of the best-designed retail spots in Detroit. Third Man Records is part record store, part Jack White merchandise shop. It’s also an intimate music venue that imparts a feeling of watching a great touring act in your buddy’s basement (the feel of it, not the sound of it, thank God). And the view of records actively being pressed in the back is sure to impress you, as well as your out-of-town friends. Detroit: thirdmanstore.com

Give Movement a try — even if it’s not your bag

I know, I know. The idea of a day rave sounds absurd. But here’s the deal. Movement, an electronic music festival, is one of the largest in the world dedicated to this type of music, and, set in downtown Detroit, it’s right in your backyard. At the very least, the people-watching is incredible. If you’re not so sure, buy a single-day ticket, just so you can say, “I did it — yeah, it was great.” You won’t regret it. Detroit: movementfestival.com

Visit the ever-popular Dally in the Alley for a dose of old-school Cass Corridor spirit

Before the pandemic, the popularity of Dally in the Alleya free, community-produced festival that takes place each post-Labor Day weekend — was at an all-time high. Like, completely packed, with tents and crowds of people winding between apartment buildings and throughout the streets of Cass Corridor. In fact, it’s probably approaching some terrible tipping point, so get there early if you want to catch the vibe (think: local music, cheap beer, and excellent people-watching). Detroit: facebook.com/dallyinthealley

third man records
Brent, a senior financial analyst at General Motors, and LaPorcshia enjoy all that Third Man Records has to offer.

Experience global music and culture right here in the city at Concert of Colors

Like the aforementioned live music festivals, Concert of Colors should return to a live, in-person format this year (fingers crossed). When it does, it will stretch across multiple venues in the city’s cultural corridor, from the Detroit Institute of Arts to Orchestra Hall, where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performs. It’s a global affair, consistently bringing in talent from around the world that would otherwise be unlikely to stop in
Detroit. Detroit: concertofcolors.com

See live music against the stunning backdrop of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ Rivera Court

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing First Nations musician Jeremy Dutcher and Detroit jazz prodigy Marcus Elliot perform in the DIA’s Rivera Court, whose walls are lined with murals by famed artist Diego Rivera. There’s nothing like enjoying incredible art, while surrounded by incredible art. Detroit: dia.org/events

Kick off the fall season at Detroit Jazz Festival

After two years of virtual programming, it’s likely this event will finally reopen in-person, spanning multiple stages in downtown Detroit. The Detroit Jazz Festival is where some of the best local musicianship lives and your chance to see living legends of the jazz genre — completely free of charge. Jazz is good for the soul, even if you can’t make sense of the notes quite yet. Trust me. Detroit: detroitjazzfest.org

Venture to Ann Arbor to admire Albert Kahn’s sonically perfect music venue

It’s under the radar for the uninitiated, but Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus is one of the greatest concert halls in the world. The acoustics are impeccable. It’s also immensely diverse. You can see a traditional Mexican ballet here. You can see Wilco here. You can see an orchestra or a live play here. Whatever you see, you won’t regret it. Ann Arbor: smtd.umich.edu/about/facilities/hill-auditorium

Catch the summer breeze off the Detroit River at the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre

Much like the Dally in the Alley festival, the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre feels like Detroit. You can literally see the Detroit River behind the performers. It’s also interesting to watch the venue spread its wings musically to incorporate everything from Maxwell and Trombone Shorty to indie rock stalwart Lord Huron, all of whom will grace the stage this spring and summer. Detroit: thearetha.com


Panelists’ Picks

Joe Gall

Joe Gall
Joe Gall
Detroit photographer (@Camera_Jesus on Instagram)

“The Fox Theatre should be listed as a wonder of the world. Everyone should try and experience a show there at least once in their lifetime. One of my best memories was while photographing a sold-out Big Sean show and feeling the entire upper balcony bouncing up and down with the energy of the crowd.”

 

Melody Baetens

Melody Baetens
Melody Baetens
Restaurant critic and entertainment reporter for The Detroit News

“I love the music at the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. There’s always at least one band on the lineup — the Paybacks, the Detroit Cobras, Shadow Show — that I’m super excited to see. Also, it’s free to attend, the beers are cheap, and the food is fantastic.”

Dan McGowan

Dan McGowan
Dan McGowan
Owner and promoter at The Crofoot Presents

“You have to see a show at the Detroit Opera House — especially one of the latest shows, with Yuval Sharon as artistic director. The restaging of Bliss in the defunct Michigan Theatre parking garage was absolutely incredible. It was an immersive performance art piece that replayed three minutes of The Marriage of Figaro with the same cast and same orchestra without pause for 12 hours. It was riveting.”


New & Notable

When we talk about “new and notable” in this section, it’s important to note that venues, museums, and galleries don’t pop up as quickly as restaurants or bars. So, we aimed for places that opened within the past five to seven years.

Spot Lite Detroit

It almost doesn’t feel fair. Spot Lite opened barely a year ago, but it’s already established itself as the de facto home for live electronic music. It’s designed to feel like a place you’d fall in love with in Montreal, Berlin, New York — but the programming is distinctly Detroit (who else has a Theo Parrish residency?). Its combo of bar/coffee shop/record store/art gallery/live music venue takes it over the top.Detroit: spotlitedetroit.com

Willis Show Bar

This small-but-mighty cocktail lounge has emerged as the perfect date spot and intimate live space to see singers, songwriters, and jazz groups — even as DJs with regular nights and residencies are beginning to gobble up the calendar. Detroit: willisshowbar.com

Paramita Sound

The journey of this tiny-record-shop-that-could has been a long and strange one, but it has finally reached a moment of clarity with its record shop-meets-wine bar in downtown Detroit. A very small bar makes it tough to grab a seat, but if you do, you’ll have one of the best in the city with a killer soundtrack of music discovery to boot. Detroit: paramitasound.com

Sanctuary Detroit

This one is for the punks! Even though the Sanctuary Detroit is starting to book acts outside of the metal and punk variety. It’s also a great spot for up-and-coming local talent, like Ally Evenson on June 25. She’ll be joined by more local talent, including Jacob Sigman and Trauna. Hamtramck: sanctuarydetroit.com

Marble Bar

This is where we tap on the sign at the top and say, “New music venues don’t pop up overnight, so quit grilling us on the opening dates.” Since opening in 2015, Marble Bar has become a major hub for Detroit’s thriving electronic music scene, where Waajeed, Shigeto, Tammy Lakkis, and nightlife architects Haute to Death feel at home, having played multiple sets there. In the summer, the built-out backyard is the place to be, for those in the late-night crowd. Detroit: facebook.com/marblebardetroit


Ryan Patrick Hooper writes Hour Detroit’s Culture Calendar. He is the host of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET, Detroit’s NPR station (weekdays from noon to 2 p.m.).


This story is from the April 2022 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our digital edition

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