BY ERIN CHAN DING • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER • June 19, 2008
If last year was about celebrating Detroit's rejuvenated riverfront, then this year is about continuing -- and enhancing -- the outdoor party.
If last year was about discovery, then this year is about pleasure.
Detroit's river celebration, renamed GM River Days, returns this weekend for its second incarnation. The organizers, who changed the event's name this year to reflect the financial sponsorship of General Motors, have melded what worked last year (live music and lighted boats on parade) with new activities they're hoping will lure people back (hydroplanes and heaps of fine art).
Again, GM will partner with two nonprofit organizations, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Parade Company, to put on the free soiree. Again, the festival literally ends with a bang -- 24 minutes of bangs -- when the Target Fireworks display launches from barges on the river.
And once again, the festivities star the spirited Detroit River, made even more shimmery by the multitudes of people who will stroll its banks.
Here's what to see and do during this year's GM River Days.
Though the Boblo boat won't be making a trip upriver during this year's River Days, festivalgoers will see a gorgeous 84-year-old topsail schooner.
The 154-foot-long Highlander Sea tall ship will sail the Detroit River and dock at Rivard Plaza so visitors can hop aboard for a free tour. First launched in October 1924, the Highlander Sea was originally used to race harbor pilots out to meet visiting ships at Boston Harbor. From there, the ships could be steered to safety. The water vessel, now based in Port Huron, features a pilot house, a salon with a small library, a galley and several bunk beds.
The Coast Guard has limited the tours -- 46 people at a time -- to the deck, according to Ben Hale, captain of the Highlander Sea. But festivalgoers will be able to get great looks at the hatches, deck hardware and rigging and can peek through skylights at the accommodations.
Says Hale, of the schooner: "She's an original!"
Also new on the river this year will be an exhibition of hydroplanes, offering something like a preview of the APBA Gold Cup race scheduled for next month. The exhibitions will run 4-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Artists are also getting in on the river-based fun. A new Art on the River celebration will feature more than 20 emerging and professional artists, including painters, woodworkers, photographers and jewelers.
When the sun graces the RiverWalk, joggers often follow. This year, they'll have a chance to race beside the water during the first 5K Saturn Fun Run, which will take runners on the RiverWalk and through parts of downtown. The run, which starts at 9 a.m. Sunday, follows a route between Hart Plaza and Chene Park. Registration begins at the GM Plaza at 8:15 a.m., and participants can register early at www.riverdays.com/funrun.html. Parking for race participants is free at the Beaubien Street Parking Deck at Beaubien and Atwater.
This year's Target Fireworks event is on Monday, not Wednesday.
Organizers shortened GM River Days from six days to four because "we wanted it to be really crisp," says Matt Cullen, who is cochairman of the boards for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Parade Company. (He was also the general manager of economic development and enterprise services at GM before leaving this month to become president and chief operating officer of Rock Enterprises.) Last year, the festival "was great fun, but it kind of wore out those of us who were involved in it," Cullen says.
Joan LeMahieu, president of the Parade Company, adds that the highest concentration of people came between Friday and Monday last year and that it made sense to condense the event.
The Parade Company will hold its Official VIP Rooftop Party from 6 to 11 p.m. Monday atop the Miller Parking Garage, just west of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.
The lineup for the party includes Melissa O'Neil and Ben Mingay, who are both performing in the Toronto production of the musical "Dirty Dancing." Tickets, which cost $175 each and benefit the Parade Company, are available at 313-432-7831.
There'll be an eclectic lineup Friday on the Bank of America National Stage, including a return to the '80s with Rick Springfield, who may never escape being associated with his hit "Jessie's Girl." Preceding Springfield will be the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which will offer a free concert titled "Music That Changed Music" featuring works by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, George Gershwin, John Williams (of "Star Wars" theme fame) and John Philip Sousa. Energetic band Taproot is scheduled to close out Friday night after Springfield.
On Saturday, there's '90s alt-rock group the Verve Pipe -- remember "The Freshmen"? -- which has reunited after a seven-year hiatus. Before the Verve Pipe performs, Michelle Branch, best known for singles like "Everywhere" and "All You Wanted," brings her pop-rock to River Days.
Things will get appropriately spiritual on Sunday afternoon with "Gospel on the River II" featuring the Detroit Revival Choir, Lydia Wright, Breath of Praise and other choirs and singers. Closing out that night will be R&B crooner BrianMcKnight.
On Monday night, indie band Shirock, which will release its debut album this year, takes the stage at 6 p.m. The band has already had a couple of its songs played on MTV's hit show "The Hills."
Several favorites from last year's River Days will be back: Typhoon Tommy Nuttall and the Typhoon Ski Freestyle Team, Diamond Jack's River Tours (discounted at $10 for adults and $5 for kids), the Second Annual Pooch-A-Palooza Pet Walk (9 a.m. Saturday with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.), the Ultimate Air Dogs and the DTE Energy Parade of Lights (10 p.m. Saturday).
Free food tickets
A tip: Two places offering parking will give you free food tickets. Try the River East and Franklin garages. Parking is $10 at each lot, but each car can receive $5 of free food tickets. You must request the food tickets upon entering the garages.
Accessible via Jefferson, River East is at the corner of Rivard and Atwater Franklin is at Franklin and St. Antoine .
GM River Days
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.,
10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.,
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.,
10 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.
Detroit International Riverfront by the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit
Posted by Erin Rose at 1:52 PM