Does Dearborn have a music scene?

Dearborn is known in the Metro Detroit area for many things. Think Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company, having the largest population of Arab Americans in the United States. It's a commuter college town, as well as the city with two downtowns.

But is it known for its music scene?

“In my opinion, Dearborn has a distinct music scene which is really all-encompassing,” says publicity director for the Dearborn Community Chorus Clarisse Andrews. “We have the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra, and three city-sponsored Chorus groups (Dearborn Community Chorus, Vanguard Voices and Summer Chorus).”

City-sponsored concerts

The Dearborn Community Chorus is a city-sponsored group founded in 1963 whose mission is to encourage and promote the development of a vital cultural environment within the Dearborn area while providing entertainment for the community.

“I think our Dearborn Community Chorus contributes to this vast musical scene by offering residents and nonresidents a welcoming place to participate in all types of singing, along with making new friends and bringing musical performances to our community, country and the world,” says Andrews.

Andrews also cites events like Music Under the Stars (MUTS), a free outdoor concert held during the summer. MUTS, which is orchestrated by the Recreation and Parks Department, and which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, takes place on Thursdays.

East Downtown Dearborn Development Authority’s (EDDDA) popular Jazz on the Ave. is held on Wednesdays at City Hall Park; Downtown Dearborn’s Tunes at Noon is on Thursdays at City Hall Park, and a Friday Concert Series at West Village Commons offers free outdoor performances. 

Jazz On the Ave. Photos by Stephen Koss.

For a schedule of summer events, visit this website.

The city's annual Homecoming festival, which takes place the first full weekend of August every year, boasts a headline act and other performances by local tribute bands on both the main stage and a secondary stage.

The main act this year will be The Australian Bee Gees Show – A Tribute to the Bee Gees, which starts at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4.

Other acts scheduled to perform at Homecoming include Holly and the Johnnies, Atomic Radio, and more.

Another place to see live music year-round is the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, known familiarly as The Center, and its Michael A. Guido Theater.

The Center regularly hosts popular acts such as Kelly Pickler, Vince Gill, the upcoming performance of rock legend Chubby Checker on Aug. 17, and more.

Music in the schools

Dearborn's Public School system is consistently recognized as one of the 100 Best Communities for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM).

This year is the 12th time that NAMM has awarded Dearborn with this distinction, which recognizes that the Dearborn Public Schools (DPS) system shows outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.

Dearborn is one of 16 districts in Michigan to earn that distinction.

“Music, along with all of the Arts, is an essential part of a well-balanced curriculum and is part of a school district’s goal to educate the whole child,” said DPS Superintendent Glen Maleyko. “A quality music program provides students with a learning experience that can open up a whole new area of interest or help them to develop the skills and talents they may have never thought they had.”

He attributes the stellar music education programs to the dedication of the staff in the schools.

Jazz On the Ave. Photos by Stephen Koss.

“More importantly, we have an incredible staff of music teachers who bring all of their passion, energy, and talent to the classroom and share that with our students. It is exciting to once again receive this recognition as a fitting tribute to their efforts.”

DPS was also recognized for the outstanding efforts of teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the curriculum.

Henry Ford College also boasts an extensive music program, offering both an Associate’s of Arts in Music, and a Recording Arts Certificate. There are many performance ensembles on campus, including chorus, symphonic band, jazz band, and vocal jazz ensemble.

Room to grow a scene

While there may be many free concerts available to the public in outdoor spaces during the summer, and events at the Center year round, the “scene” has room for growth, according to some.

“There hasn't been a live music venue in town for years,” says Dearborn resident and musician Matt Rea. “Occasionally The New Place Lounge will have something, but it is rare these days. Tenny Street was the last, and that was some time ago. We have the largest independent music store in the state with Dearborn Music, and a top-notch College Radio Station in WHFR, but as far a ‘scene’ goes, we are lacking.”

Rea also points out that Dearborn’s three music stores—Hewitt’s Music, Wonderland Music, and Anderson Music, mainstays in the city for decades, have all closed.

Despite those stores closing, Dearborn does have two independent record stores, one located in each downtown that caters to music lovers of all ages and scenes.

“There are most certainly musicians who are playing in coffee houses and breweries, but I’m not sure there is ‘scene’ so to say,” says Windy Weber, who with her husband Carl Hultgren owns east Dearborn’s Stormy Records,  a favorite spot for vinyl lovers looking for unique or “odd” items.

Weber says that it is also a tricky balance for artists to find the right kind of venue to play at, depending on what kind of coverage the artist wants or what kind of compensation they may need.

“And, you need a crowd who wants to listen, not just to show up and blab through a show,” she said. “It is much harder these days to have an audience pay attention - it seems people just want to talk and not listen.”

One thing is for sure: there is definitely an appreciation of music in Dearborn, and potential to expand on that appreciation.

“Would we like to have more places to go out and be entertained? Yes, absolutely,” says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, WDDDA Director. “Is that something we would like to see more of? We would like to hear from people on that.”

Shepard-Decius points out that local musicians who take part in smaller performances, and there are acoustic acts that play in some of the bars and restaurants, but notes that “performances have diminished. There aren’t as many venues as there used to be.”

Windy Weber of Stormy Records.

Despite that fact and the loss of important supply stores for musicians, Shepard-Decius insists that musical artists are welcome and that there is room for growth in that department.

“We love to support the arts in the community, and music is one of them,” she said. “Creatives can make their place here.”

Rea can envision tourists spending dollars in Dearborn if they did have venues to patronize for live music.

“This town, for a decent little place, for live music, of ALL genres, would bring people in,” he said. “Don't have a DJ with club night. You wanna do that, then bring a legit touring Techno DJ. Jazz, rock, blues, whatever. Decent acts that keep the low rent clowns out. People will go to the restaurants around. Hell, they may even utilize a hotel. Keep someone in town that may be in for Greenfield Village, and keep them here, and their dollars instead of Downtown, or Ferndale or Royal Oak.”

Regardless of the debate about the music scene in Dearborn, it is agreed that at least in the summer, Dearborn is a great place to see live music and be entertained.

“We may not have our own version of Motown Records,” says Weber. “But we do have a lot going on entertainment wise in the city.”

Read more articles by Elizabeth Clark.

Elizabeth Clark is a Dearborn-based freelance writer.