Sunday, August 12, 2007

A real Detroit evening at Chene Park

Last night, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful evening at Detroit's Chene Park (not to be confused with Shain Park in Birmingham). Detroit's own R&B sensation Kem was the headliner of a concert that included an opening act by Eric Roberson, and a high-energy performance by R&B diva Chaka Khan.

If you ever want to experience the true flavor of African-American culture in Detroit, then a concert at Chene Park is just the place to witness it first hand. Situated right on the Detroit river just a mile or so east of the Ren Cen, Chene Park is a covered outdoor venue that has been one of the hottest spots for R&B and contemporary jazz concerts for the last several years, attracting mostly African-American audiences.

Folks were definitely dressed to impress last night, getting about as dressed up as you possibly can without putting on suits and formal evening gowns. Brothers were sporting their best silk or linen outfits, often with a matching pair of gators. In true Detroit player fashion, fedoras, complete with a feather on the side, were definitely not uncommon amongst the gentlemen. And the sisters were not to be outdone as well, as it was clearly evident that more than a few had spent some time earlier in the day at the local beautician.

At Chene Park, you don't even really need a ticket to enjoy the shows. However, having a boat can certainly come in handy. We saw no less than two dozen boats bobbing in the waters directly behind the stage (a very cool sight to see!), and everyone that we could see on board appeared to having the time of their lives. Heck, I didn't realize so many of my people were into boating. I figured that after that last big boat ride a couple of hundred years ago, we would have given that a rest.

As for the action inside Chene Park, there were the typical trappings of a Detroit concert geared towards blacks: the photographers offering to take pictures of concert goers against cheesy airbrushed backdrops (e.g., the Renaissance Center, a Bentley, Biggie and Tupac, and other icons of ghetto-fabulousness), the brother selling single roses wrapped in plastic (giving the fellas with their ladies major guilt trips!), unusually long lines at the bar full of folks waiting to get their drink on.

Oh, yeah, and there was a concert too! Eric Roberson was actually pretty nice, though not a whole lot of people were paying much attention (heck, half the audience wasn't even there yet when the show started). Chaka Khan actually was better than I expected, though at times she appeared to be a little disoriented. Nevertheless, her voice was amazingly strong.

And then there was our homeboy Kem, who the crowd was really there to see. Along with his six-piece band, Kemistry (all Detroit musicians, by the way), Kem put on a strong, inspiring, and emotional show, and the audience was all in. Detroit love was clearly flowing in all directions last night, as the audience sang many of his songs word-for-word, including "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Find Your Way". But it was his raw and emotional performance of the highly-personal "Heaven" that was clearly the highlight of the evening.

Nevertheless, when it comes to going to a concert at Chene Park, the show isn't just on the stage. Just being there is half the fun.

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