MoPop Festival 2019 – Detroit, Michigan

By: Gabe Camero

As we bundle up for arena concerts, I think back to the warmth of summer with the breeze carrying sweet smells of food and sounds of music at one of my favorite local outdoor festivals. AEG Presents optimistically kicked off the seventh annual MoPop Festival on July 27, 2019 in Detroit’s West Riverfront Park. The two-day festival features mostly indie-rock and pop music but also some hip-hop and electronic music as well. Other than music there are vendors, restaurants and bar stands with plenty of games and art installations mixed in.

Mexican, Barbecue, Sandwiches, Specialty Hot Dogs and more were available to tantalize the crowd. Postmates, a mobile food delivery service, was used for the first time this year by the many, and greatly improved, food vendors. However, West Riverfront Park is also a cellular dead zone, so the smart phone-based app was nice but didn’t work out too well. The festival’s attempt for a centralized point-of-sale system also fell flat. By 2:30 on the first day, the system went down and was intermittent for the rest of the festival. Thus, people without cash were out of luck unless they could pay the $5 ATM fee.

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The staff was tidier and more efficient in setting up waste containers and water stations compared to the past five years at West Riverfront Park. Unfortunately, water stations ran dry on the second day and alcohol was cheaper by than Faygo pop and other non-alcoholic options. This likely led to festival goers increasingly bad behavior – stealing the empty water jugs and vandalizing the stages. Along with water, several vendors shared similar stories. The Crown Royal tent made its debut at MoPop 2019 and was sold out by 5:04 Saturday. The Goose Island Beer Company, home of Festipale Ale – the official MoPop beer, was surprised when the kegs of the highly anticipated beverage never showed up. The extensive amount of trash cans spread throughout the area went mostly unused as waves of beer cans and litter were left scattered at the end of the night.

The security detail was more obvious but less intense than I remember, at least for the first day – with more undercover security and less police boats and helicopters. This seemed to keep the mood light amongst the crowd. Yet it’s likely the boats, helicopters, and uniformed officers will be regulars in the future.

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The 20-acre West Riverfront Park felt larger than years past because of the improved sound barrier between the stages and the rest of the festival. Incorporating the existing tree line, festival designers added a two-story Bud Light trailer on the stage side. Adding a lot more wood chips throughout the park cut down the dust problem of previous MoPops. They also erected jungle gyms and disco balls for the small techno stage, Haute to Death & Friends.

There was rough weather in the surrounding area, but the river winds kept most of the rain away. However, the rains weren’t held back the whole time, and when they came, they hit hard. On Saturday, penny-sized raindrops began pouring on Roy Blair’s concert. “You guys are used to this? I’m not, I’m from LA,” he said – and with that, the rain stopped. Craig Brown Band wasn’t as lucky, but they took it in stride adding some fun to the situation. When the rain started early on Sunday, Brown started dancing and stomping in a stage puddle. Brown said, “This next song’s about how my bro called the cops on me on Thanksgiving. Maybe he’s causing the rain.” He eventually had to get serious as the rain continued to puddle under his microphone without anyone coming out to wipe it up, despite drawing attention to it.

The entire lineup provided a wide array of genres represented by bands with mostly welcoming performers that made all the concerts feel intimate and well attended. Some of the acts were diverse, some others opened up about their writing process, but most of them were comfortable with stage banter. Early on the first day, Alec Berg shared that he, “Was having a bad week and this made me feel a lot better. I love this city a lot and I hope you guys do too.” Detroit singer-songwriter, Sienna Liggins, was having great a day dancing with her 200-person crowd, telling them, “It is a great day to be gay and fine”. Detroit native, Lizzo, put on huge dance numbers, shared a tearful toast to her dead father with the over 1,000-person crowd and taught them to say a big and beautiful lady is, “Lizzo fine.” Local musicians of the Craig Brown Band introduced themselves saying, “I’m Craig Brown and we all work down the street,” before kicking hard and hurling the band into their next song. Mira Fahrenheit spun electronic classics, brightly remastered and accented, as a jungle of people surrounded the stage. Eventually chanting broke out as a tambourine rang out somewhere in the crowd. The music turned rhythmic, worldly, and ambient as people began dancing with and drumming on stolen, empty water jugs from the water station.

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Both evenings ended with big acts from the ’00s – Vampire Weekend and Tame Impala respectively. Vampire Weekend went on early with an amazing flamenco guitar to kick off what became a jubilant atmosphere with dancing, trippy visuals, and a spattering of sing-alongs mixed with stories about the band. After the band ran back onstage for an encore performance of Crowded House’ “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” they admitted that it had been 5 years since they were in Detroit and promised, “We will never go another 5 years without coming to Michigan again.” Tame Impala began their concert with a trippy video of a group of audience members approaching the stage to the “Stranger Things” theme song. With a confetti explosion the band kicked into gear and rocked the evening with psychedelic songs, low-key Aussie humor, and much love for Detroit. After an engrossing show, a confetti explosion ended it and the crowd emerged exhausted but vibrating with energy.

As the sounds settled, the masses marched over crumpled beer cans to their cars or continued to dance around the broken disco balls to wait out the traffic until they were forced to leave. The drop in energy reflects how I felt about the amenities, while the desire to dance on is how I felt about the music. MoPop tried hard but dropped the ball on the extras, but, as always, they curated one Hell of a lineup.

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