PRIDE Turns Up the Sound & Shines the Light of Diversity as Downtown Saginaw Turns a Pivotal Corner

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music,   From Issue 773   By: Robert E Martin

18th July, 2013     0

The story of PRIDE is one of commitment, compassion, and vision that began back in 1975 through the joint efforts of the downtown Saginaw business community, the Junior League and the City of Saginaw to stop the exodus of business and erosion of the tax base that started happening to the Central Business District when entities began moving operations to suburban malls in the 1970s, creating structural vacancies within the city.
Beginning with a group of volunteers concerned with the future of Downtown Saginaw, the goals of PRIDE centered upon attracting new business to the downtown district, encouraging  and supporting the existing business & professional community, and beautifying the downtown environment. The organization also strives to create a positive, constructive image of the Downtown area, unify, coordinate and support the common efforts of various organizations, and  promote and stimulate ongoing activities attractive to people and businesses.
True to this vision, one of the pivotal and most successful endeavors spearheaded by PRIDE is the summer concert festival series known as Friday Night Live, which for six-consecutive weekends merges commerce, culture, community, along with the realization of possibilities together in a series of weekly 'Theme Concerts' that are held in Morley Plaza on Washington Ave. (M13) in Downtown Saginaw.
And now in 2013 as PRIDE celebrates its 15th Anniversary for the Friday Night Live series, it is apparent that the hard work of their endeavors have paid off, particularly with the Downtown Business District poised to turn the corner on an exciting new era of revitalization.
“Anything good for downtown is part of PRIDE's mission,” explains PRIDE coordinator Jeanne Conger, “and with two schools coming in, the new Bancroft renovations, and the First Merit Event Park opening, these are exciting times for Downtown Saginaw.”
“This is going to be a big year for PRIDE,” echoes Dr. Jack Nash. “We worked hard to find the best entertainment in the area and beyond for Saginaw; and started a year ahead of time. Because of this landmark 15th anniversary celebration of Friday Night Live, the PRIDE Board of Directors took great strides this year to hire the very best bands and artists they could afford for the community.”
With average attendance at each of the Friday Night Live theme nights pegged at approximately 8,000 people and based upon police grids that are surveyed annually, for both Conger & Nash the main message they wish to deliver is that growth continues with the organization; and that the growth of Friday Night Live mirrors the activity presently happening in downtown Saginaw.
Kicking off on July 12th with a 'Classic Rock' Night that featured Byron In Motion and The Beets, PRIDE picks up the pace on Friday Night Live with showcase events scheduled every Friday from July 19 through August 16th.
To also commemorate their 15th Anniversary PRIDE conducted a 'Biggest Fan' contest and sought out their six biggest fans, whom each received two lawn chairs, reserved seating to all events, Friday Night Live T-shirts, 2 vendor vouchers for meals and a gift basket.  Each contestant wrote in 100 words or less why they were a Friday Night Live fan; and the contest was sponsored by Health Plus, who also signed on as a new Title Sponsor for 2013.
As she reflects upon the very first Friday Night Live series 15 years ago, Jeanne recalls how  people were skeptical about its success. “Many said this event would never fly, but with our first series we went from a few hundred people the first night to a situation where the numbers started doubling each consecutive week. It snowballed and by the final show in the series we had just under a thousand people attending.” Today fifteen years down the road, the PRIDE series will pull over 52,000 people into Downtown Saginaw, with numbers varying according to the nature of the theme night and the weather.
Apart from the nature of entertainment and mix of vendors provided, an important component of its early success is the platform of nostalgia that Friday Night Live created. “A lot of lifelong Saginaw residents remember how happening Downtown Saginaw was, so I feel this series connects the community with a nostalgia for the vibrancy that the city possessed. It drew them to the event,” reflects Dr. Jack Nash, who has served as a PRIDE Board member for 11 years now.
Each week of performances at Friday Night Live are built around themes associated with popular styles of music. With each successive year the PRIDE Board has managed to fine-tune Friday Night Live so that it operates like a finely tuned mechanism. “Latin Night is always really packed, whereas Country Night depends largely upon who the headline performer is,” notes Jack. “We once had a 'Swing' Night which appealed to a lot of Senior Citizens who came to listen, but they weren't a real active crowd, so we wanted to broaden the reach out to all segments and age groups and in turn created 'Variety Night'.  The last show of the season is always Motown Night, which is always highly successful.”
“We've fine-tuned this operation well over the years,” reflects Jeanne. “Our group works so good together that everything we do gets a little better every year. Our whole event is user friendly and features something for everyone.” Adds Conger, “We seek to bring something to the community for free that people may never have an opportunity to watch in this depressed economy.”
The success and appeal of Friday Night Live demonstrates how contemporary challenges can be overcome whenever ideas are advanced that appeal to the constructive investment of time, talent, and resources within a community, which in turn replaces negative elements with positive pro-active approaches that shine a light of achievement upon what is attainable.
And here's a rundown on what you can expect to experience for this landmark 15th Anniversary Celebration of Friday Night Live.
July 19 * Country Night featuring James Wesley & Tennessee Line
James Wesley is a big believer in tradition and believes that Country music is all about “coming back to what's real.” He puts those core values into his music with a whiskey-smooth voice and timeless treatment to his music, singing directly to real people about real things that profoundly affect their lives. From his small-town upbringing to his blue-collar work ethic, he possesses a deep understanding of what audiences long to hear.
Wesley grew up in tiny Mound Valley, a community of about 200 people in Southeastern Kansas and first discovered country music by scavenging through his grandmother's record collection, which included bountiful nuggets from classic crooners like Marty Robbins, George Jonesand Ray Price.
By his late teens Wesley was singing in local nightclubs and started performing in a nightly music and variety show in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was there he met his wife and finally set his sights on Nashville. After selling his house and almost everything in it, Wesley rented a moving truck and headed for Music City, where he took a construction job to make ends meet and began learning the ropes of the Nashville music business. 
He met hit songwriter Rodney Clawson and producer Dan Frizsell and the three began recording together, with his first demo original song Jackson Hole quickly racing up the charts; and several other originals gaining him rapid success.
Opening Act Tennessee Line consists of Randy Wayne Dallas (singer, songwriter, lead guitarist) with roots in Knoxville, TN; Lawrence Hill (harmony vocalist, originally from Nashville) and Arlene Foster (harmony & led vocalist originally from New Orleans). This traditional country band brings old and new country together, forming a unique and dynamic mix of Country, Bluegrass, Blues, and Memphis Swing.
July 26 * Latin Night featuring Grupo Rodeo and The Conjunto Champz
Former Capitol EMI Latin recording artist Grupo Rodeo has teamed up with GLO Records to present their highly anticipated comeback CD “Entre Mis Manos”. This compilation, Rodeo's eighth studio CD, revisits their distinctive sound of the 90's which is undeniably genuine and delivers a contemporary, fresh new timbre. Based out of San Antonio, Texas, Rodeo was formed in 1993 by owner, renowned saxophonist, keyboardist, arranger, and producer, Frank Villarreal, Jr. Under his direction, Villarreal blends Tejano music with other influences and brings the same passion, goals, and characteristic determination with this CD, “we make music for our fans and only our fans” explains Villarreal.
Along with their new CD, Grupo Rodeo features a new singer who joins them on their comeback CD. Joey Martinez, former David Lee Garza vocalists, is a seasoned musician with sultry smooth vocals. “His voice blends in nicely with the bands distinctive sound”, says Villarreal. Martinez' refined voice can especially be heard on the cumbia Prometiste, where he shows off his wide vocal range. On the song Gran Amor, Martinez' vocals are both infectious and soothing to the listener.
Although Rodeo was on hiatus from their earlier years, a spark was reignited and five original band members were driven back together by a musical force. The original band members are Joey Sanchez, drummer; Guillermo Rodriguez, bass player; Ralph Saenz, guitarist; and Jaime Knott, conga player; although not an original member, Ray Diaz DeLeon, accordionist, adds the spice and sizzle to the sound Rodeo fans treasure. Grupo Rodeo's band members are all accomplished, seasoned musicians and their exceptional musicianship is featured on the “Entre Mis Manos” CD and can be heard at the live performances.
Grupo Rodeo has performed all over the world. Some of their favorite performance venues have been in Japan, Korea, and of course in the United States. Rodeo has also been featured on many television shows such as Gordo y Flaca, Despierta América, and the Johnny Canales Show and performed at the renowned Calle Ocho in Miami; just to name a few.
Opening act The Conjunto Champz features Champ Garcia, one of the best accordian players in our region, which according to Jack Nash is one of the many reasons they were selected as the Opening Act for Latin Night.
August 2 * A Music Odyssey featuring New Odyssey & Saginaw Elite Big Band
New Odyssey is a three-piece group that has everything going: versatility, humor, talent, and polish; with three musicians that collectively perform upon 30 instruments during the course of their set.  Together for over 20 years, outstanding arrangements of almost every style of music are performed with a combination of great musical execution, audience participation, and sheer zaniness, with total mayhem around the corner at any moment.
Last year New Odyssey performed at Friday Night Live, only their show was rained-out, so they were invited back for an encore in 2013. With a huge, kicking sound and vast array of dance music spanning over five decades, the group has the ability to adapt to any audience. They truly must be seen and heard to be believed.
Opening act The Saginaw Elite Big Band is an award-winning combination of regional talent that expertly offers compelling renditions of varied Big Jazz Band classics coupled with  contemporary material.
August 9 * Beatles Night featuring Beat Club & Sonido de Saginaw
Friday Night Live has offered and presented numerous Beatle Tribute bands over the years, but this year is special, not only because of FNL's 15th anniversary, but because they year also marks the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles first album release, Please Please Me. Consequently, one of the finest Beatles Tribute bands on the circuit, Beat Club, will be taking to the Friday Night Live Stage on August 9th.
Saginaw Valley State University climbed on board as a sponsor this year because they are also celebrating their 50th anniversary, so they are sponsoring Beatles Night and also recommended the opening act,” explains Jack Nash.
August 16 * Motown Night featuring Horizon & Soul Street.
The Legends of Motown come alive with the ever-popular Horizon - a trio of Detroit-based performers that can literally take over a Caribbean nation with a number one hit record that sits atop the charts for months and evokes and outpouring of screaming fans; when The Tonight Showwith Jay Leno takes notice; and when Business Week grants the group an entire article.  They are indeed the real thing: a riveting, high-energy, joyous Motown sound that commands the stage and the audience from curtain to curtain.
This is no ordinary 'Motown' show. Handpicked for their voices, dancing ability, humor, and likeability, Horizon is a perfectly polished theatrical ensemble, complete with costuming and world-class instrumental ensemble. Their breathtaking acappella singing, super-charged dance routines, and obvious love for the music all combine to catapult Motown back to its glory days. This is a guaranteed winner for anyone who ever danced, or fell in love, to the magic of Motown.
Opening act Soul Street is an excellent opener for this event, a group pulled together by Jordan Edwards, who also drums for Saginaw's Mike Brush in Brush Street.


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