FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE • Gearing Up for the Region's Premier Summer Music Festival

    icon Jun 27, 2019
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Life is basically divided between the innovators and the imitators.  As one of the region’s pioneering summer concert festival series, Friday Night Live will be kicking off its amazing 21st Season in Morley Plaza on July 12th, continuing a tradition of bringing the finest entertainment available to the Saginaw Valley with a series of weekly concerts that will run through August 16th.

Starting back in July 1999, the organizing group known as Positive Results in Downtown Saginaw first introduced the concept for packaging six consecutive weekends of top-notch entertainment that merge commerce, culture, and community together through a series of Theme Concerts that are held in the Plaza on Washington Ave (M-13) in Downtown Saginaw, starting at 5:30 PM and running until 9:00 PM.

As they embark upon their third decade of presenting this landmark concert series, while numerous other free summer music festivals have popped up throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region like mushrooms over the past 20 years, according to long-time Friday Night Live chairman, Dr. Jack Nash, what distinguishes Friday Night Live the most is that “of all the local festivals we feature mainly premier talent. Most of the other festivals feature local talent, which we do as well for our opening acts; but we bring in the best national talent we can afford for the community, largely thanks to our sponsors who have come to back us up, along with the businesses in Saginaw that want to see Downtown Saginaw truly prosper.”

The entire concept for the Friday Night Live series evolved from a collective goal set by the community service group, Positive Results Downtown, that focused upon freshening things up in the Downtown business district by assembling a top-flight roster of talent for the people of Saginaw that cuts across cultural and economic boundaries through the presentation of a concert series that appeals to everybody in the community.

“Ours is more of a cultural event that showcases some amazing talent in an urban setting in Downtown Saginaw,” continues Nash.  “These are exciting times for Downtown Saginaw since the staging of our first festival 20 years ago,” continues Nash,  “especially with the SVRC Marketplace opening, The Bancroft Complex thriving, Richie Rich’s Deli recently opening, and Delta College getting ready to open their downtown campus, which I feel will be a centerpiece.”

Having also involved herself with Positive Results in Downtown Saginaw and Friday Night Live for 20 years now since its inception, Executive Director Jeanne Conger has witnessed firsthand the renaissance of Downtown Saginaw that has occurred in recent years.  “I’m very optimistic about the future and Downtown Saginaw is the best it’s been in years,” she enthuses.

“Our organization has grown so much over the past 40-plus years since we first formed,” notes Jeanne. “When we started out back in the 1970s, we began with developing just a couple events each year and now we have a half dozen events, starting out with Bringing Back the Ice and Ice Blast with The Saginaw Spirit to the Outhouse Races, Holidays in the Heart of the City and The Memorial Day Parade, along with Harvest Days.”

As an organization, the vision that began back in 1975 through the joint efforts
of the downtown Saginaw business community, the Junior League and the City of Saginaw began with a core group of volunteers concerned with the future of Downtown Saginaw. Setting goals 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 and constructive image of the Downtown area, while unifying and coordinating support within the efforts of numerous organizations all with an eye towards promoting and stimulating ongoing activities that are attractive to people and businesses.

“We’re all working together and seeing the results of our efforts happening now,” reflects Dr. Jack Nash. Positive Results is still working hard to revitalize the central business district and anything positive that comes downtown we’re strongly behind it.  I believe that what is happening now in the central business district is just the start and will take a few years to fully mature. Look at Times Square in New York City 30 years ago and how it has transformed today; and the same has happened in the Flats district of Cleveland, downtown Grand Rapids, and of course midtown Detroit.”

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 quality of entertainment keeps improving, along with the support of community, arts & cultural organizations.

According to Jeanne, other special features at this year’s 21st  Annual Friday Night Live include free pony rides for kids on Country Night, plus a new Dance Floor is being installed for patrons to enjoy, which is being sponsored by Tom Braley.  “I would also like to thank the Saginaw Police Department and Saginaw Reserves, who do an excellent job keeping the crowd flow properly managed.”

In addition to food vendors and the free musical entertainment, Jeanne notes that another thing that sets Friday Night Live apart is how they partner as much as possible with other community Arts & Cultural organizations. “This year we’ll have a performance by Pit & Balcony on Abba Night, as they are presenting Mama Mia this Fall, so we’re giving them time in-between bands to perform on stage. We want to partner with our arts and cultural organizations as much as we can.”  Adds Nash: “Eventually, I’d like to see this become both a music and arts festival.”

As she reflects upon the very first Friday Night Live series 20 years ago, Jeanne recalls 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 21 years down the road, the FNL series will pull over 52,000 people into Downtown Saginaw, with numbers varying according to the nature of the theme night and the weather.

“We are also immensely pleased with attendance at last year’s 20th Anniversary series,” she continues. “We witnessed a lot of new people attending and it’s nice to see the series continuously evolving.”

“By focusing on providing the region with the best entertainment possible, our goal is to continue to successfully draw new faces into Downtown Saginaw,” concludes Jack. “One of our biggest assets is the river because people are attracted to water, so when you can showcase talent like this on the bank of the Saginaw river, that creates its own synergy.”

Without doubt, Friday Night Live is their signature event and if you have yet to experience the fun, fellowship, and camaraderie that resonates throughout the grounds of Morley Park, you owe it to yourself to experience the musical and cultural richness of this annual extravaganza.

Here’s a breakdown on this year’s entertainment:

ROCKIN’ with ROD • July 12th • Rod Stewart Tribute by Doug Varty    Opening act: Third Degree Burns

It takes a special kind of performer to create the voice and stage presence of rocker Rod Stewart, the timeless vocalist known for hits like “Maggi May “Forever Young”, “Twistin' The Night Away” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”  Just like Rod, whenever he performs, Doug Varty makes the stage his playground, interacting with the crowd, dancing, and singing to audience members. “It's about creating something special, something memorable. Rod's the minister of fun, and he knows how to show an audience a good time. He pours his heart and soul into every song. He’s always in motion. He reaches out to people. It’s truly exciting, keeping that energy all the way up. That’s what I do. I love doing the Rod Stewart show", Doug says.

Third Degree Burns is a youth group featuring top notch young dancers and musicians that unlike many youth groups, perform their music live and do not work off pre-recorded tracks. They regularly perform all over the Metro Detroit area.

KICKIN’ COUNTRY • July19th • Ray Fulcher  Opening Act: Todd Michael Band PLUS: Salute to Veteran’s Night

Ray Fulcher grew up in the small town of Harlem, George and digested many of country music’s best songwriters & storytellers at an early age. His biggest influences were Alan Jackson, Keith Whitley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and George Strait; and he was inspired to buy a guitar after seeing an Eric Church concert when he was 21-years old.  After graduation he moved to Nashville to pursue his songwriting & artist career and in 2016 signed a publishing deal with River House Publishing and released his EP ‘Here We Go Again’, which debuted in the Top 10 of the country charts and let to tours with Luke Combs & Morgan Wallen.  He co-wrote 8 songs on Luke Combs Platinum debut album, ‘This One’s for You’, including the #1 single ‘When it Rains it Pours’, which has been certified triple platinum.

“The agency that we work with always looks at artists who are starting to chart nationally and they hooked us up with Ray Fulcher,” explains Nash. “In previous years we’ve featured Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban, Chris Young, Rascal Flatts, and many other famous country artists in their early years at Friday Night Live.” 

LATIN FIESTA • July 26th •  Baraja De Oro     Opening Act: Los Aztecas

According to Festival Chairman Jack Nash, the Conjunto group Baraja De Oro is a family unit based out of Texas that has worked with Friday Night Live in prior years. “They are very entertaining and one year were set to perform but got rained out, so we brought them back the next year and they were very popular. We haven’t featured Latin acts out of Texas in a couple years now, but Baraja De Oro are a great work, fulfill their obligations, and are very easy to work with. Plus, I like the idea of not having an all-male group performing.  This year’s opening act Los Aztecas is based out of the Metro Detroit and Lansing area.”

A NIGHT with LARRY McCRAY • August 2nd    Opening Act: Robert Lee Revue

Saginaw’s very own Larry McCray requires little introduction and has earned an international reputation as one of the premier exponents of the Rockin’ Blues, entertaining artists worldwide for three decades with the remarkable dexterity of his guitar-playing and his focused and powerful vocal acumen. His most recent release includes performances on Blues Great John Mayall’s latest album.  “We had such a huge draw last year featuring Larry as an opening act on Blues Night that this year we invited him back to be the headliner,” notes Nash. 

The Robert Lee Revue features guitarist Bobby Balderama, the original guitarist for Question Mark & the Mysterians, with his incredible ‘smooth jazz’ ensemble.

ABBA MAGIC  • August 9th • Featuring  Abba Magic    Opening Act: Nottingham

Abba Magic is based out of Canada and is one of the premier Abba Tribute Bands making the circuit today. Opening act Nottingham features Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel, who’s vocal ability and personable demeanor are perfect for entertaining audiences. “The Sheriff is very excited to be playing Friday Night Live,” notes Nash, “and will be a great addition to Abba Night.”

A TRIBUTE to MOTOWN • August 16th • The Sounds of the Temptations   Opening Act: Monique Ella Rose

A long-standing tradition with Friday Night Live is to close out their series with Motown Night, which this year will feature the debut appearance of The Sounds of Temptations. “We’ve never featured this group before,” Nash notes, “and they’ve performed at many of the casinos in the Detroit area. They are comprised of musicians from a combination of groups and this year we wanted to try something different with our headliner.”

The opening act for Motown Night will be Saginaw’s own Monique Ella Rose - a remarkably gifted Blues & Jazz vocalist, instrumentalist & songwriter who secured top honors the past two years at The Review’s annual Music Awards.



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