Leader of the Pack • The 24th Annual Friday Night Live Summer Concert Series

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , Culture, ,   From Issue 931   By: Robert E Martin

16th June, 2022     0

Living up to their long-standing reputation as innovators instead of imitators, the Great Lakes Bay Region’s pioneering summer music festival series Friday Night Live will be returning to Morley Plaza in Downtown Saginaw for their 24th Season, which will begin on July 15th and continue an established tradition of showcasing top-flight  entertainment with a series of weekly concerts that will run through August 19th.

When they first started planning this innovative concert series back in 1998, the public service group then known as PRIDE in Saginaw and now known as Positive Results Downtown first introduced the concept for packaging six consecutive weekends of premier musical entertainment that would merge commerce, culture, and community together through a series of Theme Concerts that would run from 5:30 until 9:00 PM and introduce patrons throughout the Mid-Michigan area and beyond to the dynamics of the Downtown Business District.

According to marketing director Linda McGee, the concept for Friday Night Live first came out of Traverse City. “Their business chamber had staged a series of weekly Theme Concerts, which I thought would work well in Saginaw, so basically adapted for our purposes with their permission,” she explains. “We didn’t have some of their luxuries with a whole walking area full of bars and restaurants along Front Street that we could close off, but when we met with them and talked about the different theme nights, I thought yes - this is something we can adapt at Morley Plaza, which is right off a state highway and would not require closing an entire street off in order to stage.”

As Positive Results Downtown Executive Director Jeanne Conger recalls, “We didn’t know what would happen with the first festival, but had a good feeling about it and it really took off.  A few detractors said it would never fly, but some of the first acts we featured included artists such as Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts, and just a few years ago featured Chris Stapleton, so over the years patrons have responded strongly to what we’ve offered ever since that inaugural concert season.”

“Over the years we’ve become a launching pad for a lot of now-famous musical artists that have signed on to perform at this event before they made it big, but were definitely on their way up,” states Entertainment Chairman Dr. Jack Nash.

Thanks to our friends at WKCQ-FM, we were able to secure these artists because we were told they needed time in front of an audience, and fortunately we were able to make that happen,” adds Linda McGee.

While numerous other free summer music festivals have popped up throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region like mushrooms over the past 20 years since these early inaugural shows, in Jack Nash’s opinion 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.”

“Our organization has grown so much over the past 40-plus years since PRIDE was 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.”

Indeed, the vision behind Positive Result Downtown  began back in 1975 through the joint efforts 
of the downtown Saginaw business community, the Junior League and the City of Saginaw,  along 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.

Now that its moving into its 24th season, when asked how Friday Night Live has evolved over the years, Linda says their format has pretty much stayed the same. “We’ve navigated some tweaks here and there when we’ve seen better ways to approach certain things, but the bones of the festival are still the same.  We always feature a Country, Motown, and Latin Night, which are very strongly attended theme nights; and then we fill in the others with what our Committee thinks will work. In the past we’ve done a Jimmy Buffett Night, and now we are bringing our Blues Night back again this year.”

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

As she reflects upon the very first Friday Night Live series 24 years ago, Jeanne recalls people were skeptical about its success. “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 the Friday Night Live series will pull over 50,000 people over a six-week period into Downtown Saginaw, with numbers varying according to the nature of the theme night and the weather. Yet, despite their ongoing and evolving success over the years, other competitive music festivals such as Party on McCarty that have modeled themselves after the FNL format have posed challenges.

“Initially, after these other festivals started popping up it posed a bit of a challenge,” notes Linda. “But we’ve been rebuilding with new people, plus we still remain a free festival, whereas many of these other festivals are no longer free, or you need to pay to park.  We were the starter and have remained tried and true to our mission and continue to build on that. When I uploaded our line-up this year on our Facebook page it was crazy how broad the response was and we must have added close to a hundred new followers.”

“What’s surprising to me is how many people still don’t know about Friday Night Live, even after doing this for 24 years,” notes Jeanne. “But once they come down and experience the festival they get hooked; and this festival series is really important to us as an organization. Out of everything we do, this is the event that really brought people back to downtown Saginaw.”

“Our primary focus has always been to look at the cultural aspect of being able to bring this top quality entertainment at a price everybody can afford, which is free, so it doesn’t matter what a person’s economic situation or ethnic background is and its worked.”

In addition to offering a divergent and top-notch line-up of entertainment, this year’s ‘Downtown Hoedown’ night on July 22nd will feature a Salute to Veterans and also offer pony rides for kids.  Additionally, the first 200 people to arrive at the festival each night will receive some type of prize.

In terms of Food Vendors, Jeanne says the variety this year will be much broader than in past years, with items ranging from waffles and chicken to baked potatoes, lobster, shrimp, and fried fish, as well as pulled port sandwiches, hot dog, Italian ice, jambalaya and tacos.  “We don’t like to duplicate vendors,” she notes adding, ‘This year we’re ready to feature a smorgasbord of items.”

“In addition to all of our Title Sponsors, which include Team One Credit Union, Covenant Health Care, The Michigan Arts & Culture Council, WNEM TV-5, and Positive Result Downtown, we would also like to thank all our show sponsors as well Spence Brothers for fixing our Showmobile, which suffered some damage during a recent windstorm,” notes Jack. “Big kudos to all of them!”

Here’s a breakdown on this year’s line-up:

July 15 • Rollin’ on the River featuring Bayou Country: The Music is Creedence

With special guests Loud Thoughts & Major Chords for Minors

Kicking off this year’s FNL line-up is Bayou Country, one of America’ premier Creedence Clearwater Revival Tribute bands, featuring faithful performances of the band’s legendary hits that have transcended the decades.  According to FNL Entertainment Chairman Dr. Jack Nash, “We’re trying to attract a younger demographic so wanted to present this dynamic tribute band and also showcase Loud Thoughts and Major Chords for Minors so we could feature younger musicians populating Saginaw’s music scene.

July 22 • Downtown Hoedown featuring Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys

wsg The Swift Brothers

Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys have a name that rings true and have fashioned a style that leader Gunnar Nyblad describes as, “Country music with a Michigan root.” After years of honing its live show, the group formed in 2010 and have released two albums, building its success on their release of Standard American, which has sold over 35,000 downloads, had 850,000 YouTube views and 700,000 Spotify streams.  Opening are The Swift Brothers - a very entertaining Michigan duo.

July 29 • Fiesta Grande featuring Rey Reyna wsg Motivo

Rey Reyna is a premier Latin & Tejano singer from Texas who will be teaming up with Motivo, which Is a Latin/Tejano band based out of Ohio.

Aug. 5 • Rocket Man Night featuring Captain Fantastic Tribute to Elton John

wsg Haley & the Sound Poets

“We wanted to bring in a popular Rock Tribute band that we haven’t featured before, so decided to go with this Captain Fantastic Tribute to Elton John, which is one of the best out there,” explains Jack Nash. “We’ve featured Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, The Beatles, and The Blues Brothers Tribute bands in the past, so this should be a special evening.  Openers Haley & the Sound Poets consist of former Count ‘n Change co-founder guitarist Jeff Scott, REVIEW Publisher Robert Martin on keyboard, Bill Link on drums, and Haley Ann Dorian vocalist extraordinaire, who perform classics spanning the decades as well as original compositions.

Aug. 12 • Riverfront Blues Fest featuring Larry McCray wsg Sharrie Williams

For Blues Night, both Larry McCray and Sharrie Williams need little introduction to music fans throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.  Larry has just released his chart-topping new album produced by Joe Bonamassa, and Sharrie is preparing for a tour to Romania.   Both are world-class Blues artists hailing right from their hometown of Saginaw.

Aug 19 • Motown Music Fest featuring The Sounds of the Vandellas

wsg Jr. Walker’s All Star Band & Bernard Gibson’s Temptations Revue

This talented pack Motown Tribute package features three of the best Motown tribute acts working the Michigan circuit, and also features Saginaw’s own Lavel Jackson in the Temptations Revue.



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