PRIDE's Pioneering Free Summer Festival Blossoms Into Downtown Saginaw's Signature Showcase

    icon Jul 10, 2014
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When they held their first summer concert series known as Friday Night Live sixteen years ago, the independent organization known as PRIDE had no idea that the growth and significance of their festival would mirror and inspire the growth, resurgence, and renaissance that is happening today in Downtown Saginaw

But now with the 2014 season of Friday Night Live poised to kick-off on July 11th it is apparent that what began 16 years ago with the efforts of a core membership of downtown business leaders and activists, focused upon transforming nostalgia for a vitality that the district once generated into the present tense by coordinating efforts to improve both the physical & spiritual soul of the downtown community, have succeeded at spearheading a renaissance in Saginaw’s historical downtown district that is a blueprint for how dreams can be transformed into realities.

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.

“Anything good for downtown is part of PRIDE’s mission,” explains PRIDE coordinator Jeanne Conger,  “and with the new Bancroft/Eddy renovations, the First Merit Event Park, and two new schools and new restaurants emerging, these are exciting times. I can’t think of anything nicer than to see the downtown full of people wandering around.”

“We’re all working together and seeing the results of our efforts happening now,” reflects Dr. Jack Nash. “PRIDE is still working hard to revitalize the central business district and anything positive that comes downtown we’re strongly behind it.  All the people living downtown even have a neighborhood association now that just started and 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.

“We are very pleased to have received a grant this year from the Michigan Council for the Arts & Cultural Affairs, which has helped us greatly enhance the festival; along with the commitment of our title sponsors such as Fairfield Saginaw, Team One Credit Union and Covenant.”

As she reflects upon the very first Friday Night Live series 16 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 16 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.

“This year we are also enhancing our Children’s activities,” notes Jeanne. “We’ve always featured games for kids to play with prizes, but thought that needed a boost so this year we’ve invited several non-profit groups to come and bring an activity for the kids to engage it, so there will be more things for children to do. Anyone attending Friday Night Live needs to be 18 or older, unless they have parental supervision. Our food vendors will feature many different varieties and Papa Johns will be our new pizza vendor this year. Plus on Oldies Night we will be bringing in a new beer – Oberon – which comes out of Kalamazoo.” Other new features this year include Dance Floor Bingo and according to Nash, PRIDE is working on bringing in a dunk tank for the people to take aim at local celebrities.

“People need to realize that PRIDE is totally non-profit and that Friday Night Live is run entirely my PRIDE,” concludes Jeanne. “Many people think we are a division of the City of Saginaw, but we’re an independent organization that works for the betterment of Saginaw and downtown in particular, therefore our funding is determined upon contributions. We are not funded by the city and have to raise funds for all the events we bring to town and sponsor. We have a lot of great companies that step up to the plate for us, but grant money and operating funds are always difficult to get, so we always accept any donation that people with to give – whether that is monetary or as an organizational volunteer.”

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.

Here’s a rundown on the top-notch entertainment that you can expect at PRIDE’s 16th annual Friday Night Live Concert Series.


Friday Night Live Line-up • Morley Plaza • 5:30-9:00 PM

July 11 • Classic Rock • The Sound Alternative & Grefe, Gaus, Grefe

Born and bred in Detroit’s musical heritage of Motown, R&B and funk, The Sound Alternative is an 8-piece horn group that plays the dance music featuring a big brass sound. According to Nash, “They feature material from horn based rock-bands like Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears and Sly & The Family Stone, which is something we haven’t really featured before. We wanted to try it out this year in order to attract a larger audience, as opposed to featuring a more traditionally oriented rock band.”

All members of The Sound Alternative sing and this plethora of talent lends to a rich diversity of music and a polished well-rehearsed sound.

As for Grefe, Gaus & Grefe, these local legends that consist of Tim & Tamara Grefe and Stephan Gaus recently sold out two nights at Bay City’s State Theatre and are known for their strong vocal harmonies and musicianship. “You can’t find a better frontman than Tim Grefe, adds Nash.

July 18 • Country Night  • Chris Stapleton & Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway

According to Jeanne Conger, each year the PRIDE concert committee approaches their Country title sponsor, WKCQ and asks them to recommend a significant up & coming Country artist to feature at Friday Night Live. Barb Sheltraw goes through the list of artists available and always make a recommendation,” she explains, “and my understanding of this year’s featured artist, Chris Stapleton, is that he is very talented and has written a lot of songs that people recognize. He is both a very talented songwriter and performer and we are excited to be featuring him.”

Stapleton is indeed an American country, bluegrass and rock musician and an established songwriter with four number one songs, including Never Wanted Nothing, recorded by Kenny Chesney, Love’s Gonna Make it Alright, recorded by George Strait, and Come Back Song, recorded by Darius Rucker. His songs have also appeared on albums by artists such as Adele, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Sheryl Crow.

Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway have long dominated the local country-rock music scene and were selected as Best Country Band at the annual Review Music Awards Ceremony. They have been busily recording their new CD of original material in Nashville.

July 25 • Latin Night • Baraja De Oro & Conjunto Champz

Baraja De Oro came to us a couple years ago to perform, only got rained out,” explains Jack Nash. “They were never able to perform a couple years ago, so we decided to invite them back. This group comes out of Texas and is one of the top Tejano / Conjunto groups performing throughout the country.”

This group was nominated for 2008 TTMA Conjunto Album of the Year and has a very addictive sound, with influences that range from Joe Martinez, Joel Guzman, Jesse Garces to Casiano De Los Caminantes.

August 1 • Jazz Night • Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band & Robert Lee Revue

“This year we are featuring the Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band featuring Molly McFadden and the Robert Lee Revue together on the same bill,” explains Nash, who also plays bass with the award winning Robert Lee Revue, which features guitarist Bobby Balderama and keyboardist Frank Lugo, both of whom performed with the legendary Question Mark & the Mysterians. Working on their newest release of smooth jazz, the Robert Lee Revue delivers a distinct blend of rhythmic flowing jazz sounds reminiscent of George Benson fused upon Carlos Santana in a propulsive sound that is distinctly original. The Michigan Jazz Trail Big Band features some of the biggest names in regional jazz and has opened for the likes of Ramsey Lewis.

August 8 • Oldies Night • Billy Mack & the Juke Joint Johnnies & The Josh Ramses Band

Billy Mack and The Juke Joint Johnnies is a high energy Rockabilly, Americana Band. Their mixture of Honky Tonk, Rockabilly and grooving Blues lends to their own unique sound. Since the start of the band in 2003, they have released 4 CD’s, critically acclaimed, both stateside and overseas. With Billy Mack’s dynamic vocal ability, combined with the best musicians that Southeast Michigan can provide, you are guaranteed to have a night filled with great dancing and fun. Plus, as Nash notes: “With that kind of name they have to be good!”

The Josh Ramses Band recently performed in front of 9,000 people opening for Alice Cooper at this year’s River Roar. Consisting of Steve Gallagher on electric & acoustic guitars, banjo & harmonica and lead vocals; Brian Charbonneau on bass guitar, lead & backing vocals; Mike Bacigalupo on keyboards, mandolin & vocals, and Zac Bacigalupo (Mike’s son on drums & percussion), the group formed twelve years ago in July, 2012.

“We do mainly 50s-60s-70s classic type rock songs and just started learning some newer stuff with different instrumentation,” explains Mike. “I do some mandolin playing and Steve is on the harmonica, so we’re really diversifying a lot now after 12 years and having more fun with it.”

According to Mike, opening for Alice Cooper was definitely a high-point of the group’s career.” Prior to that we did 2000 people, but when we walked on the stage for soundcheck there were 50 people there. We finished and about 500 people were in the audience and when we came back for our first set my son, Zac said, “Oh boy, there’s about 4000 people out there. This is big’.

“We did two hour and 15-minute sets and as when we came out for our second set there were 9,000 people in the crowd. It was huge,” he continues. “We felt they were enjoying what we were performing and we did a rendition of Hey Jude that got everybody singing. When you can hear the VIP section and the people on the hill and then the people on the bridge all singing together, you know they’re having fun.”

“We’ve never done any original material and have never thought about it because people like us for what we do and the style we do it in,” reflects Mike. “We have our own arrangements and don’t do record versions and people truly enjoy our interpretations. Apart from this being our first year at Friday Night Live it will also be our first year at the Lansing River Fest in August. We’re looking forward to Friday Night Live and having some fun with the audience.”

August 15 • Motown Night • KGB & Soul Street

 “Motown is forever,” says Gerald Foster keyboardist for KGB, one of just a few Motown tribute bands working in metro Detroit. They’re frequent favorites at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino and also heated things up at the recent Motown Winter Blast downtown. The Lineup: Multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Foster plays live keyboards and triggers via laptop tracks he recorded and mixed to re-create Motown hits. Glenn McFarland is the baritone, Keith Dotson and Bruce Sims tenors. The Sound: The music is straight-up Motown with an electronic base. Dotson, McFarland and Sims produce three-part harmonies effortlessly and with a lot of love. You’ll hear a healthy sampling of Motown hits and other pop songs. It’s the show-stopping Temps-n-Tops medley, though, that knocks ‘em out every time. The Moves: While not lifted directly from their originators, the men’s dance moves are energetic and evocative of the era. Their matching suits, in vibrant colors (selected by Dotson), sparkling coordinated costumes are also reminiscent of the originals. Don’t be surprised when audience members get up and start dancing, too.

Soul Street is the name of Jordan Edwards Motown group, which he has been cultivating for seven years now. Edwards is best known locally as the drummer for Brush Street and says that the goal of Soul Street is “to keep the Motown sound alive.” Consisting of Steve Rodriquez on sax and bass, Jacob Gaines on drums, Dave Trebalka on guitar, Dena Pruitt on vocals, Ryan Fitzgerald on keyboards and horn player Archie Sawyer, the audience can expect to be treated to a solid stream of musical greatness.

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