The story of PRIDE is one of commitment, compassion, and vision that started 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 started moving operations to suburban malls in the 1970s, creating structural vacancies within the city.
Started by a group of volunteers concerned with and interested in Downtown Saginaw, the goals of PRIDE are to attract new business to the downtown, encourage and support the existing business & professional community, and to beautify the downtown environment. It strives to create a positive, constructive image of the Downtown area, unify, coordinate and support the common efforts of various organizations, and to promote and stimulate ongoing activities attractive to people and businesses.
According to PRIDE coordinator Jeanne Conger, “Over the years other entities such as Saginaw Future were created, so we've taken more of a role today supporting groups doing similar beautification projects designed to make Saginaw good. For example, PRIDE was instrumental in bringing the Farmer's Market back to the city and we also helped incubate the Downtown Saginaw Association.”
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.
Now in its 14th year, the Friday Night Live series had its humble origins back in 1997-98, at the time the annual Gus Macker Basketball Tournament moved out of the city. “We were looking for a new event and Linda McGee was a PRIDE Board member that told us of this outdoor event in Traverse City, which their downtown association held for local people,” explains Jeanne.
“I remember when Linda and I went up to Traverse in the middle of a snowstorm to meet with this group, and it looked like a great event; but we realized pulling something similar together in Downtown Saginaw would be a little different because we didn't have the business support in the area to provide restaurants and bars to patrons. So we thought why not make all that happen within our park by bringing in food vendors, pulling entertainment together, and arrange for a beer tent. Out of that our first six week event was created.”
Jeanne says for the inaugural PRIDE series 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 and 14-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 Friday Night Life connects them 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 PRDIE Board member for 10 years now and is their current President.
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.”
For the musical selection process a Concert & Entertainment Committee is formed within the PRIDE organization, with the focus on selecting a strong local opening act along with a prominent regional, statewide, or emerging national headliner.
“A lot of people don't know that Keith Urban played at one of our early Friday Night Live performances, as did Rascal Flats,” notes Jeanne. “We rely on the assistance of WKCQ for a lot of our country suggestions and sometimes get young stars working to develop more stage experience. But it's gratifying to know that Friday Night Live has served as a launching pad for a lot of these younger stars.”
“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.”
When asked what the most challenging component of staging Friday Night Live centers upon, Jeanne points to volunteer recruitment. “We need anywhere from 50 to 100 volunteers to pull this off, which is hard to do because it's a 6-week commitment, which is half of the summer,” she explains. “We have people from different groups and all areas of the region sign up, but I would say the driving force that is over there every week consists of about 15 to 20 people. The set-up and tear-down crew is there all the time to help us.”
“We have a good rapport with all of our partners,” continues Jeanne, “and any problem we might encounter it seems a business or someone in the community comes forward that has a solution. One of the early problems we encountered was that we had no changing room for our performing acts, so one of the local construction companies came forward and said they would give us a trailer for the acts to use. The community wants PRIDE to be successful and helps as much as they can.”
And indeed, the most recent hurdle PRIDE had to cross occurred last year when the City of Saginaw placed the PRIDE showmobile up for sale on E-bay. Schafer & Bierlein and Frankenmuth Credit Union went and purchased the showmobile on e-bay and in turn renovated, restored, updated the electrical, and re-painted the vehicle, donating it to PRIDE for Friday Night Live. Without their team effort, the PrideMobile would have been lost.
When asked how they feel Friday Night Live ranks regionally to other summer festivals in the area, Jack points out that while they can't compete with some of the highly funded events in Frankenmuth, the FNL series does provide top-notch entertainment that smaller vendors in the County can't afford.
“Every main act on the stage is a serious professional musician,” concludes Jack, “and because of our sponsors we remain a free event. Given the caliber of our entertainment, I think we do pretty well and provide an important service to the community.”
“Plus next year will be our 15th Anniversary,” smiles Jeanne. “We haven't even started this year's series, but are already planning something big for next year!”
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.
So get set, because the 14th Annual PRIDE Friday Night Live series is set to kick off on Friday, July 13th. And here's a rundown on what you can expect to experience:
SPOTLIGHT ON THE SOUNDS of FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE
July 13 * Classic Rock with Magic Bus & Grefe, Gaus, Grefe & Roberts
Kicking things off on July 13th is Magic Bus - a versatile gang of rock 'n roll musicians that not only re-creates the atmosphere of the Woodstock era with their musical selections, but their authentic stage presence consists of 60's attire and off-the-wall surprises. Consisting of six musicians that incorporate guitars, drums, keyboards, harmonicas, tambourines, flute and various percussion instruments, all members are excellent vocalists which allows them the latitude of a broad musical selection ranging from the harsh, pounding sound of The Who to the soothing vocal harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Magic Bus was named in the June issue of Detroit Hour Magazine, Best of Detroit - Best Local Band; and in 2011 was voted #1 band in Detroit's WDIV, ClickonDetroit, as well as earning a nomination for 'Outstanding Live Performance' in the Detroit Music Awards.
They'll also be bringing along Mister Cool - a 13' tall dancing hippie puppet to work the crowd! And as an added bonus the remarkably talented and versatile musical gifts of Grefe, Gaus, Grefe & Roberts will open the show.
July 20 * Country Night with Jason Jones & Laurie Middlebrook
Jason Jones is a new country ingénue out of Nashville with 'movie-star' looks who hit big last year with his hit single Ferris Wheel. Signed to Warner Brothers Records.
In high school, Jones formed a hard rock band, noting how “I always loved country music the most, and I'd get out of band practices and go home and grab my acoustic and start trying to learn the songs that were on country radio.” Partway into a scholarship at Florida State, he dropped out to move to Nashville and pursue his dream, and hasn't looked back since.
He fronted a band at the city's famous Wildhorse Saloon, playing cover songs and a few originals, even as he got a songwriting contract with Warner/Chappell music. He got work putting his pristine voice on other writers' demos, too, partly as a crafty method of getting in the door to meet and work with established songsmiths.
Opening act Laurie Middlebrook is a perennial favorite of music fans throughout the region, having secured numerous Review Music Awards for Best Country Female vocalist & Songwriter, as well as securing several original and beautiful recordings under her belt.
July 27 * Latin Night with Baraja De Oro and C-4
Latin music is very regional with stylistic variations ranging from Tejano to Conjunto, depending upon the preference of the area. “Latin fans in this area tend to prefer Conjunto music,” explains Jack Nash, “which is why we went with Baraja De Oro this year.”
Billing themselves as 'the baddest Conjunto band in the land', Baraja De Oro have an addictive sound which leaves people wanting more because they play from the heart and deliver 110%.
By definition, Conjunto is a style of popular Latin Dance music originating along the border between Texas and Mexico, characterized by the use of accordion, drums, and 12-string bass guitar, and traditionally based on polka, waltz and bolero rhythms.
Aug. 3 - Variety Night with 4 Aces & Metro Jazz Voices
Since 1950, The Four Aces have been internationally acclaimed as a group that has not only produced some of the most beautiful renderings ever, but for also being superb showmen. After you witness their performance, you will know why The Four Aces have delighted audiences of all ages, around the world.
Formed in 2008, Detroit-area Metro Jazz Voices specializes in smooth and exciting four-part harmony, ala the Manhattan Transfer, backed by a crack Detroit rhythm section.
The group is the brainchild of co-leaders Carl Cafagna and Meri Slaven, both mainstay solo performers in Metro Detroit, with numerous recording credits. In fact, the two met when Cafagna was booked to play woodwinds on Slaven's debut CD, "Dream Dancing", at the recommendation of pianist Scott Gwinnell, who produced the CD. Gwinnell connected the group with baritone Jeremy St. Martin and soprano/alto Nicci Der-Stepanian and secured their first gig within two months.
Along the way, Der-Stepanian has been replaced by 4-time Detroit Music Award-winner Trish Shandor, who is a feature soprano with the Michigan Opera Theater and the Ben Folds tour. Shandor's tremendous voice, and name recognition, has kicked the group into a still-higher gear. Mark Stryker, of the Detroit Free Press, called them "...a quartet of singers specializing in alluring harmony and animated spirit."
Winding out the Friday Night Live series will be New Odyssey on August 10th and Motown Night with Horizon & The Tee Tatum Experience.
Watch for more on these groups in our next edition!