Living up to their reputation as regional pioneers who forged the template for creating a successful summer music festival, the Great Lakes Bay Region’s innovative musical festival series Friday Night Live will be returning to Morley Plaza in Downtown Saginaw for their 25th season of showcasing top-notch musical talent, which will begin on July 14th and continue with a series of weekly concerts running through August 18th.
When they first started laying the groundwork for this successful series 25-years ago, the public service group then known as PRIDE in Saginaw and now known as Positive Results Downtown first introduced this concept for packaging six consecutive weekends of premier musical entertainment in order to 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 Saginaw Business District.
According to Executive Director Jeanne Conger, “When we first developed the idea for Friday Night Live, there were naysayers who said a festival such as this would never fly in Downtown Saginaw because people wouldn’t come down to support it, so it was interesting to watch how it developed. The first week we had hundreds of people and then every week after it started doubling in numbers and continued building like that, to the point where in the earlier years crowds were estimated to average around 8,000 people and upward.
Contributing to their success was the fact that 25 years ago about the only regional summer festivals going on were the Chesaning Showboat and the Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival. “We were the only ones staging a 6-week music festival of this nature, but now today there must be around twenty. Over the years these various townships and counties throughout the region saw what we were doing and had successfully accomplished, so they started developing these little summer concert series in their own parks and neighborhoods.”
“Bay City, Frankenmuth, and Tittabawassee Township are all staging festivals and you even have Spaulding Township and the YMCA doing them now, so a lot of people took this concept and adapted it for their own purposes,” adds Entertainment Director Dr. Jack Nash. “With all this competition going on, there’s a different flow that can be more challenging to navigate, but what we try to do is offer the best entertainment we can afford.”
“Our focus is on serving the public as an entertainment venue, not an adult beverage venue; plus many of these competing events can get real expensive to attend,” he continues. “Many of these marquee concerts up at Wenonah Park can cost forty or fifty bucks to attend, while we’ve always been adamant about keeping Friday Night Live a free concert series. Plus, thanks to our friends at WKCQ, over the years we’ve been able to feature artists such as Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, and Chris Stapleton before they became huge stars, so patrons have responded strongly to what we’ve been able to offer.”
Indeed, one way the public responded in Friday Night Live’s Silver Anniversary Year was to vote the festival as the Best Live Fundraising Event in the Great Lakes Bay Region at this year’s 37th Annual REVIEW Music Awards.
When asked about why he feels the festival registers so strongly with the public, Nash is reflective. “We feature mainly premier talent. Most of the other festivals feature local talent, which we do as well for our opening acts; but we always strive to 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. Their goals centered upon attracting new business to the downtown district, encouraging and supporting the existing business & professional community, and beautifying the downtown environment while creating a positive and constructive image of the Downtown area, all with an eye towards promoting and stimulating ongoing activities that are attractive to people and businesses.
“The idea for Friday Night Live came about after PRIDE decided to stop sponsoring the Gus Macker Tournament,” explains Jeanne. “When we first promoted the Gus Macker there were only two or three tournaments in the entire state of Michigan, but when we decided to stop there were 28 tours going on, so it was a struggle for us to even break even on that event.” “Plus, Saginaw was putting a lot of money into the Gus Macker, but a lot of it was going outside of the city,” adds Nssh.
“We wanted to find something new for the community, so Linda McGee knew about this festival developed in Traverse City where they would close down the streets and stage a music festival for several consecutive weeks in the summer,” explains Jeanne. “We drove up in a snowstorm to meet with the people who staged it and asked if we could model our event after theirs, which is what we did. But the challenge for us was that all Traverse had to do was close the streets because they had restaurants & bars available for food service & beverages, but we didn’t have that in downtown Saginaw so we had to create it, which is why we brought food vendors in an created an adult beverage area in order to compensate. Our focus is always on staging a good concert, breaking even, and adding to the quality of life for the people living here.”
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. “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,” notes Jeanne.
Downtown Saginaw has witnessed many ups & downs since the inception of Friday Night Live, but 25-years down the road, what are Jeanne & Jack’s perception of the Downtown business district? “I see a lot of activity happening,” comments Jeanne. “We’ve got the Memorial Cup coming next year and beat out places like Sault St. Marie, which wasn’t an easy feat; plus we have a new school being built, which I’ve always felt anytime you see something new being built you know something good I happening.”
“The Bank Project is still in the works for the old Second National Bank building on Genesee & Washington,” adds Jack, “and with the help of the Shaheen family, Washington Avenue has really cleaned up from what it was 20 years ago, plus the SVRC Marketplace is doing good, and the Boardroom Restaurant is doing a good job.”
Seeing as this is their 25th Anniversary Season, Friday Night Live will be sprinkling in extra activities opening night and also handing out special commemorative gifts for the first 25 attendees at each performance, plus the first 200 attendees will also receive a commemorative gift. “We’ll be providing a Kid Zone and Carnival games, plus different arts groups will be working with kids on different arts and crafts projects, and we’ll have different events tailored around each of our theme nights.”
In terms of Food vendors, Jeanne says the variety this year will be broader than in past years, with quite a few new ones. “We’ll have eleven vendors offering a variety of Mexican cuisine, American food, some Catfish, two barbecue vendors, Italian Ice cream, and fun carnival food like popcorn and peanuts.”
“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, who’s support is essential for creating the magic of music, family, and community that we are able to make happen each year here on the banks of the Saginaw River at Morley Plaza,” concludes Jeanne.
Here’s the lowdown on this year’s entertainment line-up:
July 14 • Journey on the River featuring All JOURNEY (Tribute to Journey Band) wsg 3rd Degree Burns
You can’t pull off a convincing Journey Tribute without a convincing “Steve Perry” and All Journey certainly has that covered with front man Al Langlade, who has been mimicking Perry’s unmistakable vocal prowess for 30 plus years. “I get an instant rush from the audience’s reaction when I walk on stage and they see me in the classic Steve Perry tuxedo and Nikes. It’s like they are wowed by the resemblance but the real appreciation comes immediately after the opening vocal line of Separate Ways is put out there”, says Langlade.
July 21 • Downtown Hoedown featuring SHIATOWN wsg Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway
Shiatown is a homegrown Michigan band comprised of 5 musicians from Shiawassee and Genesee counties. They have three lead singers and play modern country music along with classic country tunes. Openers Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway have received numerous honors in the Country Division at the annual REVIEW Music Awards.
July 29 • Fiesta Grande featuring AZTECAS wsg Los ‘G’ Notes
Los Aztecas is a Tejano/Latino band made up of four brothers. They are well known on the Tejano circuit, performing at many events throughout the Midwest and are based out of Toledo, Ohio.
Aug. 4 • Friday Night Fever featuring The BROTHER GIBBS Story wsg Cool Lemon Jazz Band
Presented by Canada’s premier producer of musical tribute shows, Bill Culp Productions, this brand new, theatrical presentation celebrates the incredible legacy of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, better known as the incomparable Bee Gees. One of the most gifted Bee Gee Tribute bands on the circuit, you won’t want to miss this journey through the legacy of hits the Bee Gees created throughout the expanse of their career.
Aug. 11 • Rollin’ on the River featuring BAYOU COUNTRY wsg Laurie & the Lefties
This night is a celebration of the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty. Bayou County’s show features a faithful performance of CCR and Fogerty hits originating in the 60’s that have remained popular every decade since. Whether you grew up listening to the music of CCR and are a fan, or if you are new to CCR, Bayou County will surely help you become a fan.
Aug 18 • Motown Music Fest featuring PHASE 5 wsg Soul Street
This Motown Tribute act performs hits from Motown’s most successful artists like The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, The Contours and more. The group is fronted by five very talented vocalists who combine tight harmonies along with smooth choreography and vintage costumes reminiscent of the Motown groups known all over the world. Their incredible energy infects the crowd and soon the guests are clapping and singing along to the Motown hits that are still popular today!
16th November, 2023