WHFR Record Show and Grande Ballroom 50th Anniversary
The weekend of October 8th marked an eventful day in Dearborn representing local music of the Detroit area.
First is the WHFR Record Show. 89.3 WHFR is the Dearborn local radio station that broadcasts out of Henry Ford Community College. The station is a pivotal piece of Detroit musical history because the music of many local artists’ is featured there as well as out of town legends and lesser-known musicians.
According to their website, the station began back in 1962 as a campus radio station, intended for playing music to students and to make announcements. The station expanded to FM radio in 1979 when they applied for and received a grant to air from the Federal Communications Commission. The first broadcast aired in 1985 after spending years acquiring the equipment and staff needed for running a functional radio station. Through many other developments and location changes of campus, the radio station now operates out of the Student Center of the college.
The station’s DJs are all volunteers and are oftentimes students enrolled in the “Radio Station Workshop” class. They also operate solely off of donations so they often put on different fund-raisers to help fund their operations — and the annual WHFR Record Show is one of them. The event can be described as one big convention of local record stores and music vendors setting up shop in the student center. From 9 A.M. to 4 P.M., all types of music were up for sale in the form of tapes, CDs, videos, and vinyl LPs and 45s, as well as other musical memorabilia like books and posters. Alongside independent vendors and the radio station having its own stand at the show, others such as Dearborn Music and Stormy Records attended.
The event attracts local music lovers, record collectors, and musicians. I was happy to see one of my friends Nick Marocco who is the drummer for the local band the Twistin’ Tarantulas as well as the owner of the music store Rock City Music Company located in Livonia.
WHFR holds together a community and preserves a vast amount of the rich history based around the rich musical culture that the Detroit area has to offer — and this is just one of the examples of them doing it. On the same day and in the same city of Dearborn they were promoting, in part, another event of the same nature as the Record Show. This would be celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Grande Ballroom.
The Grande Ballroom is located on Grand River Avenue, now dilapidated and missing pieces that scrappers have come in and taken. Although it stands in this condition today, the building still holds a significant architectural and musical significance in Detroit as it was designed by a prominent Detroit architect, Charles N. Agree, and was a concert hall that really
According to an article from Historic Detroit on the building, it was designed by Agree in 1928, for Edward J. Strata and his business partner, Edward J. Davis. The venue started out as a house to hold shows for big band and jazz music that was popular at the time of its first opening. As the 20th century aged on, the swing-jazz style was starting to wear out which brought down the business of the ballroom to where it was then bought out John T. Hayse and his wife in 1955. The couple hoped to carry on and preserve the ballroom’s intended purpose for and the tradition of ballroom dancing.
As the new owners, the Hayes’ customers mainly consisted of Church groups and wedding parties and otherwise marketed their business to young adults. They made sure everything was clean and free of “troublemakers”, and believed that retaining the ballroom dancing style for the younger generations would help them in the future. Trying desperately to keep it proper, they restricted any alcohol or drugs to be sold or brought onto the premises and had a strict dress code.
When the world became more rock n’ roll favoring, the Hayes’ attempt to keep ballroom dancing alive crashed and burned and the venue turned to a roller rink and then a mattress storage house. The type of atmosphere the former owners visioned for the ballroom, however, fully made the 180 degree turn when the ownership went to Russ Gibb, a local radio DJ high school teacher in Dearborn. Russ was influenced by the rock halls he visited in San Francisco like the Avalon and the Fillmore and visioned to bring that kind of venue to Detroit: a place where bands could come and play their own music and make a name for themselves. And he succeeded in making this vision come true when he reopened the venue on October 7th, 1966 with a show featuring The MC5 and the Chosen Few.
This grand re-opening celebrated its 50th anniversary this year in Dearborn at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center with what can probably best be described as a hippie convention. Different events were set up to commemorate its historical value featuring a car show, vendor stands, and a lineup of prolific bands from the Detroit rock n’ roll scene of the sixties.
Walking into the event, you are first greeted by a psychedelic sixties hippie van with speakers playing rock classics from the era in review. The table to buy tickets at is located directly in front of you as soon as you walk in and once you purchase you can proceed in. The evening time event was so popular that tickets sold out within the first hour or two. Adjacent to the ticket booth was the Padziewski Gallery and one of the vendor tables. According to the Grande Ballroom website, the gallery had been showcasing a number of concert poster art pieces featuring Carl Lundgren, Leni Sinclair, John Collier, Dennis Loren, Mark Arminski, Robert Matheu and the work of Gary Grimshaw in the month before the event.
These posters are linked to the concert history of the Grande Ballroom as well as Detroit music, mentioning venues such as the Fillmore and St. Andrew’s Hall and acts like Iggy and The Stooges and the White Stripes. There is a story around these concert posters which are either created by or inspired by the artist Gary Grimshaw. In the story outlined on Historic Detroit, he was introduced to Russ Gibb by MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner, who played the Grande every week with his band. Grimshaw became legendary for making these psychedelic concert posters to promote the shows.
Just outside the glass doors that form the gallery was a vendor table. It had piles of flyers that were promoting some of the sponsors — most of which are active advocates of Detroit local music such as Jack White’s Third Man Records and WHFR. The table was also selling old development copies of photographs that held memories of bands at the Grande focusing mainly on the Who — sometimes stopping through town to play. The memories were captured by photographer Tom Wright. The vendor mentioned that he was “cleaning out his closet” and selling off a bunch of his old reject and development copies of photos that captured many rock artists in that day.
Once you enter the Hubbard Ballroom, you find where the main events are. There was a stage that the lineup of rock bands played at with their merchandise tables set up nearby. There were six bands in all lined up to play the event. The names of the bands, in order that they played were The Wha?, The Thomas Blood Band, The Gang, Stoney and the Jagged Edge, Frijid Pink and finally, the Yardbirds. Each band had a history playing the Grande Ballroom and were very active during the years it was open. The Yardbirds were from England opposed to Detroit like all of the other bands but they still fit in because they were pivotal in influencing the rock n’ roll scene in the sixties with their psychedelic blues rock music. All the bands played their own songs as well as covers of famous classics from the early days of rock.
The Hubbard Ballroom was lined with vendors selling incense, shirts, and music memorabilia. One thing I noticed was that almost all of the music being sold was made by artists based from Michigan — or particularly Detroit. Everything from the popular greats like Bob Seger to the obscure like Bittersweet Alley.
Other events that displayed the culture that formed around the sixties consisted of a hippie fashion show and a classic car show. The fashion show was held on the stage where the bands played, and it showed what a lot of the women wore during concerts and as hippies. It was held in between the sets of the Thomas Blood band and The Gang. Throughout the day, a group of classic cars were parked off to the side of the ballroom. They were vintage and from this era as well, including another hippie van.
Overall, this event was a great display of the cultural history of the Detroit music scene that thrived in the sixties along with the counterculture movement and the Vietnam War. It also took a good look at the roots of where Detroit's rock scene today came from. The Grande Ballroom housed the predecessors who are often credited for the founding of punk rock like the MC5 or the Stooges. WHFR also carries that on with their radio station and the contributions that they make that preserve the art from of music here: even while they are raising funds to continue doing it themselves.