I embarked on a solo, cross-country tour of sorts. Combining my love of travel and music, I visited popular music cities. I cashed in credit card points for plane tickets, purchased an Amtrak 15-day rail pass and hitched rides with family. The selected locales were Seattle (Grunge), Detroit (Motown) and Memphis (Blues, Rock and Roll, and a little Country).
Second Stop: Detroit, Michigan (read about the first part of the trip)
The schedule is pretty constrained. I’m only spending one day in Detroit.
I catch Amtrak from Denver to Detroit. This is my first time riding a train across the country.I watch a man leave his luggage on the train platform and walk back into the station. After looking at the suitcase for what seems like an eternity, I flag down a police officer, authorities locate the passenger and he returns to his bag flustered. That’s how the second leg of the trip starts. Twenty-two hours later I arrive in the Motor City.
The Motown Museum is the reason I travel to Detroit. A few days before, I call the museum and the representative tells me he can’t guarantee my admission because weekends are soooo busy. I’M ONE PERSON! Miraculously, someone cancels the day I trek to the attraction, and I get in.
Visitors aren’t allowed to take photos. In the main hall, the tour guide speaks about Motown founder Berry Gordy’s entrepreneurial roots and the rise of company. Seeing a multitude of artifacts in one place illustrates the global impact of the music label. Two related features are particularly memorable: the Motown Clap and the Echo Chamber.
The young docent, who spent part of his childhood being raised by Stevie Wonder (I know right?!?!?!), explained the signature Motown Clap that appears in countless songs. While it seems basic, you realize how integral it is to countless tunes, even recent tracks (pay attention, there’s a reason I mention recent).
The Echo Chamber was a room with a partially hallowed out ceiling. Music would be broadcast to the attic room to produce a richer, fuller sound. After music producer phenom Pharrell visited the museum, the world was blessed with the can’t-get-outta-your-head, Happy. According to the tour guide, the Echo Chamber inspired “the room without a roof” lyric in the song’s chorus. That clap heard throughout the song? You guessed it, the Motown Clap. Have a listen (the beat follows a double time, single pattern).
Other cool facts about the mighty Motown:
- The music label started at 2648 West Grand Blvd (the current site of the museum). Berry Gordy purchased several other properties on the block, frustrating neighbors while building his empire.
- Studio A was open 24 hours enabling artists to record whenever inspiration hit. Again, to the dismay of the aforementioned citizens.
- At one point there were nine songwriters cranking out hits for more than 90 acts. Talk about a return on your investment.
- In 2011, Sir Paul McCartney paid to have Motown’s 1877 Steinway piano refurbished. Motown alumni come by and play the instrument to keep it tuned.
I think my brain is overloaded with musical knowledge, because I have a migraine (or it could be the travel). I head to the hotel to sleep it off.
Determined not to squander the rest of the day, I venture out for the evening. I take photos of the Fox Theatre, and see the Comerica Park baseball stadium (from the outside). A short walk away is Detroit mainstay, Cliff Bell’s jazz club. Playing tonight is a French jazz pianist. I get my French, food and music fixes all in one spot. I close out Saturday with a trek to the heart of Greektown. In a few blocks, I walk past a casino, music-blaring bicycles cruise by with lights, and satisfy my sweet tooth with goodies from the famous Astoria Pastry Shop.
I’m in and out of Detroit in about 24 hours. Back on the train to the last destination on the tour, Memphis, Tennessee. Until then, au revoir audiophiles!
Check out the Detroit photo gallery.