The Detroit music scene is in Dan McGowan’s blood. McGowan can’t even remember when his father first started taking him on nightly rounds across Detroit to pop into this show or check out this venue.
“I don’t remember when that started. It has pretty much always been part of my life. As a young child, I would be in and out of venues. People have asked what was the first concert you went to and I don’t even know,” McGowan tells Amplify.
Blair McGowan, Dan’s father, moved to Michigan in the 1970s to work for Cesar Chavez as a fundraiser for United Farm Workers. The senior McGowan learned all about throwing events in the Detroit area which eventually led to concert promotion.
“There is a certain smell that venues have and it has always made me comfortable when I smell it. It took a couple decades for me to realize that smell is the smell of a bar,” McGowan says. “That has always brought me a certain level of comfort because it reminds me of going to work with my old man.”
McGowan has always lived in Michigan and his family has always been involved in the local venues. Before selling several venues to SFX in 2001, McGowan’s father and his partners were connected to local spaces St. Andrew’s Hall, Industry Nightclub and Clutch Cargo’s.
Growing up in Detroit and being in the business of buildings has made McGowan an expert on the city’s architecture, its history and key players. He can recall the various waves of influential music from the southern jazz musicians, Motown, MC5, Iggy Pop, the birth of techno, the garage rock era with the White Stripes, and the hip-hop scene that birthed Eminem.
“It is a very dynamic city from a musical standpoint,” McGowan says. “The city has changed drastically since I was a kid. It is an ebb and a flow. There’s been a lot of improvement in the city, but it is a city that has taken its knocks.”
He adds: “You can come in and do things that you can’t really do in other cities. Proper values are very affordable. We have sound techs in the city that live in mansions that were built by auto barons. In San Diego you can get a shack and in Detroit you can get a mansion built by an auto baron with custom woodwork.”
In 2005, the McGowans got back into the venue business, purchasing The Crofoot which is a building from the 1830s in Pontiac, Michigan.
“We spent two years and renovated the three buildings and built it into a complex of venues,” McGowan says. “It has the Vernors Room which is 125-capacity, the Pike Room which is 250-capacity, and the Crofoot Ballroom which is an 1,100-capacity room all under one roof.”
Their promotion company, Crofoot Presents was established when the complex opened and now includes an office in Lansing, Michigan under the banner of Fusion Shows and two offices in Detroit and Pontiac to put only roughly 750 shows per year. Amplify caught up with the prolific concert-goer to find out about five of his favorite shows.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam at State Theatre in Detroit
Nov. 22, 1991
This wasn’t my first show, but it was so special. The energy was insane, and everyone was so excited. I was only 10 years-old, but this night made a huge impact on me. After the show, we went to American Coney Island, a Detroit staple, and it was packed with fans buzzing about the show.
Claude VonStroke at Detroit Masonic Temple
May 29, 2016
We work with Paxahau, promoters of Detroit’s seminal music festival Movement, on afterparties each year. In 2016, we had Claude and the Dirtybird crew at the Masonic. We had a hard curfew of 4am, we were about shut things down, and then RZA walks onto the stage, unannounced and unexpected. He asks for a mic, and freestyles on top of Claude’s beat. It was fucking sweet.
April 14, 2017
Flint Eastwood wanted a unique venue, and we’d recently made a deal to produce special events (corporate events & weddings) in the Fisher Building. For those that aren’t familiar, google it. It’s the crown jewel of pre-depression Detroit architecture. Often referred to as Detroit’s largest art object. We brought in a stage, sound & lights, and the bands took it from there. It was incredible.
James Murphy with Erno the Inferno at Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Michigan
Jan. 26, 2013
January in Michigan is a dark, cold month. I was standing on the sidewalk about 4pm, the sun was setting, a car pulls up, James Murphy gets out, a small bag, a case or two of records in hand. I helped him in, we set him up, and he played a phenomenal set. The room was warm and full of friends. After the show James complimented our sound system. It was a great night.
Vampire Weekend at the Pike Room in Pontiac, Michigan
Dec. 12, 2007
The band had just released a few tracks and the buzz was huge. The Pike Room is intimate, shows in there always seem so personal, and a sold-out show in there never disappoints. I stood at the front of house and watched their whole set, totally captivated. We all knew this band was going to explode. The next time I saw them was at Lollapalooza in Chicago, and it was equally impressive.