Diana Ross, Eminem, Jack White and Many More Light Up Detroit’s ‘Concert From Michigan Central’

When your all-star Detroit concert opens with none other than Miss Diana Ross gliding down the stage catwalk in an enormous cloud of orange chiffon singing “I’m Coming Out,” you are setting the bar high from the jump — especially if you’re kicking off an event with Eminem, Jack White, Jelly Roll, Common and many others.

She is Diana Ross, daughter of the Brewster Projects, queen of Motown, representing some of the city’s glorious past on two levels: She is here in front Michigan Central train station as part of “Live from Detroit: The Concert,” a celebration of the reopening of the gorgeously refurbished building on Thursday evening. She graced the crowd with “Upside Down” and a new song before closing her set with the legendary “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” her legendary 1967 duet with the late, legendary fellow Motown-ite Marvin Gaye.

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Every Detroiter has a story about Michigan Central station. Their grandparents arrived in the city there; a relative worked there; they snuck in for some urban exploring or went to an illegal rave there during the city’s dark days of the late 20 th century, after the station ceased operation and fell into ruin, a Beaux-Arts urban relic that had seen every era of modern Detroit. It became a refuge for graffiti artists, scrappers, the unhoused.

But six years ago, the Ford Motor Company decided to save the building, and now, after years of painstaking renovation and restoration, the building has reopened as an “innovation hub.” In theory, the concert is in celebration of the station’s revival — but in reality, it was a declaration: Detroit isn’t back, says the sizzle reel — it never left. (The concert, called “Live From Detroit: The Concert At Michigan Central” and produced by Oscars and Super Bowl Halftime veteran Jesse Collins, will air on NBC as a one-hour primetime special on June 9 starting at 7 p.m. ET/PT.)

The concert’s series of artists represented every era and genre of music that’s been created in the city emphatically proved their point: Motown, rock, hip-hop, techno, garage, punk, gospel, jazz and even the Detroit Symphony Orchestra showed up and showed out. There’s no way to be a musician in Detroit and not be incredibly aware of everything that preceded you. Thursday’s concert was a near-perfect manifestation of that ethos.

Big Sean performed at the 2018 groundbreaking ceremony where Ford declared their intentions, and he was back tonight, visibly stoked to be on stage in front of the old train station, and his set reflected that: 2024’s “On Up,” a song about his son, along with “Blessings” and closing with “Bounce Back,” an absolutely relevant Detroit almost-anthem. This was followed by a tribute to 79-year-old local hero Bob Seger featuring Melissa Etheridge, Fantasia, and Jelly Roll. Etheridge’s smoky alto worked well on the low-key “Mainstreet,” but Fantasia’s turned up for a Tina Turner-esque rendition of “Shakedown,” Seger’s 1987 contribution to the “Beverly Hills Cop II” soundtrack. And Jelly Roll’s “Turn the Page” perfectly captured the original’s pathos. The three finished the tribute with a joint version of “Old Time Rock and Roll” — a predictable but energizing cap on their set.

Veteran rapper Common appeared with Slum Village in tribute to J Dilla in a segment that was introduced by the late, pioneering hip-hop producer’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey. Dilla passed in 2006 but his stamp on hip-hop is indelible and continues to unfold in current artists influence and his absence are still very real to his friends, fans, and collaborators, as evidenced by the emotional performance tonight.

Introductions tonight were handled by an array of popular local celebrities, sports figures, politicians —Governor Gretchen Whitmer made an early appearance before concluding with a verbal mic-drop, “Big Gretch, out!” — and Ford executives. Throughout the night, the train station’s iconic facade was creatively utilized as a backdrop, illuminated with lighting, special effects and tasteful implementations of pyrotechnics. The production was staged by Jesse Collins Entertainment, known for their work on large spectacles from the Super Bowl halftime show to countless awards shows. There was a clear roof over the stage just in case — the day before, a tornado had touched down in a nearby suburb during dress rehearsal — but Thursday night the problem wasn’t rain, it was wind so strong that the production could not fly the speaker columns or the video screens until the last few acts. Even with those challenges, the sound was stellar throughout Roosevelt Park, the grounds in front of the station where the free event took place in front of a crowd of approximately 20,000.

“You don’t get Smokey Robinson or Aretha without their churches,” was how Judge Mathis (another son of Detroit) introduced gospel artists the Clark Sisters, whose matching sequined floor-length dresses managed to be both appropriate for church as well as eye-catching, especially at a distance — plus, they brought an entire church choir with them. The intensity of their performance, which showcased the group’s facility across multiple genres, didn’t surprise their fans, who were singing and dancing along in the crowd, but definitely caught the attention of a less gospel-savvy audience who had not been expecting such a group to, well, bring it.

Techno City got its props during the set change before Jack White when DJ Skyy Jetta performed a tribute to genre pioneers the Belleville Three. Detroit is widely considered to be the birthplace of techno, and the genre’s history isn’t an afterthought here. Jetta’s brief but innovative set kept everyone moving as the anticipation for the end of the night approached.

The always color-coordinated White, who grew up not far from where he was now performing, turned Michigan Central blue as he told the audience he was going to play some songs that were written “a few blocks from here.” After opening with “Here My Train a’ Comin” (OK he didn’t write that one) and “Hotel Yorba,” he was off and running. White is gifted with the ability to fill any space, no matter the size, with wall to wall rock and roll, and his set tonight was colossal. “Seven Nation Army” had the entire crowd singing and clapping along; they could probably hear the noise in the traffic on the Ambassador Bridge that crosses the Detroit River to Canada, just beyond the station.

Any attendees who thought they were being smart and beating the traffic by leaving after White’s set probably regretted that decision when they got home. The between-set changeover took longer than others because it required making room for the entire Detroit Symphony Orchestra — who were there to accompany none other than Eminem, who executive produced the event. Every phone was held aloft the minute he walked onstage; his name wasn’t part of the official lineup, but attendees fervently believed he would be there anyway.

Anticipation aside, it was an enormous, emotional performance that began with “Houdini” (and brought back Jelly Roll to sing the song’s sample from Aerosmith’s “Dream On”), “Sing for the Moment,” “Welcome 2 Detroit” — guest appearance by Trick Trick included — before finishing up with “Not Afraid.” This wasn’t any kind of vanity appearance — at the end of a night like this, Eminem hit the stage and delivered with all of his energy and intensity.

“Detroit, we up,” he announced at the end of “Not Afraid.” “We love you. Our city’s up. Let’s fucking go!” There was pyro. There were fireworks.  Michigan Central turned Ford blue, and the crowd headed out towards Michigan Avenue. (Head here for a full recap of Eminem’s set.)

The “Michigan Central Honors” ceremony takes place ahead of the “Live From Detroit: The Concert At Michigan Central.” A moment more than 30 years in the making, Detroit icons, performers, and presenters will take the stage to celebrate the reopening of Michigan Central Station following a six-year restoration by Ford Motor Company. The sold-out event will stream live exclusively on Peacock on June 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Additionally, NBC will air a one-hour primetime special on June 9 starting at 7 p.m. ET/PT. The concert will also stream locally on Local 4+ and ClickOnDetroit.com.

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