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Motown Winter Blast 2011

Heating up downtown Detroit

 

By John Q. Horn

The Motown Winter Blast started as a downtown backdrop to Super Bowl XL in 2006. In the last 5 years, it has taken on a life of its own, gradually evolving into a seasonally iconic weekend that has become emblematic of downtown’s versatility and growth.

From 2/11-2/13, Campus Martius and the surrounding area become an epicenter of winter-based, outdoor fun,  irrespective of your demographic. For three days, metro Detroiters converge on downtown Detroit for the huge snow slide, great live music, wonderful food from area restaurants and a general sense of winter mirth that helps warm these cold days and nights.

Families live it up during the day and early evening with free ice skating at the Campus Martius rink, ice sculptures and a kids stage; adults young and old have plenty of options during the night, including three live music stages, after parties, bar crawls and more.

It is a something-for-everyone environment. A huge caveat for Winter Blast 2011 is the 11th-hour sponsorship that came in from officials with the Ambassador Bridge, who this year have sponsored the 200-foot-long, 32-foot-high natural snow slide that has been a big draw at past events. But for organizers, the reality is that Winter Blast 2011 will bring tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Detroit, and what attendees do while they’re there could have a positive effect on the city.

“The slide gives us such a lift but what’s interesting is that it’s not just having the slide,” says Jonathan Witz, executive producer. “It’s a great contribution to us, because it is expected to lift attendance. The more people we have downtown, the more money that is being spent on local businesses.”

Witz illustrated a ripple effect of what happens when people visit Winter Blast. They come for the activities and the fun, but they hopefully use it as a gateway to experience nightlife, dining and other activities in the city, outside of Winter Blast.

“There is a lot of adult-oriented entertainment with the music lineup, the after-party at the Greektown Casino, the Bar Blast, DJs from Movement; we have really put together an evening of entertainment,” Witz says. “We have set up the downtown so that our events go until 11 p.m. We have really opened the door for people to visit other Detroit spots after Winter Blast.”

Three music stages — sponsored by the Michigan Lottery, Flagstar Bank and Meijer, respectively — will showcase a variety of genres ranging from rock, funk and soul, to blues, pop, acoustic and more. Expected to play throughout the weekend are The Muggs, Black Irish, DJs from Movement, The Reefermen, Jill Jack and Stewart Francke, among many others.

Winter Blast 2011 offers a lot more than just great live music, though. Events throughout the weekend range from navigating the giant snow slide, to ice skating and snow-shoeing demonstrations, to dog-sledding, marshmallow roasting and so much more. For Witz, it’s not about how much activity organizers can pack into a weekend; rather, the real payback for him is the view while it’s all going on.

“The support of the snow slide has allowed us to have snow-makers to make snow for snowshoeing and to bring back dog sledding for the first time in three years,” he says. “With the backdrop of the city, you get to watch people putting on snowshoes like they’re at a resort about to hit the trails. This is what Michigan winter is like. There is a little bit of tourism promoted as well.

“It really is a neat mix,” he added. “The great thing about Winter Blast is watching people flow through it all. People are roasting marshmallows or going to catch a live band. It’s a pace that is both fast and slow.”

All of that activity will assuredly work up an appetite. The General Motors Foundation Taste of Detroit will feature 15 participants from all points on Detroit’s culinary landscape.

Restaurants in Taste of Detroit include the rich, European-inspired fare from Cuisine in Greektown; unrivaled barbecue goodness from Lockhart’s in Royal Oak; fresh fish, steaks and chops from Detroit Seafood Market; authentic Middle Eastern dishes from La Marsa; Greek fare from Greektown Taverna; Polish food from Kola’s Food Factory in Riverview; and many more.

Comfort Zones will be established throughout Campus Martius, with heated tents and warming stations no more than 150 feet apart. Visitors to Motown Winter Blast can pop in to warm up, while at the same time enjoying live music or any of the many other acitivities going on throughout the weekend. It’s cold. Go warm up outside.

Published originally in Real Detroit Weekly Magazine

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