Groove to the beat of this incomparable city with Motown musician and Detroit’s own, Omar Aragones.
Saturday night. You step inside Detroit’s Garden Bowl, and neon lights hit you in the face. Soulful, born-again Motown graces your ear drums. This is the oldest continuously operated bowling alley in the USA—built in 1913—but right now you might as well be aboard a warm, inviting spaceship. Because you’re in Detroit, Michigan, a place where old and new mix seamlessly, and where the grit of a bowling alley mingles with the vibrancy of an art scene. It’s a city humming with creativity, hard work and zero pretentiousness.
If you hit Garden Bowl on the right night, you might catch local Motown musician Omar Aragones performing on the elevated stage, hovering in suspension above the lanes. (I told you, spaceship.)
A City Steeped in Homegrown Innovation
“Detroit always just has this way of brewing innovation,” Omar offers.
And nothing tells the story of Detroit innovation like Motown music. The name itself, a combination of the words “Motor” and “Town,” is a reflection of Detroit's long history of blue collar industrialism mixing with artistic expression of the highest order. “As a Motown artist, I feel like I’m being very true to where I’m from. It’s soul music, and this city has got soul.”
Omar Aragones playing the saxophone in The Belt, an alleyway filled with street art
The Heart & Soul of Detroit
Motown is a phenomenon; its syrupy bass lines and impassioned vocals have come to define American music. But if you were to go back to the start of this golden age, you’d find anything but gold. You’d be looking at a stocky factory worker named Berry Gordy, staring down the barrel of $800 of debt he accrued to purchase an unremarkable studio on West Grand Boulevard.
But like the city around it, hard work and creativity grew Motown Records into an empire. “Motown is specifically Detroit. It’s soul music polished to be pop music,” Omar elaborates. With household names like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and the Jackson 5, Berry Gordy’s mix of grit, struggle and poeticism helped put Detroit on the map. Today, fans of the genre can visit the same studio space purchased by Gordy, currently home to the Motown Museum, for tours of iconic photography, stage costumes and sheet music of the era.
Outside the United Sound Systems Recording Studios
Since the Gilded Age, a Mecca of Industrialism
While Motown Records is the soul of the city, Detroit was a boomtown long before Aretha Franklin taught us the meaning of respect. A defining moment of the Gilded Age came in 1903, when a brazen businessman named Henry Ford established the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Inside The Henry Ford Museum today is the new Rouge Theater, where guests get an inside look into America’s manufacturing past, present and future. Ford and his contemporaries (the Dodge brothers and Walter Chrysler, sound familiar?) invigorated the local economy. In a hailstorm of metal, rubber and dedication to craft, they would drive Detroit to be a mecca of industry. “That's America. It doesn't get more American than that,” Omar says with a smile.
And when a boomtown booms, art follows. It’s hard not to be stirred by the landscape. The delicate Fox Theatre, with its ornate gold and dripping velvet curtains. The Guardian Building, a towering masterpiece of art deco glamour and Mayan Revival architecture. The Fisher building, with its Tiffany-stained glass, and copious marble. Art is everywhere.
The ornate interior of the historic Fox Theatre
More than Motown: The Prideful Craftsmanship of Detroit
The Eastern Market is the perfect nexus of Midwestern head-down, no-complaints, get-it-done attitude and cosmopolitan individualism. Under the cover of rusted warehouse overhangs, you’ll find a diverse array of art forms, from meticulously painted murals to delicious street tacos. The market’s been bustling for over 150 years, and it’s a great glimpse into what Detroit stands for today. Oh, and did we mention how good the tacos are?
“I feel the people here are extremely prideful of craftsmanship,” Omar says. “They’re resilient, hardworking, Midwestern. You're standing on the shoulders of giants, and to carry that on, it's a big task.”
Looking Back, but Moving Forward
Back at Garden Bowl, Omar reveals the place’s slogan: “The working man’s country club.” It’s a perfect representation of the city. Expressive, stylish, and pumping motor oil and determination through its veins.
Before calling it a night, Omar drops us one last thought. A phrase that would feel at home in the chorus of any golden era Motown hit:
“Detroit is soaring. Detroit is unstoppable.”