Best of Detroit Shines at Mo Pop

written by Ariana Assaf

Mo Pop Festival at a glance

After spending the last few months in Ann Arbor, MI and getting a taste a taste of the Detroit summer music scene, I’d say Mo Pop is just what the city needs…it was certainly what I needed. Hosted at West Riverfront Park during the third weekend of July, Mo Pop—like Detroit itself—seems unassuming until you really get to know it. What started as a one-day festival with an uncertain future in 2013 is slowly becoming a staple of summer in Detroit. Last year, the festival moved to its current home, added another day, and managed to book force-of-nature Passion Pit. This year’s lineup showed even more improvement, with diverse acts ranging from Michigan native Børns to hip hop star G-Eazy, and plenty in between who made Mo Pop a shining example of “as good as it gets”.

Music genre: Hip hop and variations of pop: pop rock, synthpop, indie pop, etc.

Camping: No

Capacity: Small

Crowd type:  Local music appreciators, some families

Water stations: Yes, but only in VIP

For the first-timers

I doubt many (if any) came from far enough away to fly, but Detroit Metro Airport is about a 25-minute drive away if that’s your plan. Parking is available in lots charging $10-$20 depending on how close to the venue you are (won’t be further than half a mile). If you’re sneaky and pay attention to street signs, you can find free street parking on Bagley Ave; just pass the venue on Rosa Parks Blvd, follow the curve around to the right, and turn left on Bagley. Surrounding hotels include the Crowne Plaza, Detroit Marriot, MGM Grand, Holiday Inn, and Best Western.

Standout food

The Slows BBQ food truck is a must-have local Detroit treat, especially if you’re visiting. KIND Bar reps were on site giving out free bars, also stocked in the VIP area.

Stage layout

Mo Pop was comprised of only three stages. The smallest of all and first you’ll see upon entry is the School of Rock stage, where young talent had the opportunity to hone their performance skills. The other two stages on which main acts alternated can be seen and heard perfectly from exactly the same spot if you’re strategic, which I was, and was thus able to lounge on a tapestry all weekend—no worrying about running across a massive venue to catch your favorite artists.

Though the stages used minimal decoration/production effects, I have to shout out M83’s performance and whoever was behind their lighting design. The Detroit skyline only became more luminous and awe-inspiring as the sun set, and by the time M83 closed out the festival on Sunday night, conditions were perfect. Small bulbs hung over the stage, suspended in what could have been its own dark little infinity. The way they punctuated the black so gorgeously mirrored the way the bright lights of Detroit’s high rises stick out against the sky…at one point I walked far back from the stage to watch from the only hammock on site, and I swear it was like watching a box of lasers dance in front of a galaxy.

Musical highlights

The nostalgia for Børns’ set at Coachella is what made me want to attend in the first place, and while not every single person in the crowd knew the words this time, one very drunk man dancing next to me did and we had a grand old time. My only complaint is that at times I found myself singing louder than Børns himself…no one likes getting their eardrums blown, but it really could have been a little louder. Funnily enough, that was one of only two sets I saw on Saturday—Tunde Olaniran was the other—because that was the day a certain sexy sax man decided to throw Grizmas in July. What was I supposed to do, hang around for G-Eazy? Many people certainly did, some of whom I even call friends despite their clearly subpar taste (I’m kidding I’m kidding, you go G-Eazy lovers). But when Griz calls, you go. Hopefully he’ll be calling us all to Mo Pop in the near future instead.

On Sunday, Matt and Kim responded to a technical difficulty by releasing massive beach balls and starting a dance party until they could get things up and running. Then I screamed the words to “Daylight” because I’m basic and that’s the only song of theirs I know fully. Father John Misty got weirdly political but in a nice way earlier in the day, and commented on his more…aggressive…speech made at XPoNential in New Jersey. He was in a good mood on Sunday and lamented the fact that the media wouldn’t report on the nice things he said, so here I am to prove him wrong. Kind of. Unfortunately the voices surrounding me when I tried to record a voice memo were louder than his, and I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I do remember that it was positive and hopeful.

As I said earlier, Børns is the reason I went, but M83 is really the reason I’m happy I went. Though I know plenty of die hard fans and have read articles praising them, I hadn’t quite hopped on the M83 train until Mo Pop. I don’t know if I covered more distance skipping around our tapestry during their set, or skipping from the front of the stage area to the back, but boy did they make me want to skip. I ended the set in the middle of the crowd, exhausted and bathed in light, as the final glorious notes of a song I now know deeply (except for the name) faded out, and it was perfect.

Things to do

  • check out food truck offerings
  • write down your “dream for Detroit”
  • sit by the water and daydream
  • post up in a hammock (granted there weren’t a ton of trees, but still only one person did this and obviously I befriended him. Thanks for being a homie Ryan.)
  • VIP can take advantage of ins and outs by exploring the surrounding area

VIP or nah

Except for the free water refills, which should be offered to everyone, nah. VIP is just an area with a bar and some tables surrounded by a white picket fence. As mentioned above, VIP ticketholders also have in and out privileges, but you don’t really need it for a festival that ends at 11pm. Though VIP tickets are still less than the cost of a standard three-day GA festival ticket, they’re still valued at twice the amount of a Mo Pop two-day GA ticket, and the experience is not twice as good.

Story corner

While rolling around on my tapestry during The Head and the Heart on Sunday, I looked up and smiled at a girl who had probably been there the whole time, but under her psychedelically patterned hood looked new and interesting and exactly like the kind of girl you want to meet at a festival. She smiled back, and I sat up and started giggling. Who knows why. But then she started giggling too, and before I knew it we were in tears over absolutely nothing but an unshakable case of the giggles. I laughed so hard I couldn’t keep myself upright, and actually hit my head in the process of trying to lay back down…I even had a bump for a few days. When I took down her contact information later I wrote, “I don’t remember her name, but I remember *her*.” Now I remember both.

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