Update: The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has cancelled the last two performances of Arising.  A production crew member may have been exposed to COVID-19. According to a Facebook post, all crew members wore face masks throughout the summer series but the event is postponed indefinitely to mitigate risk. 

Music has always had a way of bringing people together. While most events remain postponed or canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, Detroiters enjoy summer evenings along the Dequindre Cut Greenway for the Arising concert series.

Arising will host nine free, outdoor concerts this year. The series, which began two years ago through a Knight Arts Challenge, was born to highlight local artists. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy manages Campbell Terrace, an outdoor stage, along the Dequindre Cut and a local nonprofit, D. Cipher, programs the content. In this tumultuous year, the growing popularity of the series has not only created a venue for artists who haven’t been able to perform elsewhere, but it’s supported small local businesses and brought neighbors together.

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The Dequindre Cut is a below-street level greenway that stretches from the Detroit Riverfront through Eastern Market. Artwork from local artists covers the infrastructure, including a Black Lives Matter wall with photos of U.S. residents who have died while in police custody.  

“I enjoy good music,” said Daryl Bowen, a resident of the neighborhood who has attended a few of the concerts. “I enjoy grown folks’ music and the offerings at Campbell Terrace check both boxes. The fact that it’s walking distance from home is a bonus and a treat.”

Dominique Campbell, commonly known as Nique Love Rhodes, said the organization’s name comes from the hip-hop term cipher, which she classifies as the giving and exchanging of energy through freestyle. Nique said the group wanted to deconstruct the term and support Detroit artists at all levels and varying backgrounds. The organization’s founders are all Detroit-based Black artists who saw a need to support the city’s talent. The Arising series has featured poetry, pop, hip-hop and jazz, among other genres this summer. Every artist who performs is paid while the event remains free to Detroiters.

“It’s all about how to level up and get better,” Nique said. “We’re honored to be able to honor and uplift and connect people.”

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which manages the Dequindre Cut and the Riverfront parks, began to allow in-person programming in July while abiding by the state’s social distancing orders. The Conservancy opened Robert C. Valade Park, next to the now Aretha Franklin Amphitheater (formerly known as Chene Park Amphitheater) last fall. The entire area is now walkable and the greenway helps serve as a pathway to the riverfront. The new park has a beach space and play park for children. The Conservancy’s park is also the new home to two new restaurants, both minority-owned businesses. 

Rachel Frierson, director of programming at the Conservancy, said visits are up 28 percent along the riverfront and 40 percent along the Dequindre Cut this summer. 

“One thing we love is sometimes there’s a crowd of 30 and sometimes a crowd of 100,” Frierson said. “People stop as they are walking or biking up the cut and that’s what makes our city great.”

Frierson said an additional space to order beer and wine will open early fall.

A group of friends and family were gathered at William G. Milliken Park where the Riverfront and the Dequindre Cut meet in August. If they had to name their group it would be ‘Chill and Grill,’ with few rules, other than no children allowed. They meet every Wednesday to sit by the water, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. The group says they’ve gathered by the Detroit riverfront for friendship and fellowship for more than 15 years.

Farther down the greenway were Madeline Knapp and Giles Tucker, who were on their second date. Tucker, a Detroit resident, was teaching Knapp to skateboard among the runners, walkers, and bikers who frequent the Dequindre Cut.

Last year’s D. Cipher series was called Black Bottom Lives. It honored the once historically Black neighborhood surrounding the greenway before city initiatives pushed residents out, demolished their homes and created the Lafayette Park neighborhood.

This year’s theme, Arising, has focused on the resiliency of the city for overcoming recent hurdles — specifically the coronavirus pandemic and social injustices like police brutality. The first of the nine-week series was a Juneteenth celebration. 

Nique admitted their planning team questioned whether they should host the summer concert series amid the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, they decided they had to speak out about racial injustice and the ongoing pandemic.

“It was too important of a moment to not inspire people,” Nique said.

“I love Detroit, I was born and raised in Detroit,” Kiko Douglas said. “It’s nothing like the people here and finding events like this.”

Intentionality is the organization’s focus, says Nique, and Sophiyah E., who also works with D. Cipher. While they each have their own separate and distinct style, Sophiyah’s small business, Afro Moone Wellness, adds an additional layer to supporting Detroiters by selling ginger and turmeric elixirs among other health conscious remedies. 

“We keep our ears and eyes open to a lot of positive energy,” Sophiyah said.

She met one vendor while growing up in the Detroit area. Sophiyah said she saw Yaya Coleman’s jewelry and crystal business on social media and invited her to participate as a vendor in the series.

“I hope my work and my energy speaks for itself,” Coleman said during the Aug. 19 concert. “I hope everyone feels the love, passion and genuineness of my work.”

Arising has also attracted artists and those who visit the Conservancy’s parks.

The Sandman from Sandbox Radio said he bikes the Dequindre Cut almost daily and has attended most of the Arising series. He said the event has created an inviting space that exposes the ‘melting pot of Detroit.’

“We love music,” he said. “We would have come without music, but this is like the cherry on top.”

Neighborhood residents aren’t the only Detroiters who participate. Last week, Marcus Douglas, his wife, Kiko Douglas, and their 7-year-old daughter, Mia, rode electric scooters down the greenway and stopped at the concert series. Musicians themselves, the Douglas family said in the past month they’ve visited the greenway frequently to celebrate their wedding anniversary and their daughter’s birthday. They found the Arising series by accident and decided to listen to the music.

“I love Detroit, I was born and raised in Detroit,” Kiko Douglas said. “It’s nothing like the people here and finding events like this.”

Arising summer concerts are hosted Wednesday evenings at 7 until Sept. 9. D. Cipher will soon focus on its next goal: raising funds for a musician co-working space in the Morningside neighborhood. Crowdfunding for the space, Red Carpet Lounge, will begin at the end of the Arising series.

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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