Of all the music festivals I’ve been able to attend in my life, MoPop is by far one of the most interesting. More than just a music festival, it is an interesting exhibition of a cross-section of Detroit’s various subcultures, as well as a large slice of pop culture to boot.
MoPop is truly a unique festival in its own right, and quite possibly the perfect initiation into multi-day City festivals. I'd never been to one, but I think this is one that everybody should check out, if only for one day!
Here is a brief list of highlights from the weekend.
Detroit’s famous West Riverfront Park was a great pick for a location to have this festival. Sitting along the Detroit River in the shadow of the skyscrapers and the Ambassador Bridge with Windsor clear across the other side, it made for a very nice overall atmosphere, albeit rather surreal, with another country just on the other side. In stark contrast to the bustling Detroit side of the river, there appeared to be very little activity at all on the other side.
The crowd had nothing but smiles and good attitudes all around - everywhere, people were laughing, talking, and playing games with each other. Not a single person appeared to be having a bad time. There were lots of people, but it never felt overly crowded. The festival was very well-organized, and at times, security and staff appeared to be enjoying the festival just as much as the crowd was.
One of the most eclectic lineups ever conceived on the festival circuit, MoPop could almost be considered Lollapalooza Lite. The lineup included beach punk, rap, electronic rock, indie, soul, and more. There was truly something for everybody to enjoy on the lineup, or something for everybody to discover.
Run the Jewels was one of the best sets of the weekend. Few people can get a crowd hyped like Killer Mike can - mosh pits and crowd surfers were commonplace for their heavily bass-driven rap show. Known for their activism in political matters, they took a minute to speak with the crowd, but in a classy and tasteful way - we all knew exactly what they meant, but they never mentioned the names of anyone in office. Instead, they said things like, “If you are here, then you are NOT one of the people who just sits in front of their TV and swallows whatever is in front of them.”
Following Run the Jewels were New York-based Electronic Rock band Phantogram, who are infamous on the festival circuit for their diverse blend of dreamy electronic rock and atmospheric trip hop into a sound that’s hard to define. “Welcome to the sunset...set,” vocalist Sarah Barthel greeted the crowd. “This is the time when all music festivals start to change, and we are honored to be that band tonight.”Indeed, the further down the sun went, the more impressive their display became. Accompanied by bizarre kaleidoscopic visuals and images of jellyfish, the band was in full swing with their sound that has made them a festival staple. Despite apologies for having a strain on her voice, Barthel and vocalist Josh Carter sounded just as good as they did on record, as well as the rest of the band. Despite being a completely different style than Run the Jewels, it was an excellent choice to make the transition into Night One.
On day two, one of the best sets of the day was also one of the most highly-anticipated: Tyler the Creator. The Odd Future founder was performing later on in the afternoon, in the same slot that Run the Jewels had the day previously. If Run the Jewels had been the hypest set of the weekend so far, Tyler took it up a notch. As soon as he took the stage, the crowd surged forward, packing in like sardines. The most pits and crowd surfers were more intense, and dust was flying everywhere, making it difficult to breathe at parts. The smart people and worn bandanas around their face. Joined by fellow Odd Future alumni Taco as DJ and Jasper as back-up vocals, Tyler's’ set actually consisted mainly of songs from his new album “Flower Boy.” He kept asking the crowd in between songs if it was okay that he kept trying out new songs on them, which the crowd excitedly agreed to. Tyler’s set was full of hilarious moments - for starters, he stopped his classic song “Yonkers” to apologize to Bruno Mars publicly, explaining that Bruno Mars still thinks Tyler hates him because of this song (he doesn’t). Afterwards, during “She,” some kind of glitch cause the beat to stop. Rather than stop himself, Tyler sat down on the stage and sang the whole song word-for-word with the crowd echoing the verses back at him acapella style. Who needs a beat, anyway?
The Attractions and Activities
There was so much to do, it was easy to forget that there was music going on.
MoPop had one of the coolest attractions I’ve ever seen at any festival ever - a free arcade.
Read again: a FREE ARCADE. I walked in with a bunch of singles looking for a dollar changer machine, but all the machines were set to free play. I got right to work playing Mortal Kombat II and was playing with total strangers for a half hour before I remembered I had to go and watch music. Elsewhere, various games and activities were set up.
Faygo had a booth where they were passing out samples of a flavor advertised as new, but was actually a Faygo Throwback flavor: Arctic Sun, which tasted like a blue grapefruit. They also had a giant Faygo chair which made for lots of great photo opportunities.
Ink Addict had a booth as well, and had set up a giant wall for people to sign. I’ve seen these guys at other festivals before, and was sure to leave my mark alongside thousands of others.
There was also a giant game of Jenga for people to play. It was unclear exactly who set it up, but I spend almost 45 minutes playing with total strangers, and it’s actually a lot more fun than you might think. That game gets intense - REALLY intense.
PBR had their own bar and relaxation area entitled the “PBR&R Cool Zone,” where there were lots of PBR cornhole tables set up. I’m personally not really a fan, but other people were clearly enjoying themselves. There was also PBR Minigolf.
There was also a whole bazaar area for various Detroit craft and clothing vendors by Detroit Handmade. Dozens of art products and clothing items were on display and for sale, all made by the hard-working artists of Detroit.
This festival was a blast, and should be on anyone’s summer Festival list, if only for one day. To reiterate, the music is varied enough to appeal to anybody, there are plenty of activities to engage in between sets, and there is much, much more than just your standard festival and concert gear to take home with you. As someone who goes to festivals all summer long, and had never been to a city festival before now, I would highly recommend that concertgoers add this to the list for next year. This is more than just a music festival - this is an excellent chance to engage and experience in the Detroit culture as a whole.