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From 'Drag Race' Queens to Dance Parties: Inside Motor City Pride's 2023 Entertainment Lineup

Jason A. Michael

It’s something you’ve probably not given a lot of thought to: How do Pride festivals like Motor City Pride (MCP) select the entertainers who will take the stage and bring the crowds to their feet?

It might surprise you to know that behind the scenes at MCP, set for June 10 and 11, there’s a team of only two tackling the challenge of filling all four stages in Hart Plaza. It’s a monumental task, but it’s in good hands.

Darius Wheeler is MCP’s entertainment director. This is Wheeler’s seventh year working on the entertainment committee and this year, for the first time, he’s head of it all. Wheeler and MCP entertainment coordinator Alex Delavan, who first volunteered for MCP in 2018, work in unison to make it all happen.

The process begins in January. Right after ringing in the new year, Wheeler and Delavan meet for the first time to start talking about this year’s lineup. They begin going through submissions and decide, first of all, whether the acts fit in with the overall theme of Pride and, then, what stage they’d fit best on.

“We typically have an idea of how we want the stage to sound,” Wheeler told Pride Source.

The Pride Stage is for the biggest name acts — this year, MCP welcomes pop singer-songwriter Jordy, whose new album "Boy" is out now; Detroit native and up-and-coming pop artist Siena Liggins; The Robyn Party, a tribute to Swedish dance-pop artist Robyn, and local drag favorite Sabin. You'll also find "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars like Robin Fierce and Jasmine Kennedie on the Pride Stage. The Riverfront Dance Stage is usually where the DJs like John Collins spin. The Festival Stage, where you can catch a performance by "poolside glitter punk" band Hayley and the Crushers, is predominantly punk, rock ’n’ roll and folk. Finally, the Pyramid Stage is for up-and-coming talent — don't miss Robert Bannon

on Saturday night.

“It’s for those acts that may not have a large following on social media,” Wheeler said about the Pyramid Stage. “They’re really just trying to get themselves out there, so we try to give them the opportunity. The Pyramid Stage really has the most eclectic acts. You can go from blues to live bands to a rap group to drag queens. You really do have a large variety on the Pyramid Stage.”

Wheeler and Delavan work simultaneously on programming all four stages. But it all begins with watching and listening to submissions.

“I think some people don’t believe that we listen to every single individual that submits,” said Wheeler. “Out of 198 people, I have watched probably double or triple the amount of videos. I actually go through the Rolodex, I look at their YouTube, I listen to their Spotify. We really do dig deep on the artists.”

Wheeler said that sometimes he or Delavan actually go out to see potential acts perform and witness how they work the crowd. “We really do take time out to get to know people when we select them,” he said. “A lot of people think we sit behind a computer and play Russian roulette with our choices, but we don’t.”

The biggest challenge for Wheeler is, he said, keeping a balance between his MCP commitments and his day job in banking. Wheeler is, like all MCP staff, a volunteer.

“I have to find that balance of making sure that I respond to emails for our entertainers and try to get those requests processed while at the same time do my normal job.”

Entertainers are often up late at night. Wheeler is not. So he stops responding to calls and emails in the evening and gives himself a 24-hour window to respond.

“The key is to keep my personal life personal and to maintain relationships outside of MCP so that I don’t feel overwhelmed,” Wheeler said.

For his part, Delavan said the biggest challenge is working within the entertainment budget.

“Some Prides have absolutely huge budgets and can have really big names. As for us, our entire organization is volunteer based and our entire budget is based off of donations. So trying to land the biggest and best acts I can all within those constraints is the most challenging aspect of what I do.”

And why do they do what they do?

“I have a lot of fun doing this, and it’s a great place for me to volunteer and be involved,” Delavan said.

Wheeler said it may sound cliché, but the best part of the job to him is watching the festival come together and the crowds enjoying it. “It’s very therapeutic. It revives you when you see it. It’s like all of your hard work has not been in vain. So I think that’s the best thing about it: Actually seeing everyone enjoy themselves.”

Check out the full 2023 MotorCity Pride entertainment line up at motorcitypride.org/entertainment .
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