The Grande Ballroom

I spent the weekend in Detroit, which isn’t necessarily a new thing for me.  My father grew up there, and my grandparents remained there until the end of their days, and so I, as a result, passed many a long weekend in Motor City.  But this trip was different because for the first time in my almost 28 years, I actually explored the city beyond the very suburban confines of Southfield, Birmingham, and Royal Oak.  To say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement; it was more of a soul shocker.  Detroit is a city rich in history and architecture that has been virtually abandoned, leaving a handful of unbelievably cool, and totally unique cultural moments.  This week I am going to post my favorites, beginning with the Grande Ballroom.

Built in the 20s as a ballroom for dancing, the Grande Ballroom was later resurrected in 1966 when it was purchased by an unlikely duo – a Dearborn, Michigan high school teacher and local radio DJ Russ Gibb.  The venue was meant to be a Fillmore Theater for Detroit, and Gibb worked alongside counterculture god John Sinclair to create a home for psychedelic rock in the city.

Everyone played in the Grande Ballroom.  Its stage hosted the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper, Cream, The Who, John Coltrane, the Rolling Stones, and Sun Ra; the venue’s house bands – The MC5 and The Stooges!  The legendary Kick Out The Jams was even recorded during a live performance at the Grande Ballroom in 1968.

There isn’t much left of the Grande Ballroom today. but that’s kind of the case with most of the city.  The history, though, is just beyond incredible.

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4 thoughts on “The Grande Ballroom

  1. thanks for the full story – and I hope everyone knows to call it it the Grand-Dee Ballroom… looking forward to the whole week of SRN D-ling with D-troit.

  2. Careful round there these days. I used to explore the wrecks, too, back in the early 90’s. It was a tough place back then, but it’s become even more desperate now in a lot of places. I know that we are all hearing about how artists are taking over, and gardeners are planting up the vacant lots….but the reality that I see now in Detroit is this: if you have to stop for a light, look around. Don’t stop if you don’t have to stop. Never let anyone near your car. We get a lot of crime victims in our ER in the heart of what used to be Detroit. There is truly an “every man for himself” culture running through the inner city youth now. Not kidding or trying to harsh your buzz, but it is more dangerous now than ever. I wouldn’t even drive through town if i didn’t have to! God help you if anything happens- no ambulance, no cops, no firefighters…just violent drug-addled waste cases looking for something they can use. Very sad. Put a wall around it and forget about it. I feel very very sorry for the decent people that are stuck within the city limits who can’t leave because they can’t sell their houses. …just typing out an anonymous truth..

    • I spend a lot of time in Detroit, and have been to the Grande several times. I recommend that people not do stupid things there, but it’s not like Snake Plissken in “Escape From New York”. Detroit is a fantastic city, that is just beginning a rebirth. I love the place.

  3. The Grande Ballroom probably is the reason for my marriage as my girl friend and I used to go their every Friday night just to dance. Thiwas back in 1946 through 1949 when we got married. To review the history of the Grande only from the the Rock and Roll days that followed leaves out a beautiful history of us who are now in our eighties. Slow dancing and great times. To see the pix of it now does sort of breack my heart but worse is to see the city that I was born in and lived my whole business career in become what it is now. However, I’ve still got great memories that can never be errased. Thank you Grande for being so much a part of my life. dale

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