Current events: Riverfront a busy place

Posted on August 23, 2012

Detroit’s scenic riverfront draws visitors from around Southeast Michigan — and around the world — as events have become summertime staples.

With the area near the Detroit River revived by investment over the past 10 years, events have become a showcase for the RiverWalk and new public spaces.

Detroit River Days, the Target Fireworks and the APBA Gold Cup boat races draw crowds on both sides of the river.

Fire breathers, bucket drummers, aerialists, jugglers and living statues gather along the riverfront during Detroit River Days, which draws about 150,000 attendees each year, said Michele Marine, director of programming for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy.

The festival launched in 2007 and is the largest event put on by the conservancy.

Sand sculptures, carnival games, Jet Ski demonstrations and a Ferris wheel attract families from throughout metro Detroit. Dozens of musicians perform over the weekend. Grammy-winning R&B crooners Boyz II Men were the headliners this year.

On the heels of River Days are the Target Fireworks. Also known as the International Freedom Festival Fireworks, the event has been a fixture for 54 years. The pyrotechnics can be seen on the Windsor and Detroit sides of the river.

Hydroplanes skim the river’s water at nearly 200 mph during the annual American Power Boat Association Gold Cup Races, held each July. Racers from around the world have competed here since 1918.

The races attract between 80,000 and 100,000 viewers each year, said Mark Weber, event coordinator for the Detroit River Regatta Association, a volunteer nonprofit that organizes the Gold Cup. This year’s race took place July 13-15 and featured exhibitions of vintage race boats and the U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet F/A-18 tactical demo team.

The Red Bull Air Races were also a memorable draw to the riverfront between 2008 and 2010 but were canceled worldwide in 2010.

A number of other events line the riverfront throughout the summer, with Hart Plaza as the anchor. The Detroit Electronic Music Festival, Motor City Pride Fest and Detroit Jazz Fest are all mainstays.

The conservancy puts on smaller events, such as hosting weekly tai chi and yoga sessions and group dog walks with Midtown-based Canine to Five.

This summer, the conservancy hosted Reading and Rhythm on the Riverfront, a literacy program where Detroit celebrities read books to children to encourage them to read more, Marine said. This year’s readers included state Sen. Coleman Young Jr., D-Detroit, and Detroit first lady Yvette Bing. More than 2,000 children attended this year, Marine said.