Detroit's Best Summer Concert Venue: DTE Energy Music Theatre

DTE Energy Music Theater
••• DTE Energy Music Theater. Photo © Nancy Jones

DTE Energy Music Theater is THE favored summer venue for concerts in Metro Detroit. Taking advantage of its park-like setting, DTE Energy Music Theater gets Detroiters back outside to enjoy music in the warmer months. Its wide range of seating ensures there is something for everyone from the more expensive, cushioned seats in the open-air pavilion to lawn seats on the steep, grassy hill that gives every blanket and beach chair scattered across it a good view – of course, the high-definition screens help, too.

Plentiful food and drink (especially on the hill) create a relaxed atmosphere and a happy crowd, which helps make for a good show. So much so that the Barenaked Ladies chose to celebrate their 500th show at DTE in June of 2015. Their energetic and humor-filled show showed why they are a fan favorite for many years and why DTE "rocks."

Notes from BNL's 500th Show

The show opened with an acoustic set by former Men At Work lead singer Colin Hay, who strolled on stage and captivated the not-yet-filled out crowd immediately, singing his hits from the 80’s with great voice, hitting all the high notes, and sounding like it was still 1985. Hay was followed by a surprisingly strong set from the Violent Femmes, who rocked the house with their unique punk garage band sound. Although they look more like the rest of us and less like punks they once were, the voice of lead singer Gordon Gano was unchanged. Joined now by a fantastic new drummer, they added a few country-gospel flavored songs to their repertoire of 80’s hits. BNL took the stage last, often joined by Colin Hay and the Femmes for a few numbers to a very enthusiastic and appreciative audience. Closing with an unusual medley of current pop hits “Uptown Funk,” “Take Me to Church,” “Shake It Off,” and remarkably “Let It Go,” and their rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” it was a great night, showing off the reasons fans still flock to DTE.

Pine Knob With Love

For the members of BNL and many others of a certain age, DTE Energy Music Theater will always be Pine Knob! BNL even penned a song about it, rapping it out to an enthusiastic crowd, which included a few patrons wearing “Pine Knob” t-shirts.

Why the loyalty? Since the 70’s, when Pine Knob first opened with a David Cassidy concert, it has been the premier summer outdoor venue in the Metro Detroit area, seating over 15,000 people who enjoy a night out of good music, good times, and a relaxed party vibe. Concertgoers are sometimes REALLY relaxed up on the hill, where alcohol and other substances are very popular. Back in the day of cheap hill tickets and bring your own beer, music fans would pack it up and party on the hill, dancing the night away.

A lot of things have changed since then, including the name in 2001 to DTE Energy Music Theater, but DTE still hosts a summer-long party for music lovers.

Getting There

Located off of I-75 in Clarkston, DTE is easy to find. Take the Sashabaw Road exit and head north. In the summer of 2015, construction on I-75 at University and also near Sashabaw are causing a lot of traffic nightmares and slow arrivals. The show will not wait for you, so leave early and expect to take extra time getting out. An alternate route which is often much easier and traffic-free is to take the Lapeer Rd. exit from I-75, head north to Clarkston Rd, turn left and head west to Sashabaw Rd.

Turn left at Sashabaw and head south, turning left into DTE. 

Parking

The cost of parking is now included in the ticket price. Several lots are available on the right and left sides of the access road, as well as a disabled/VIP parking lot closer to the theater. None of the lots are a very long walk, and they are more pleasant than most with tree-lined islands to shade and break up the concrete.

Rules and Regulations at DTE

Before You Go: DTE is very strict about what is allowed in the park, and if you bring contraband, be prepared to walk it back to the car, throw it out, or leave it on the sidewalk.

Allowed: food-only picnic baskets or coolers (small and no wheels) for hill seating, beach chairs no more than 26” high, blankets, rain umbrellas, binoculars, and personal cameras. While tailgating is permitted at DTE, alcohol in the parking lots is strictly forbidden.

Not Allowed: Any beverages, aerosol cans, laser pointers, tall chairs, any containers for liquids, glass containers, video or sound recording devices. 

Patrons must wear shirts and shoes, and there is no smoking in the pavilion. Ladies, prepare to have your purse searched!

The Venue

Once you have entered through one of the four gates, there is a gentle uphill walk to the theater. The walkway is very nicely landscaped with waterfalls, tall trees, and flowering shrubs, lending the area a theme-park atmosphere. Head right, and you will take a boardwalk up to the hill and the seating there. On the way is the Pine Tap, a restaurant/bar with daily drink specials and music. Head left and you will walk to the higher-priced seats in the pavilion. There are plenty of concessions for either seating and restrooms along the way.

The Royal Members-only Ivy Lounge serves food and drink, as well as the Arbour, another open-air casual restaurant/bar open to everyone. Once seated, restrooms are located on either side of the stage.

Concessions

Food and drink are plentiful through several dining venues, stands, and traveling concessions. Beer, wine, cocktails, specialty cocktails, soft drinks, and water are available, as well as snacks, sandwiches, and food for heartier appetites. Once seated, there are concessions located on either side of the stage and at the top of the hill at the Hilltop Deck. Additional rentals/purchases of lawn chairs, earplugs, bug spray, rain gear, binoculars, blankets, batteries, cameras, and lighters are available.

Seating 

Ticket prices vary depending upon the act. The hill provides cheaper tickets and a more relaxed atmosphere for those who are prepared to brave rain and sit on the ground or beach chairs. The hill is mostly grass with some areas of dirt and quite steep, which can be a problem if it rains. As mentioned, the drinking tends to be heavier and illicit substance use more common than seating in the pavilion. This could be a problem for families.

Seating in the open-air pavilion is higher-priced but closer. It also offers a roof to protect from rain. Seats are fairly comfortable with cushioned backs and bottoms. Disabled seating is available at the rear portion of the pavilion with easy access to the concourse

For further information, see DTE Energy Music Theater.