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Promoters Dan McGowan and Jason Rogalewski wanted the perfect location for the Mo Pop Festival, which for the past two years had been held at the Freedom Hill Ampitheatre in Sterling Heights.

They found a willing partner in the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy (DRC), which recently opened up access to the West Riverfront on the grounds of a former newspaper printing facility.

"What can be better than being at a festival by the water in the summertime?" says McGowan during a recent walk-through at the Mo Pop site. "There are views of the downtown skyline that most people have never seen."

In June, the park hosted the Downtown Hoedown and Jimmy Buffett & the Coral Reefer Band, both put on by Olympia Entertainment.

This is the first event McGowan's Pontiac-based company, Crofoot Presents, and AEG Live, for whom Rogalewski works, has done in partnership with the DRC.

McGowan says ticket sales have been brisk, nearly doubling pre-sales from last year's event at Freedom Hill.  

"We think it's because of the new location. People are excited about coming downtown for music," McGowan says. "We loved what the Conservancy has done. It made [perfect] sense."     

What is Mo Pop?

Mo Pop Festival is an all-encompassing outdoor entertainment weekend. It is a two-day celebration of music, art, food and craft beer. More than a dozen bands, art installations, food trucks, beer vendors and interactive experiences are set for July 25-26 at West Riverfront Park.

Headliners for the festival include Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine with Ben Bridwell, Passion Pit and Chromeo. Other notables on the bill are Viet Cong, George Morris & the Gypsy Chorus, James Bay, and native Detroiters Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas.

The world's second-largest presenter of live music and entertainment, AEG Live's events include Coachella and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Crofoot Presents produces more than 400 live events each year, including at their flagship venue, Crofoot Ballroom in downtown Pontiac. Other locations where events have been promoted include the Pike Room, Elektricity Nightclub, Redford Theatre, Royal Oak Music Theater, PJ's Lager House and the Masonic Temple.

The group has long been associated with St. Andrew's Hall and the Shelter in downtown Detroit; and the former Industry, Seventh House and Clutch Cargo's venues in Pontiac. Together, McGowan and Rogalewski combine local and national access and expertise for Detroit's summer music festival. 

It Takes Villages

To complement the music lineup, Mo Pop organizers have created "villages" on site to house food, drink, art and crafts and tech vendors and installations.

Food Truck Alley will feature 15 vendors selling a wide range of food, including vegetarian and vegan options. Some of the trucks lined up are El Guapo (Mexican fusion), Rollin Stone (pizzas made in a wood-fired oven), gourmet hot dogs from the Mean Weenie, and Treat Dreams homemade ice cream.

The Riverside Biergarten features a selection of microbrews and Michigan craft beers like Atwater Brewery, Rochester Mills and ROAK Brewing Co.

The Craft Bazaar will offer products by Aromaholic, Handmade Detroit, Outer Spaceways, Reware Vintage, Spazz Happy and others.

The Mo Tech village features technology from local hacker spaces, artists, startups, and assorted inventors.

Activating the Riverfront 

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has plans to develop over five miles of riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge (west of the festival site) to Gabriel Richard Park, east of the MacArthur Bridge that leads to Belle Isle.

The first phase of the project, three-and-a-half miles along the East Riverfront, is more than 80 percent complete and spans from Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park.

West Riverfront Park provides access to a part of the river long made inaccessible by the printing facility owned by the Detroit Free Press. The DRC purchased the property in 2007.

Visitors to the park will find three new walking paths linking the riverfront to W. Jefferson Ave., and benches, trash receptacles and plenty of lush green space for outdoor activities. The Conservancy has expanded the width of the popular RiverWalk along this parcel to 30 feet to provide better space for walking, running, biking and fishing. Safety and security improvements include new railings, lighting, security cameras and call boxes.

McGowan says he sees the relationship between Crofoot Presents, AEG, the DRC and members of the Detroit community just beginning.

"We have a 10-year plan for Mo Pop [at West Riverfront Park]," McGowan says. "We want to add more permanent art, we want to reach out and build our contacts in the community. We want this festival to take its place alongside Movement and the Detroit Jazz Festival as 'must attend' events in downtown Detroit."

Rogalewski says the first part of the plan—to build a relationship with the DRC at West Riverfront Park—has been put in motion. Now he's looking forward to booking Mo Pop in 2016.

"We've already had some great acts ask about our plans for next year, which is always flattering," Rogalewski says. "It's a positive sign how the industry views this festival and Detroit as a strong live music town."

The Mo Pop Festival is July 25-26 at West Riverfront Park, 1801 W. Jefferson (between Rosa Parks Blvd and 8th St.). Click here to purchase tickets and for the complete lineup

By Walter Wasacz. Wasacz is a Hamtramck-based writer and editor.