Not Your Usual Concert: Local Brass Band Prepares for Annual Festival

The Motor City Brass Band will host their annual Motor City Festival of Bands March 10 in Dearborn.

If you’re looking for a typical classical concert, stay away from the Motor City Brass Band.

The band of more than 30 musicians doesn’t perform concerts, explains Musical Director and Conductor Craig Strain. They put on shows.

The next will be their biggest of the season—literally. The Festival of Bands, happening Sunday, March 10, at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, will bring together more than 200 musicians from the MCBB, Birmingham Concert Band, Farmington Community Band, Oakland University Brass, and West Michigan Concert Winds.

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“If we talk to somebody who’s never seen or heard the band … they conjure up an image of a brass band that’s not what we are,” he said. “I try to explain to people that it’s not like other concerts—you’re going to be inspired and you’re going to tap your toe and you’re going to laugh.”

And you’re going to hear a wide array of music—from pop to jazz to show tunes and back to classic brass. The non-traditional approach comes both from Strain’s eclectic background in music composition and direction, as well as the band’s 17-year history of finding out what audiences love, and then giving it to them.

“There was definitely a learning curve—particularly early when my vision was that we wanted to play traditional brass band music,” said Strain, who has been with the band since its start in 1996. “We wanted to widen our audience base, so we needed to widen the music we played.

“That caught on … and now it’s expected of us.”

Motor City Festival of Bands 4 will begin with separate short and energetic 20-minute performances by each band. The afternoon will culminate with a riveting performance by all five bands of three major well-known works led by guest conductor James Gourlay, director of Pittsburgh's River City Brass.

Stephen Bulla's "Intrada Festivo" will kick-off the combined performance, followed by "Mars" from Holst's The Planets, and finishing with one of the most famous American marches of all time, "The Stars & Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa.   

Strain explained that the idea for the Festival of Bands came about because the MCBB had participated in other festivals “and we thought we should do something like that.”

“Our concept was to have some concert bands, some wind bands and some brass bands and then try to figure out a way to get all those people on the stage for a big finale,” he added.

Bands audition to be part of the festival, and the full lineup changes ever year. The West Michigan Concert Winds was part of the first Festival of Bands, while Oakland and Farmington’s bands have also performed with MCBB once before. This will be the Birmingham Concert Band’s first time in the festival.

Strain said it takes “tons of preparation” to make the Festival of Bands happen, and the concert draws large crowds from the Metro Detroit area. But if you’ve been before? It’s always worth coming back.

“We just try to improve it every year,” Strain said.

Motor City Festival of Bands will take place on Sunday, March 10 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, located at 15801 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. Performances begin at 3 p.m. Tickets are available through the MCBB hotline at 248-788-6618. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, children 12 and under are free. Special rates are available for groups of eight or more people. 

Single tickets can also be purchased at the FCPAC Box Office at 313-943-2354 or online at dearborntheatre.com at $17 for adults and $15 for students & seniors.


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