Friday Night Live • Summer Music Festival Spans the Distance of Time

Award Winning Festival Embarks Upon 26th Season of Providing Top-Notch Entertainment

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Jun 13, 2024
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Living up to their reputation as regional pioneers who forged the template for creating a successful summer music festival, the Great Lakes Bay Region’s innovative musical festival series Friday Night Live will be returning to Morley Plaza in Downtown Saginaw for their 26th season of showcasing top-notch musical talent, which will begin on July 12th and continue with a series of weekly concerts running through August 16th.

When they first started laying the groundwork for this successful series 26-years ago, the public service group then known as PRIDE in Saginaw and now known as Positive Results Downtown first introduced the concept for packaging six consecutive weekends of premier musical entertainment in order to merge commerce, culture, and community together through a series of Theme Concerts that would run from 5:30 until 9:00 PM and introduce patrons throughout the Mid-Michigan area and beyond to the dynamics of the Downtown Saginaw Business District.

Thanks to their endeavors that began 26-years now, consciousness about the cleanliness and growth of the Downtown Business District as a top-flight area for staging world-class entertainment and sporting events has obviously grown remarkably over the decades, as witnessed with Saginaw’s recent hosting of The Memorial Cup.

According to Executive Director Jeanne Conger, “When we first developed the idea for Friday Night Live, there were naysayers who said a festival such as this would never fly in Downtown Saginaw because people wouldn’t come down to support it, so it has been gratifying to watch it continue to develop and evolve.   The first week of the first festival when it debuted 26 years ago we had hundreds of people and then every week after it started doubling in numbers and continued to build like that.”

Indeed, in its earlier years before so many other similar festivals started popping up throughout the region, crowds were estimated to average around 8,000 people and upward; however in the post-COVID years Jeanne says the average has been around 4,000 people per event.

Contributing to their early success was the fact that 25 years ago about the only two regional summer festivals going on were the Chesaning Showboat and the Frankenmuth Bavarian Festival.  “We were the only ones staging a 6-week music festival of this nature, but now today there must be around twenty. Over the years these various townships and counties throughout the region saw what we were doing and had successfully accomplished, so they started developing these little summer concert series in their own parks and neighborhoods.”

“Bay City, Frankenmuth, and Tittabawassee Township are all staging festivals and you even have Spaulding Township and the YMCA doing them now, so a lot of people took this concept and adapted it for their own purposes,” adds Entertainment Director Dr. Jack Nash. “With all this competition going on, there’s a different flow that can be more challenging to navigate, but what we try to do is offer the best entertainment we can afford that spans a variety of tastes and styles of music.”

“Our focus is on serving the public as an entertainment venue, not an adult beverage venue; plus many of these competing events can get real expensive to attend,” he continues. “Many of these marquee concerts up at Wenonah Park can cost forty or fifty bucks to attend, while we’ve always been adamant about keeping Friday Night Live a FREE concert series. Plus, thanks to our friends at WKCQ, over the years we’ve been able to feature artists such as Keith Urban, Racal Flatts, and Chris Stapleton before they became huge stars, so patrons have responded strongly to what we’ve been able to offer.”

When asked about why he feels the festival registers so strongly with the public, Nash focuses on the quality and variety of talent presented. “We feature mainly premier talent.  Most of the other festivals feature local talent, which we do as well for our opening acts - in addition to local acts making national inroads - but we always strive to bring in the best national talent we can afford for the community, largely thanks to our sponsors who have come to back us up, along with the businesses in Saginaw that want to see Downtown Saginaw truly prosper.”

“Our organization has grown so much over the past 40-plus years since PRIDE was first formed,” notes Jeanne. “When we started out back in the 1970s, we began with developing just a couple events each year and now we have a half dozen events, starting out with Bringing Back the Ice and Ice Blast with The Saginaw Spirit to the Outhouse Races, Holidays in the Heart of the City and The Memorial Day Parade, along with Harvest Days.”

Indeed, the vision behind Positive Result Downtown  began back in 1975 through the joint efforts 
of the downtown Saginaw business community, the Junior League and the City of Saginaw,  along with a core group of volunteers concerned with the future of Downtown Saginaw. Their goals centered upon attracting new business to the downtown district, encouraging and supporting the existing business & professional community, and beautifying the downtown environment while creating a positive and constructive image of the Downtown area, all with an eye towards promoting and stimulating ongoing activities that are attractive to people and businesses.

“The idea for Friday Night Live came about after PRIDE decided to stop sponsoring the Gus Macker Tournament,” explains Jeanne. “When we first promoted the Gus Macker there were only two or three tournaments in the entire state of Michigan, but when we decided to stop there were 28 tours going on, so it was a struggle for us to even break even on that event.”  “Plus, Saginaw was putting a lot of money into the Gus Macker, but a lot of it was going outside of the city,” adds Nssh.

“We wanted to find something new for the community, so Linda McGee knew about this festival developed in Traverse City where they would close down the streets and stage a music festival for several consecutive weeks in the summer,” explains Jeanne.

“We drove up in a snowstorm to meet with the people who staged it and asked if we could model our event after theirs, which is what we did. But the challenge for us was that all Traverse had to do was close the streets because they had restaurants & bars available for food service & beverages, but we didn’t have that in downtown Saginaw so we had to create it, which is why we brought food vendors in an created an adult beverage area in order to compensate. Our focus is always on staging a good concert, breaking even, and adding to the quality of life for the people living here.”

Today the Friday Night Live series will pull tens of thousands of people over a six-week period into Downtown Saginaw, with numbers varying according to the nature of the theme night and the weather. “Our primary focus has always been to look at the cultural aspect of being able to bring this top quality entertainment at a price everybody can afford, which is free, so it doesn’t matter what a person’s economic situation or ethnic background is and its worked,” notes Jeanne.

Downtown Saginaw has witnessed many ups & downs since the inception of Friday Night Live, but 26-years down the road, Jeanne & Jack’s perception of the Downtown business is decidedly upbeat.

“I see a lot of activity happening,” comments Jeanne. “We just hosted the Memorial Cup this year and beat out places like Sault St. Marie, which wasn’t an easy feat; plus we have a new school being built, which I’ve always felt anytime you see something new being built you know something good is happening, pus we have the new Medical Complex coming.”

Seeing as this is their 26th Anniversary Season, Friday Night Live will be sprinkling in extra activities opening night and providing a Kid Zone and Carnival games, plus different arts groups will be working with kids on different arts and crafts projects, and we’ll have different events tailored around each of our theme nights.”

“Mary Fives has done an excellent job working with the kids,” adds Nash, “and this year we will also be installing a new dance floor.”  As for food vendors, Jeanne says the variety this year will be broader than in past years, with quite a few new ones because of the growth of food truck businesses throughout the region.   “We’ll have eleven vendors offering a variety of Mexican cuisine, American food, some Catfish, two barbecue vendors, Italian Ice cream, and fun carnival food like popcorn and peanuts.”

“In addition to all of our Title Sponsors, which include Team One Credit Union, Covenant Health Care, Ruth Ann Knapp, WNEM TV-5, and Positive Result Downtown, we would also like to thank all our show sponsors, who’s support is essential for creating the magic of music, family, and community that we are able to make happen each year here on the banks of the Saginaw River at Morley Plaza,” concludes Jeanne.

Here’s the lowdown on this year’s entertainment line-up:

July 12 • Rockin’ on the River featuring ADABOY! and the Allentown Tribute Band.

ADABOY! is an award-winning  local regionally based group knocking on the door of national stardom. Apart from being the first band in the 38-year history of the REVIEW Music Awards to win ‘Best Variety Band’, ‘Best Original Band’, ‘Best Rock Band, and ‘Best Alternative Band’, their first single release Time (Voices Run) they recorded down in Nashville last year with Grammy Award winning engineer Joe Baldridge received wide-based acclaim and international popularity, and the group has just released their second single. They are creating forward thinking, growth mindset music, colored by the textures of past eras with a heartfelt foundation. The Allentown Tribute Band is one of the most notable and prominent Billy Joel Tribute Bands in the country, hailing from the South this group is sure to mesmerize fans with their deft handling of Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits.

July 19 • Downtown Hoedown featuring DAYTIME FRIENDS, Kenny Rogers Tribute wsg Billy Gunther & the Midwest Riders.

Daytime Friends - A Kenny Rogers Tribute is the group that Sheriff William Federspiel put together with Michigan Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Michele Spitz, who have received rave reviews for their renditions of Rogers’ most popular material.  Billy Gunther & the Midwest Riders hail out of Bay City and have been making serious inroads down in Nashville with their mix of original and popular cover material.

July 26 • LATIN FIESTA featuring GRUPO FIERO wsg Grupo Vento

Both of these group are Tejano/Latino/Conjunto bands performing authentic indigenous Mexican music.  They are well known on the Tejano circuit, performing at many events throughout  the Midwest.

Aug. 2 • A Night in Margaritaville featuring Mary Viers & the Music Doctors wsg Caribbean Blue.

Another Bay City based musical artist who has built a solid reputation spanning several decades, Mary Viers & the Music Doctors specialize in performing authentic Jimmy Buffett style Yacht Rock music classics, along with a sparkling selection of original and cover material.   Caribbean Blue is a four piece band hailing from the Detroit, MI area, performing venues ranging from the Green Bay Yacht Club to Key West Florida and all ports in between. While the band can be known as a Jimmy Buffett cover band, it is so much more, combining Trop Rock songs along with lots of other Beach and Island songs that audience's know and love.


Saginaw’ own Larry McCray is a national and internationally recognized talent and one of the key exponents of Blues Music following in the footsteps of such legendary artists as BB, Albert, and Freddie King (the Three Kings). He recorded a breakout album with Joe Bonamassa last year and is set to go back into the studio this summer for a return engagement. The Blue OG’s are an award-winning group of local blues connoisseurs performing a wide variety of Blues, R&B, and rock classics.

Aug 16 • Motown Music Fest featuring REWIND wsg Persuasion Band

This Motown Tribute act us a 9-piece party band performing all the Classic Hits from the Motown discography of the 1960s through the 80s, along with R&B classic hits from the 1970s and beyond. The Persuasion Band is a Dynamic Eight Piece Party, Dance and Show band providing top notch, live musical entertainment, fronted by extraordinary lead vocals with a rockin’ rhythm section.


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