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Mo Pop Writes the Latest Chapter in Detroit’s Underappreciated Music History

DETROIT, MI - JULY 30: General view during day 2 of the Mo Pop Festival at Detroit Riverfront on July 30, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Detroit may be the America’s great underappreciated music city given its contributions to everything from Motown to punk, hip-hop to EDM. And today the same can probably be said for Mo Pop, the city’s underappreciated contribution to the summer festival calendar.

Mo Pop has grown with each of its five editions. Back in 2013, the inaugural event featured only a single day of music located in a nearby suburb. Its lineup, while strong, felt similar — non-Detroit-y, skewing heavily towards folk and Americana with Andrew Bird, Edward Sharpe, and Old Crow Medicine Show. But in 2016 the event shifted — moving both into the city proper and expanding its sonic scope (Father John Misty headlined, but so did M83, Haim, and G-Eazy). Today, Mo Pop sits waterfront in Detroit proper and boasts a diverse lineup that can compete with bigger, more senior festivals coast-to-coast.

In 2018, if you want the biggest names in rap or indie rock, Mo Pop has you covered. College radio’s elder statesmen, The National and perhaps the best living guitarist, St. Vincent will be in attendance, as will the up-and-comers from Brockhampton and the always electric Vince Staples. Those preferring more relaxed sets can flock to Bon Iver, jam devotees get Portugal. The Man, and folks who simply want the latest and greatest can divide their time between acts like Clairo, Alvvays and Rex Orange County. There’s even a gradual increase in local bookings, with Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers being among the most notable 2018 Michiganders. The festival is practically a microcosm of the Detroit arts scene itself — wide-reaching, ambitious, and seemingly constantly growing in stature.

Mo Pop’s main attraction isn’t the only thing that has gotten bigger since the start; the festival has made its culinary ambitions a heavy point of emphasis, too. Mich. at-large has become an undisputed leader in U.S. craft brewing, so the festival now reflects that with perhaps the most local-focused food and drink program this side of Outside Lands or Jazz Fest. The local cocktail mavens from Sugar House oversee a program that brings together brewers from nearby Birmingham’s Griffin Claw Brewing Company to Blake’s Hard Cider Company of Armada. All that pair well with some of modern Detroit’s most iconic dishes like Slows Bar BQ and hot dogs or tacos from Ferndale’s Imperial restaurant.

Mo Pop’s reputation for being one of the most fan-friendly events — staggering the stage schedules to avoid tough decisions, using all the land at its disposal to avoid sound bleed between sets — merely feels like a lovable bonus. There are plenty of reasons to visit Detroit these days, but Mo Pop may be the best of ‘em.