Detroit PraiseFest Canceled

Organizers of Detroit’s Motor City PraiseFest made the tough decision to cancel this year’s event because of dwindling funds and loss of corporate sponsors.

The June 10-12 festival at Hart Plaza was to be the 14th year for the event described as the world’s largest free outdoor gospel concert.

Producer Mike Watts of Watts Up Inc. said he had no choice but to cancel after sponsors Farmer Jack Supermarkets, Ford Motor Company and General Motors had to pull out because of their own budget problems.

“We don’t feel good about [canceling], but you have to make decisions based on reality,” Watts told Pollstar. “We don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re not ever going to do it again because we lost so much money trying to do it without proper funding.

“We have some new sponsors who are interested, but we just don’t have enough to fund it to the level we feel is necessary to do the type of event that is warranted in Detroit.”

Watts said the three-day festival, which has hosted artists including Vickie Winans, Fred Hammond, Aretha Franklin, Mary Mary and Yolanda Adams, attracts between 300,000 and 400,000 people each year. That’s great for the economy but it doesn’t pay the festival’s bills.

PraiseFest’s budget runs between $200,000 and $220,000 each year, and there’s about half that amount available currently.

“[Fortunately], the gospel recording industry is anxious to have their artists here in Detroit because it’s such an important market,” Watts said. “All of them have worked with us over the years — especially when times got tough — trying to help us bring in new artists and help cover some of the costs of that.

“That’s been a saving grace for us, but we just don’t have the money to pay all the bills right now.”

Organizers with Detroit’s annual electronic music festival were also about to throw in the towel on this year’s event, set for May 28-30, for lack of funds until the City Council approved their request to charge admission for the first time.

But Watts said that asking people to pay isn’t as good an option for PraiseFest.

“The electronic music festival draws people from mostly outside the city and around the world. The Motor City PraiseFest is truly a Detroit event,” he explained. “Over 95 percent of the people that attend the festival are from the city, and their taxes paid for the venue that it’s in. We don’t feel like we should turn around and charge them to come to something of this nature.

“Even if we were to charge, we’d be taking a tremendous risk. If we got bad weather and people decided they didn’t want to pay, we’d have to absorb the loss.”

Despite the gloomy outlook, Watts hasn’t given up hope that the gospel fest could still take place later in the year.

“This is a funny event. Every time we’ve faced some difficulties or problems, somehow somebody stepped up to come through,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Tina Amendola