The pine button is back! DTE Energy Music Theater returns to its classic name
Twenty years after a name change that never quite touched the hearts or minds of Metro Detroit audiences, a familiar favorite returns this summer concert season: Pine Knob will once again be known as Pine Knob.
After a tease on social media on Thursday, the name change – or rather the return of the name – was announced Friday by 313 Presents, which operates the Clarkston Amphitheater. This coincides with the upcoming 50th anniversary season of the 15,000-seat concert hall.
For the past two decades, Pine Knob – that’s the entire Pine Knob Music Theater – was officially known as DTE Energy Music Theater, thanks to a 20-year brand partnership with the Detroit energy company . Not that the name ever came out of the mouths of fans or performers, who often insisted on calling him by his original name in both an official and unofficial capacity. When artists such as Bob Seger shouted “good evening, Pine Knob!” from the stage, he still received a huge roar from the crowd.
The DTE brand sponsorship, which was launched in 2001 and extended in 2011, expired in 2021. Pontiac-based United Wholesale Mortgage and healthcare provider Livonia Trinity Health are partners in the new deal.
What’s in a name? What we call a concert paradise by any other name would sound just as good. But there’s a familiarity and a warmth to the name Pine Knob, and its return sets a comforting tone in a time when people could use a little comfort.
“For us, there was an undeniable fairness that has always existed in the Pine Knob Music Theater name,” Howard Handler, president of 313 Presents, said in an interview earlier this week. “No one has forgotten that. And in today’s world, that kind of legacy means something.”
Handler said discussions about renaming Pine Knob began a year and a half ago and his team conducted extensive market research on the matter with fans, artists and stakeholders.
They discovered that it wasn’t just acts of nostalgia and older fans that had a connection with the name, but younger generations also had a fondness for the Pine Knob moniker.
“It was always something that was still there for us,” says Handler, who worked as a ranger at Pine Knob in the summer of 1978. “It’s a bond with incredible memories, legendary performances and a summertime ritual that Detroiters and people all over Southeast Michigan know and love.”
Pine Knob’s Legacy – early advertisements touted it as “the thrilling new outdoor theater at the base of the ski slope!” – dates back to 1972, when on June 25 it hosted its first concert, a matinee performance by teen idol David Cassidy. Tickets were $7 and $5 for the pavilion and $2.50 for the lawn, and were only available by mail order.
This show was on a Sunday. Andy Williams and Quincy Jones began a five-night adventure two nights later, Smokey Robinson and Junior Walker & the All Stars took the stage on July 2, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dr. John and the Chip Stevens Blues Band rang during the July 4 holiday. This year. The country’s largest amphitheater – when it opened, had a capacity of 12,500 people – was in operation.
And from there it never looked back, becoming one of the best outdoor venues in the country and one of the first of its kind to provide a summer home for pop, rock, soul and funk touring. It has hosted millions of spectators and thousands of performances, from hometown heroes (Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock) to international superstars (Elton John, David Bowie, Prince) to Eddie Money, who for decades years served as the traditional summer opener. It has been repeatedly recognized by Pollstar magazine as the best amphitheater in the country, including in 2019, when 598,617 fans passed through its turnstiles.
The venue was closed for the 2020 concert season and the 2021 season was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gates opened last July 25 for a show in Chicago, the hall’s most frequent guests, who, along with the performance, recorded their 81st gig on his stage. The band will be back this summer on July 26, with special guests Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin.
It’s one of more than a dozen concerts already announced for Pine Knob’s summer season, including Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town (June 3), Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (June 6), Tears for Fears and Garbage (June 15), Jack Johnson (July 2), Doobie Brothers (July 4), Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire (July 5), Rod Stewart (July 27), Backstreet Boys (July 28) and Keith Urban (26 August). The first show of 2022 currently on the schedule is rock band AJR on May 27.
Handler promises “a very full summer” and says there are plenty of fireworks in store for Pine Knob’s golden anniversary.
“We really want to celebrate the legend and the future of this great place,” he said.
And again, everyone is on the same page about what to call it.