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Kid Rock opens to big crowds at Little Caesar's Arena, but some call it an "insult"

Protesters kneel while singing the national anthem in front of Little Caesar's Arena.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Protesters kneel while singing the national anthem in front of Little Caesar's Arena.

Detroit’s new Little Caesar’s Arena opened with controversial first act Kid Rock Tuesday night, and there were some protesters mixed in with the larger concert-going crowd.

Protesters took a knee as they sang the “Star Spangled Banner” in the middle of Woodward Avenue outside the arena just before the concert got underway.

That echoed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s on-field protests of recent police violence against black people.

Kid Rock has disparaged him for that, saying “F*ck Colin Kaepernick” onstage within just the past several weeks. He’s also used other racially-charged rhetoric, and symbols like the Confederate flag, as part of his act in the past.

But the entertainer’s fans insists he’s not a racist. Concert-goer Tom Lipari called the protesters “ignorant.”

“This is a guy trying to make a dollar. He’s got a black child, ok?” Lipari said.

“If he’s a racist, and didn’t do what he did for Detroit, would he be here right now, and sell out six shows? Get out of here.”

But Denzel McCampbell says having Kid Rock open Little Caesar’s is “a slap in the face” to most Detroiters.

Kaepernick is “someone who is speaking up on a lot of issues that are impacting the black community,” McCampell said. “If you’re not someone to stand in allyship with that, and you’re someone to stand on the platform that you have and to say ‘F you’ to that, that’s a racist act to me.”

Some view the new arena’s opening as more proof of Detroit’s greater downtown revival. The Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will also play there, and it’s part of a larger spots and entertainment complex that includes a Kid Rock-owned restaurant.

Others see it as a bad use of public dollars in one of the nation’s poorest cities, which just emerged from the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy three years ago.

Little Caesar's Arena also features a Kid Rock eatery.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Little Caesar's Arena also features a Kid Rock eatery.

Detroit taxpayers will pay around $325 million in upfront costs for the arena’s now-estimated $863 million price tag (the remainder is privately financed). But the public cost could balloon to around $700 million when long-term debt obligations are taken into account.

Retired Detroit police officer Daniel Solano marched with the protesters. He’s resentful that he and thousands of others city retirees lost their health care in the bankruptcy, while the arena project received tax breaks and subsidies.

“And then they further compound the problem by opening the show with a Trump supporter, of all people,” Solano said.

“It’s our tax dollars that paid for this mess. My health benefits are paying for this mess. We feel kind of cheated, a bunch of us do.”

But Kid Rock fan Sean Gunnery, also a police officer, called the arena opening “a celebration of the city’s renaissance.”

Gunnery noted the entertainer has made promoting the city part of his act for many years, even when “Detroit was a punchline joke across the nation."

“For them to try and call him a racist is absolutely absurd,” he said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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