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Pine Knob is back! Clarkston amphitheater drops corporate moniker


Metro Detroit's top outdoor concert venue will shed its DTE Energy Music Theatre label and once again go by the name you never stopped calling it.

Twenty years after a name change that never really stuck in the hearts or minds of Metro Detroit concertgoers, a familiar favorite is returning this summer concert season: Pine Knob will once again be known as Pine Knob. 

After a social media tease Thursday, the name change — or name return, rather — was announced Friday by 313 Presents, which operates the Clarkston amphitheater. It coincides with the 15,000-seat concert shed's upcoming 50th-anniversary season.

For the last two decades, Pine Knob — that's Pine Knob Music Theatre in full — was officially known as DTE Energy Music Theatre, thanks to a 20-year branding partnership with the Detroit energy company. Not that the name ever rolled off tongues of either fans or performers, who often insisted on calling it by its original name in both official and unofficial capacities. When performers such as Bob Seger would shout out "good evening, Pine Knob!" from the stage, it would always receive a huge roar from the crowd. 

More: Which artist has played Pine Knob the most? It's not who you think

The DTE branding sponsorship, which was initiated in 2001 and extended in 2011, expired in 2021. Pontiac-based United Wholesale Mortgage and Livonia health-care provider Trinity Health are partners in the new deal.

What's in a name? That which we call a concert haven by any other name would sound just as sweet. But there's a familiarity and a warmth in the name Pine Knob, and its return strikes a comforting tone at a time when people could use a little comfort.  

"For us, there was an undeniable equity that always existed in the name Pine Knob Music Theater," Howard Handler, 313 Presents' president, said in an interview earlier this week. "Nobody forgot it. And in today’s world, that type of legacy means something."

Handler said talk of the Pine Knob name flip started a year and a half ago, and that his team conducted extensive market research about it with fans, artists and stakeholders.

They found it wasn't just nostalgia acts and older fans who had a connection to 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 connection with incredible memories, legendary performances and a summer ritual that Detroiters and people all over southeastern Michigan know and love."

Pine Knob's legacy — early ads touted it as "the exciting new outdoor theatre at the foot of the ski slope!" — stretches back to 1972, when on June 25 it hosted its first concert, a matinee performance from teen idol David Cassidy. Tickets were $7 and $5 for pavilion and $2.50 for lawn, and were only available by mail order. 

That show was on a Sunday. Andy Williams and Quincy Jones started a five-night stand two nights later, Smokey Robinson and Junior Walker & the All Stars took the stage July 2, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dr. John and the Chip Stevens Blues Band rang in the July 4th holiday that year. The nation's largest amphitheater — at opening, capacity was 12,500 — was off and running. 

And from there it never looked back, becoming one of the nation's top outdoor venues and one of the first of its kind to give a summer home to touring pop, rock, soul and funk acts. It has hosted millions of concertgoers and thousands of shows, from hometown heroes (Bob Seger, Aretha Franklin, Kid Rock) to international superstars (Elton John, David Bowie, Prince) to Eddie Money, who for years served as summer's traditional opener. It has been recognized by Pollstar magazine as the nation's top amphitheater numerous times, including in 2019, when 598,617 fans passed through its turnstiles.   

The venue was shuttered for the 2020 concert season and 2021's season was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gates swung open last July 25 for a show by Chicago, the venue's most frequent guests, who with the performance logged their 81st concert on its stage. The band will be back this summer on July 26, along with special guests Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. 

It's one of more than a dozen concerts which already have been 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 (Aug. 26). The first 2022 show currently on the schedule is rock act 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 want to really celebrate the legend and the future of this great venue," he said. 

And once again, everyone is on the same page about what to call it. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama