After two decades as the DTE Energy Music Theatre, the Detroit area’s leading amphitheater will once again be known by its original name, the Pine Knob Music Theatre.
The name change is part of the 15,000-seat venue’s 50th anniversary celebration that will take place this summer. A new logo incorporates elements of its 1972-2000 predecessor, and in lieu of a title sponsor, two local corporations — United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM) and Trinity Health — have signed on as partners.
“The equity in the Pine Knob name is undeniable, and it was just so obvious,” says Howard Handler, president of Detroit’s 313 Presents, which promotes and produces concerts at the venue. “Night after night, performers come on stage and say ‘Hello Pine Knob!’ We know that there was a lot of passion and a lot of really great connection to all of that, so it was just a question of could we strike the right balance and deliver something meaningful back to the community and be true to our business.”
Pine Knob was opened by the Nederlander Organization on June 25, 1972 with a matinee concert by David Cassidy. Since then it’s hosted more than 3,100 events, winning numerous industry awards from Billboard and others along the way. The venue was purchased during late 1990 by Palace Sports & Entertainment (now Pistons Sports & Entertainment), which joined 313 Presents as a joint venture with Ilitch Sports + Entertainment during 2017.
The DTE name change was announced during January of 2001 and caused considerable furor among fans and performers. Throughout the next 20 years numerous artists protested from the stage, many continuing to refer to the venue as Pine Knob during their concerts. “It’ll always be Pine Knob to me,” said James Pankow of Chicago, whose 81 shows are the most of any act at the venue. “It’s always a pleasure to come back there ’cause we know we’re doing to get a great crowd.” Jimmy Buffett, another venue regular, noted that, “They change the name of all of (the venues). I’m sorry, but I don’t call ’em by those names. I call them what they are to me. It pisses people off.”
Peter Frampton, who recorded his Live in Detroit album and DVD during 1999 at Pine Knob, was thrilled to hear of the latest name change, noting that, “It’s always been Pine Knob to me. I always call it that from the stage. I am really happy Pine Knob’s true identity has finally been returned.” Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies, which recorded its 2007 set Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan, at the theater, was among those consulted by 313 Presents about the rebranding and was equally pleased by the change.
“We never referred to it as anything else but Pine Knob,” Robertson said. “As a BNL stronghold and longtime kind of home away from home, it brings me an enormous amount of joy that Pine Knob is being restored to its rightful name.”
Handler, who worked as a Pine Knob security guard during the summer of 1978, came to 313 Presents during 2019 and said consideration of the amphitheater’s name change began in earnest during the 2020 pandemic pause. “We talked to several hundred guests and stakeholders and even some artists,” he said. “It wasn’t just, ‘Oh, cool, let’s do this.’ This (change) is the result of several months of work and research and creative development and listening to people.” One primary concern, that a certain segment of the audience would not be aware of the heritage in the Pine Knob name, was quickly allayed during that process, he added.
“We wondered, ‘OK, with people between the ages of 18-24, is (Pine Knob) something that means anything to them at all?'” Handler said. “And when we did the research, the answer to that was yes, it did. People knew what it was — maybe from their older siblings or their parents, or from sitting in the audience and Dave Matthews comes on stage and says, ‘Hello Pine Knob!'” The 13.5-acre venue, in fact, sits next to the Pine Knob Ski & Snowboard Resort, and several businesses in the area also include Pine Knob in their name.
UWM and Trinity, meanwhile, were on board with Pine Knob taking precedence in the venue name. “Just like the fans, just like the artists, they’re like, ‘Well, yeah, it’s Pine Knob,'” Handler noted. “At the end of the day I think they recognized that if they were tapping into the genuine connection that the community has with the venue and the heritage of it and the uniqueness of it, they’ll benefit from that in a different way.”
During the shortened 2021 season, the DTE Energy Music Theatre hosted 25 shows with a reported attendance of nearly 265,000. The venue also hosted a pair of drive-through attractions — Jurassic World during the early summer and the holiday-themed Magic of Lights 2021 — in its parking lot. Pine Knob currently has 16 concerts booked for the 2022 season, and Handler said 313 Presents is planning a series of special 50th anniversary programs that he hopes will be announced in the near future.