With its funding backed in part by Detroit taxpayers’ money, and in a city where more than 80 percent of the people are black, hosting Kid Rock as the inaugural act at the new Little Caesars Arena—which opened Tuesday with the first show of Rock’s six-night stand—fueled controversy in the Motor City.
Some Detroiters were furious over Rock’s long-time use of the Confederate flag in his performances, a symbol associated with racism and segregation. He was also an early supporter of President Donald Trump, whose agenda often fuels divisiveness. Recently, Rock has teased that he may run for U.S. Senate, too.
The pristine, $863 million state-of-the-art arena, made possible by the people of Detroit, launched with a rocky start. On Tuesday as doors opened to the facility’s first-ever event, a protest with some 200 individuals marched outside of the venue. Many were protesting the public funding used to build the arena and Rock’s use of the Confederate flag, among other issues. It remained peaceful, but that didn’t stop some Kid Rock fans and protestors from slinging profanities at one another.
Another group of 200, a biker club, rode by the arena as protestors marched, revving their motors. Down the street, a Trump parade float stationed itself within view of fans. Earlier in the day, the Detroit Free Press announced that Rock’s management had denied the newspaper credentials after Free Press editorial page editor wrote a column critiquing the arena’s choice to open with Rock.
“You guys wrote a fucked up story and allowed it to be published,” said Rock’s publicist Kirt Webster in a phone call to the newspaper. “You want a quote, there it is.”
When all was said and done, it was choppy waters for the venue’s opening night, which left fans and other Detroiters with mixed feelings.
Walking through the doors of Little Caesars Arena, guests were handed American flags by venue employees. Inside, there were a handful of fans wearing Confederate flag t-shirts, bandanas and holding signs supporting Rock and Trump.
Many fans were just there for the music, though. As Rock took the stage on Tuesday night shortly after 9 p.m., opening with “Greatest Show on Earth”—a circus-like production with stilt-walkers, midgets and jugglers—a public address announcer took to the loudspeaker as the venue went dark.
“Ladies and gentleman, will you please welcome the next senator of the great state of Michigan… Kid fucking Rock!” the voice announced. The lights came on and there was Rock, standing at a lectern labeled with “United States of ‘Merica” as the music of “Hail to the Chief” filled the arena.
For the next four-plus minutes, Rock knocked “deadbeat dads” and single mothers, denounced white supremacy, shared his views on gay marriage and drove a spike into transgender rights. “Why these days is everything sooo gay?” he asked, drawing out the words. “I say let gay folks get married if they want.”
He added, mentioning that people “don’t get to choose,” “Whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use.”
The speech fell in line with the one he gave in Grand Rapids, Michigan a few nights earlier. “I love black people!” Rock shouted as he went on. “And I love white people, too. But neither as much as I love red, white and blue.” Here, the cheers thundered.
Friday’s show—the third of the six-night run—followed Tuesday’s show closely, although with much less controversy inside and outside of the arena. Both nights were opened by Sweet Tea Trio and Robert Randolph and The Family Band.
Rock slung the same speech Friday, almost word for word. He gave a tribute to the late Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band with a cover of “Midnight Rider,” and also covered Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” During “Po-Dunk,” a giant inflatable middle finger rose up on the stage’s platform. He made multiple references to his potential run for senate.
But Rock’s biggest statement in his two-hour performances were those four-or-so minutes he used as a platform to pander to Michigan’s Republican-leaning audience. For some, it was uncomfortable and unentertaining. Others enjoyed the gimmick.
“I loved it,” said Wendy Groen of Macomb, Michigan. She didn’t agree with everything Rock opined, but some stances mirrored her own. “We have to embrace what’s going on in our world.”
Another fan shouted while leaving the arena, “Kid Rock is ruined.”