Third Man Records Cass Corridor is covered in black plastic wrapping on Thanksgiving night, its windows hidden to the public. But above the facade, a brightly lit Third Man radio tower signals life inside: Jack White is throwing a private party for a few hundred guests in Detroit.
They’re celebrating the Motor City–made, Nashville-raised label’s return to the historic Cass Corridor, where the White Stripes played their first gig at the now-shuttered Gold Dollar in 1997. Dozens of campers line the sidewalks of 441 W. Canfield St. — about a mile from the Gold Dollar — eagerly awaiting tomorrow morning’s unveiling of the new Third Man retail store (and soon-to-come record-pressing plant) at that address.
Through the velvet-roped entryway is a gathering of White’s friends, family and fellow rock community, including the Dead Weather’s Dean Fertita and the Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson. It’s easy to spot White and his Third Man team because they’re wearing identical black suits, black shirts and yellow ties (White takes it one step further with vivid yellow shoes). Their outfits match the Third Man–branded merchandise lining the tables — T-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, lighters — and the brick walls, which are black and yellow, too. Even the Polaroid photo booth in the corner makes black and yellow prints.
White knows a lot of people, but there’s space inside for everyone: Cass Corridor’s 4,000-square-foot bi-level retail area is nearly quadruple the size of Third Man’s Nashville store, which opened in 2009. “It’s a piece of artwork that’s been evolving over the past six to eight weeks,” says Roe Peterhans, who is directing operations for the Detroit location. Third Man closed on the space June 1st, but work didn’t begin until mid-September — “it was a blank canvas with a loose structure,” he says — and the original vision changed.
Fertita has been in town since Monday and has watched the store’s finishing touches come together. “The space is visually stunning and important for the city,” he says. “It’s important to have places where art and music is shared and talked about.”
A performance space was never part of the plan, but now it’s a key highlight. Wall-sized photos surround the small and intimate stage, commemorating three generations of local rock bands who have played in the Cass Corridor: MC5 at Wayne State University, the White Stripes at the Gold Dollar and the Gories at the Willis Gallery. They’re accented by vintage videos, like MC5 at Detroit’s Tartar Field in 1970. “Jack [White] is really history-conscious,” says Gories member Danny Kroha. The photo of him on the wall was taken in 1988, on the very same block.
Kroha is getting ready to play a solo acoustic set, but first, White insists on making a toast. “It’s such a wonderful thing for Third Man Records to be here in Cass Corridor, where we all made our bones,” he says, raising his glass — there’s an endless supply of champagne at this party. Cass Corridor recently rebranded as the hipper, more upscale Midtown, but White chooses to remember its earlier days: There’s talk about sculptor Gordon Newton, the music of the Gories and the sounds that once came from the Gold Dollar.