Hundreds of thousands of people packed a downtown plaza Saturday for the city's 300th birthday bash, delighting in the sight of tall sailing ships and enjoying a free concert headlined by Stevie Wonder.
"It is an exciting time. I wish we could do this every year for Detroit," said Wonder, who grew up in the city and hit it big with Motown records, which was once based here. "We've got to do something to encourage people" to embrace the city throughout the year.
At Hart Plaza, people were shoulder to shoulder, undaunted by high humidity and 80-degree heat, as well as a drenching rain. Many brought coolers, picnic lunches and umbrellas for Detroit's birthday, which officially falls on July 24.
Zeleka McKissic was among the throngs that showed up in the wee hours to get prime spots to watch the Celebrity Homecoming Concert, headlined by Wonder. McKissic and 17 of his family members and friends camped out at the plaza at 3 a.m.
"I grew up with [Wonder], hearing his music all through my house," McKissic, 34, said.
Thursday, Gov. John Engler and Mayor Dennis Archer dedicated the new Detroit Riverfront Promenade that extends downtown from Joe Louis Arena to the plaza.
On Saturday, several sailing vessels were docked downtown, ready for today's Ford Parade of Historic Ships. The ships are coming off stops in Canada and Ohio before they head to Bay City and Muskegon, Mich.
Hometown comedian and "Home Improvement" television star Tim Allen helped entertain the concert crowd.
Before taking the stage, Allen said he hoped the birthday bash is a springboard for better things: "It's really cool to finally see some resurrection. If you've been around here long enough, you see how slow progress is to make a city come back to life."
Unofficial estimates put the Hart Plaza crowd at least several hundred thousand by showtime.