Aug 8, 2012
Bert Dearing, Detroit’s iconic entertainment guru, is kickin’ it old school
If it’s in Detroit in the summertime and has anything to do with music, it’s likely happening at Bert’s.
Bert Dearing is the man behind the music. He’s the guy who has the place where established acts—and those who have aspirations to be established – take the stage and get down with the get down.
Great music has happened at Bert’s Place, Bert’s Market Place and Bert’s On Broadway for almost 40 years. And with any luck, great music will continue to happen there for at least another four decades.
“He has a commitment to the city. He’s had various venues in the city, Bert’s on Broadway, on Jefferson. He’s had establishments all over this city. He even has a venue on Belle Isle. He’s a unique kind of an entrepreneur. Wherever he sees an opportunity in Detroit he takes it,” says Dearing’s cousin, and former Motown record executive Miller London. “He’s always trying to give back to the community. Twice a year he does a thing for the homeless where he brings them in, he gives them clothing, gives them grooming, so that hopefully some of those people may go out and change their lives. So with a heart like that and an entrepreneurial spirit like he’s got, you can’t be nothing but a winner.”
And there’s more good stuff on the way. Dearing, now CEO of Bert’s Warehouse Theater, recently teamed up with London and Al Gibson to create Russell Street Entertainment, which is a company that will sign new talent and work with Detroit’s budding Hollywood scene.
B.L.A.C talks to Dearing about his legacy, music and why he loves Detroit so much.
You’re not an official Detroiter until you’ve gone to take in some music at Bert’s. Why do you think your place has become so institutional?
Bert’s is just an extension of so many other things, community, the people here and I think everybody here is surreal. We don’t come here to put on any airs or whatever. You can be sitting with somebody with a tuxedo on and you can have some overalls on, as long as you’re clean and you respect the others. I think that’s what makes it so unique. You can bring your kids, grandkid—I’ve got people whenever their grandparents come out, this is where they come and they feel safe and comfortable and I think the comfort level plays a great part of coming out anywhere in the city of Detroit. And I have that, and I’ve had it since I’ve been in business.
And this summer you’ve kicked off a new concert series ....
People wait for the summer—it’s a time to do things you can’t do in the winter. And there’s stuff like Campus Martius, Chene Park or whatever, but when that’s over with, sometimes you’re not ready to go home. You just want to experience a little bit more, so it happens that I’m very close by and I’m the place to come (to). And that’s been a continuous thing since I’ve been in business. Even when the festivals happen and when they’re over, the wait staff or the waitresses would get off, they know that they can come and relax and get something to eat.
You’re not a musician, so tell me about your ear. Why is it that music called to you?
I was raised around music. As a matter of fact, I went to sleep almost every night around music. Back then, musicians that were down on their luck or had just came up from Mississippi or different parts of the country would (come to Detroit) have a big jam and they would cook, they would drink their homebrew or whatever they were drinking and play music all night. So I went to sleep by music. So it was probably just instilled in me, you know, in the subconscious. So it’s been there, and it’s still there.
Why has it been important to you to stay in Detroit all these years?
Look, I was raised one block over and six blocks down, so I’ve been in this area all my life, and I just feel that the [Eastern] Market is just part of my neighborhood. I used to come shop with my grandfather at the grocery store, getting snuff, chewing tobacco and stuff. I feel that this place is just part of my back yard.
KELLEY L. CARTER IS AN EMMY AWARD-WINNING FREELANCE ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST