AJ's Music Cafe in suburban Detroit is putting on a Leno-like show supporting U.S. automakers. The difference? He's attempting to break the record for longest multi-act concert with a 10-day-long show. We checked it out.
AJ's Music Cafe is a quirky little cafe off of Nine Mile Road in Ferndale, Michigan, a hangout for locals and a favorite of musical acts which stray far from the beaten path. Back in January, one of owner AJ O'Neil regulars came and told him he'd just been laid off from his auto manufacturing job and wondered if there was anything AJ could do. After a bit of thinking, he decided to offer a free cup of coffee to anyone who would promise to buy an American car when they next made a purchase and sign up to his newly minted website ipromiseamerica to the same effect.
The stunt drew a lot of local attention so AJ decided to raise the bar and do something really big. AJ contacted the Guinness Book of Wolrd Records and asked what kind of musical marathon records were available. They responded by slapping down the record for longest multi-act concert — 216 hours held by a festival in Europe. With his target, AJ began making phone calls. A few months later he'd lined up well over 200 acts for a run at 10 straight days of non-stop music and the Assembly Line Concert was born.
But why? "We're all affected by the the auto industry here, all the way from the auto executive to cafe owners like me. I can't do much, but I can draw attention to the situation," said O'Neil, " I can talk about the cars and get people to at least think about buying one." He's gotten a roundly positive response from the automakers too, with emails coming in from Ford and GM, dealers have dropped some of their cars in front of the cafe, UAW and CAW workers dropping in with banners and requests to play in the concert. Each band gets an hour to play, with no more than five minutes between sets, as sanctioned by Guinness. There are themed days where union workers play, politicians, local news anchors and others.
The event started out at 5:00 PM Friday night with Motown artist Martha Reeves and is intended to end in 240 hours on March 31st, to coincide with the feasibility hearings in Congress. It might go on longer though, as a United Way group in Statesville, North Carolina is making a run at the record at the same time, so it might end up going much longer than originally anticipated.
We asked AJ what the takeaway on this event should be, to which he responded: "This is an awareness campaign, people need to recognize what they purchase has an impact, and if they turn away from the big three, it puts us in Detroit in peril." The event brought out a strange mix of locals and luminaries, we even spotted John McElroy there, sitting in for a listen, but at the core of it was a quiet desperation. Nobody seemed interested in mentioning the unmentionable, the possibility this was an early and raucous wake rather than a record attempt to rally for the home teams. [Live streaming and details available at Assembly Line Concert]