Cobo Arena: Rolling Stones to Roller Derby

15 May


I still remember the first time Kris came home from a Detroit Derby Girls bout, it was at the Masonic Temple then, I believe his description was “It’s like I went to a burlesque show and a sport broke out, I’m not sure how it all works, but we’re going back!”  We’ve been back…..A lot!  We’ve made many friends along the way and we are repeatedly impressed with the work ethic, devotion and skill of these women. Derby is not for everyone, but most that have joined us really enjoyed it and many have returned.  

 If you are not familiar with roller derby in the new millennium, you should know it is not the same old derby that has women on roller skates taking moves from big time wrestling, and in Detroit, they skate on a flat track. It is an evening filled with excitement, kitsch, and fun. Let’s start with the names; Elle McFearsome, Summers Eve-L, and Roxanna Hardplace are a few great examples, imagine yourself yelling, “lets go Cookie”, as Cookie Rumble tries to break out of the pack during a jam. Announcers guide you through the bout, with their quick wit and derby knowledge you’ll never miss a grand slam. Except for team jerseys, players choose what they wear, some may choose to wear their panties on the outside, there are gold shorts, sparkly helmets, and fishnets in all patterns and colors of the rainbow. Derby is fun for all ages, during half time kids are invited onto the track to balloon race or hula-hoop, there’s also music, food, and alcohol…..what’s not to like?



   We were back at Cobo Arena on May 7 to watch the Detroit Derby Girls take on the Naptown Roller Girls of Indianapolis. It was a great bout, Detroit took an early lead and never looked back, final score Detroit 147, Naptown 75.  While I was there I got to thinking, the Detroit Derby Girls Championship game will be played on June 4, and that it will be the last public event ever to be held at Cobo Arena. In March of this year there was an announcement stating that the arena would be renovated into more exhibit and banquet space for Cobo Hall. My interest in Cobo was suddenly piqued, so I started doing a little, which turned into a lot, of research. What I learned both surprised and fascinated me.


Cobo Arena opened in 1960, and seats 12,191. The Detroit Pistons played here from 1961-1978, Mayor Dave Bing scored his career high 54 points against Chicago in 1971 at Cobo.  On June 23, 1963, more than two months before the infamous March on Washington for Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr practiced giving his famous “Dream” speech right here to a large audience in Detroit. You may remember back in 1994 when Nancy Kerrigan was hit in the knee with a baton at the arena during a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships. In August of 1968 Frank Sinatra performed here at a gala for presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey and then in October of 2008 Jay-Z held a free concert here in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to encourage younger voters to register to vote. All varieties of sports were played here; basketball, hockey, soccer, and currently roller derby.


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It is probably the concerts that people remember the most. Starting with Jerry Lee Lewis on May 17 1961 , Cobo’s entertainers read like a list of  Rock & Roll icons; The Stones , Zeppelin, the Doors, Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, The Who, Bowie, Nugent , Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Elton John & Springsteen all played here . From the sweet sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland , Sarah Vaughan & Tony Bennett to the arena rock of  U2, AC/DC, Van Halen, The Police & of course, Kiss , all genres were represented . If you have a live album from Madonna, Kiss, The Doors,  Seger, Kid Rock, The Tragically Hip, Journey, Yes, or  Geils they were recorded in whole or part at Cobo . 

There are lots of memories floating around that circular building on the river, if only walls could talk…..You still have one more chance to come down on June 4th when the Detroit Derby Girls play their championship game. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster, the Fox, and can be purchased at Cobo on the day of the bout. Come check out something new, and reminisce about the old.

One Response to “Cobo Arena: Rolling Stones to Roller Derby”

  1. Karma ShootYa May 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Thanks for the great article, and for showing off my little girl’s roller skate booties! We’re having a great time at Cobo this year and will continue with the good times next season at a new venue (yet to be determined).

    We’ll see you on June 4th!
    DDG Marketing Director

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