Date: May 28, 2003

Ford Motor Co. called in its favors to celebrate its centennial June 12-16 in Dearborn, Mich., with a collection of firsts, including the kickoff of Beyonce Knowles’ solo career and Toby Keith’s U.S. tour. The event is expected to draw 100,000.

A three-day concert series is the centerpiece of The Road is Ours 100th Anniversary Celebration at the 152-acre Henry Ford II World Center, home to the world headquarters for Ford Motor Co. John Nens, marketing manager, centennial operations, would not reveal the event’s cost. “The grounds around (the buildings) we’re filling up with [132] tents, displays and exhibits and classic cars,” Nens said.

Concerts begin June 13 with R&B’s Earth Wind and Fire and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Knowles of Destiny’s Child will perform solo and with her bandmates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams June 14. “Friends of Beyonce” will make surprise appearances, said Bob Bonnell, entertainment producer. California’s Spring Communications will shoot it for a pay-per-view special for $9.99 live at 9 p.m. EDT.

“It’s basically her first solo concert outside of her appearance on ‘Saturday Night Live,’” Bonnell said about Knowles. “We’re looking at it as a coming out for Beyonce.”

Country crooner Toby Keith, who is also a star of Ford’s commercials and billboards, and opening act Blake Shelton are slated to perform June 15. They will play on a 60-by-44-foot stage, with three large-format LED videoscreens built by Brown United, Bonnell said. General admission lawn seating will be in front of the stage, with VIP tents alongside. Setup has already begun.

“We’re in the middle of a sunflower field, so we’ve done some land moving, some grass planting. Two hundred tons of gravel was put in there to help secure the stage and the backstage area. The main stage build starts four to five days before [the show],” Bonnell said.

Nens explained that Ford “leveraged” its relationships for the centennial celebration. Conde Nast magazines, in which Ford advertises, helped land Knowles. The philanthropic arm the Ford Motor Co. Fund supports the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

The Road is Ours festival is $24.95 for all five days. So far, 60,000 tickets have been sold. Ford put “a little centennial spin” in advertising to promote the show. “We could have done it for free, but it would have cost us a little extra. If you charge for tickets, people actually come. We’re able to scale the event based on the number of people that are coming,” Nens added.

Nens stressed it is a family-oriented event. Alcohol is not permitted; concessions will offer 20-ounce bottled Coca-Cola products as well as Middle Eastern, Mexican, American and soul food. 

Interviewed for this story: John Nens and Bob Bonnell, (313) 621-8175