Punk-rock block party

There isn’t much to say about the Fourth Street Fair that hasn’t already been said. If you’re a lifetime fan of the festival, then you already know just how freakin’ great it is. And if you’ve never been, you’ll simply have to go. End of story.

However, let’s extrapolate a bit.

For about a quarter of a century now, the uniquely creative and eccentric denizens of the Fourth Street neighborhood have thrown one hell of a punk-rock block party on a Saturday in July. It includes food and drink, quirky vendors and some of the best music this city has to offer. But there’s something more than that, something tacit and inexplicable which makes this charmingly spirited and organic festival perhaps the best microcosm of Detroit smushed into one crazy, fun-filled day.

See, it all started some 25 years ago (or 35 — no one can really remember) on a gorgeous sun-soaked day when a group of residents screwing around outside playing volleyball and listening to music decided to go on a beer run.

And, oh, what a fateful beer run it was. As the legend goes, at one point in the midst of the inadvertent block party that had just been formed, a slightly inebriated prophet triumphantly shouted, “Hey, we should do this every year!”

And thus, the Positively Fourth Street Fair was born.

But nobody calls it that anymore. That’s the thing with Fourth Street people; they can’t be bothered with exact names for festivals or exact dates they were started — they’re too busy having more fun than you are.

The neighborhood is an eclectic mix of punks, hippies, scenesters, community activists, and lovable lunatics and wise-asses. They’re a feisty bunch too — several times in the past developers have threatened to level the block in order to make more freeways or large, impersonal buildings. The two blocks east of the neighborhood were in fact razed to make way for additional freeway, but the Fourth Streeters told the city and the developers to take their wrecking balls and shove ’em. Through resilient protesting, the residents have saved their beloved block thus far. However, the possibility of a big industrial park going up across from them looms as a distant threat.

Jocelyne Ninneman, a Fourth Street resident and organizer of the event, says the fair serves as a fundraiser for the block; the revenues generated from food and clothing vendors goes toward future fairs and block projects.

“Living on Fourth Street is like living in an urban oasis,” she says. “We wander from porch to porch all the time just chatting with each other; the stoops are always full of people; we have barbecues and bonfires several times a week in the summer. It’s truly a unique place.”

This year’s event boasts threes stages of performers, including Queen Bee, the Lanternjack, Thrall, the Demolition Doll Rods, Forge, the Detroit Cobras, and Hell’s Belles Burlesque. (Editorial disclosure — yours truly is with the Belles.) It runs from noon to midnight; don’t forget sun block, and expect to get dusty and dirty and have too much fun. And bring moolah; in addition to creative beverages (the smoking fruity smoothies concocted with dry ice are a perennial fave) and home-cooked food, the Fourth Street vendors always sell the coolest stuff imaginable, everything from handcrafted clothing to secondhand furniture.

There’s no Web site, and no concrete schedule of bands with times. You know why? Because it’s the Fourth Street Fair, and that’s the way it is. You’re just going to have to show up and enjoy yourself.

And if you don’t like it, go to Arts, Beats and Eats.


The annual Positively Fourth Street Fair takes place this Saturday, July 19, at the corner of Fourth and Holden Streets in Detroit.

Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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