City Slang: A day at the fests

Despite the fact that the good Lord decided to throw an ocean on Detroit during the dark hours of Friday night, the sun is shining on Saturday morning and all of the signs are pointing to a beautiful Labor Day weekend. This writer also wanted to spend the whole time with his son (22-month-old Dylan), so Saturday afternoon was designated festival time. Dylan and I jumped in the car, and we made our way to Detroit for the Jazz Festival.

One of the first things we saw was these two gentlemen (pictured here), looking spectacular and dressed to the nines. These cats were strutting for the crowd gathered at the main stage, and lapping up any and all attention. Fair play.

We got there just as the New Breed Bebop Society was kicking into its tribute to former leader Teddy Harris Jr. This was actually quite special. Harris was a Motown bandleader who worked with Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 70, but he’ll always be remembered for his New Breed Bebop Society Orchestra, founded in ’83, which saw him honing the skills of newcomers.

On Saturday, that band was introduced by Harris’ daughter, obviously deeply moved by the deep affection still felt for Harris by Detroiters. The music was equally moving – jazz that never stopped surprising.

Downtown Detroit was a wonderful place to be during the Jazz Fest - the event is a great advertisement for the city. People from all walks of life are rubbing shoulders and sharing the joy. Children are playing in the weirdly awesome beach area near the fountain. And the music is excellent.

However, there is only so much jazz that a baby can take, so we bounce back into the car and make our way to Hamtramck for that city’s Labor Day Festival. Two oddities immediately struck me. First, I’m fairly certain there was a carnival game that was offering up lizards as prizes. No shit, if you got enough balls into the goldfish bowls you won an exotic pet. Do you have the right setup with the right heap lamp or any of that gumph? Who knows, but you can take that little green critter home in a bag. I also loved the old guy playing polka music on an accordion while his foot bashed a kick drum and his wife looked on, right in the middle of the street between bands. Festivals are great.

Saw blues guy John Bardy (with Eminem producer Steve King playing bass) and hucked it up with writer/poet ML Liebler, before moving to the other stage and watching Duane: The Brand New Dog (formerly Duane the Teenage Weirdo). The name might have changed but the act hasn’t; Duane still dresses like he found his clothes in a teenage girl’s donation bag, but it’s a look that he manages to make work. He’s added a talented guitarist/backing vocalist and, as before, the haphazard nature of the performance should detract from the very catchy and actually impressive pop songs.

Dylan didn’t care. He had an ice-cream cone.