Your guide to Detroit's festival season 

Festivals for the rest of us

Detroit Jazz Festival. - LEN KATZ
  • Len Katz
  • Detroit Jazz Festival.

From jazz virtuosos to medieval reenactments, there’s an end-of-summer celebration for you.

Detroit Jazz Festival
Sept. 1-4

Backstory: In many ways, the Jazz Fest is the top dog of Labor Day festivals. It's one of the oldest (established in 1980) and is probably the biggest of our end-of-summer shindigs. Every year it offers some big names, as well as some backward-looking tributes, and programming that embraces everything from the cool jazz you know to the inclusive global music jazz has become.

Why it's great: It's the world's largest jazz festival that's free and open to the public. No wristbands, no admission fees, no lines for tickets. Just show up and be wowed by the more than five-dozen acts taking the stages. Nothing sounds quite as good outdoors as a horn section.

The types of people you'll see: Detroit families and older couples, often wearing their finest Sunday best, hat and all, though you'll also find a fair amount of suburban guests coming downtown. Over three days, the fest will draw more than a quarter-million visitors.

Notable performers: Herbie Hancock, Regina Carter, Wayne Shorter Quartet, George Benson, Benny Golson, and two set pieces celebrating Thelonious Monk's 100th birthday.

What to look out for: The parking situation downtown has improved over the last decade with the construction of several new gargantuan structures. That said, it's worth reminding first-time visitors, especially those parking on the street, that Detroit has the same problems as all big cities. That is to say, leaving a laptop, phone, bag, or anything of value visible in your car is like putting a "Smash Me" sign on your window.

Sept. 1-4 across four stages in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit; 313-469-6564; detroitjazzfest.org; Admission is free.

Arts, Beats, and Eats. - STEVEN HAUPTMAN
  • Steven Hauptman
  • Arts, Beats, and Eats.

Arts, Beats, and Eats
Sept. 1-4

Backstory: This enormous Labor Day celebration got its start in the early 2000s in downtown Pontiac, but in 2010, the operation packed its bags and moved to the more hip destination of Royal Oak. The festival runs down South Washington with tendrils reaching down adjoining side streets.

Why it's great: As it's name gives away, Arts, Beats, and Eats brings together America's three favorite things: eating, shopping, and music. Attendees are encouraged to devour samples from local restaurants till their pants pop, spend their cash on kitschy art fair items, and drunkenly dance along to music by local and national musicians.

The types of people you'll see: Roaming packs of local teenagers, men in cargo shorts.

Notable performers: 311, Grand Funk Railroad, the Wallflowers, George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, and American Idol alum Jena Irene Asciutto will perform on the Michigan Lottery National Stage. Local acts like Nina & the Buffalo Riders, 50 Amp Fuse, Feral Ground, the Reefermen, and Twistin Tarantulas will take to the Ford Alternative Rock and Soaring Eagle Casino and resort stages.

What to look out for: Don't get a parking ticket — the city closes down all parking meters during the festival, and much of street parking during the festival is permit only. (Apparently lots of people didn't get the memo — in 2015, the city issued 1,595 parking tickets, at $50 a pop.) Try parking in a city parking structure, which charges a $15 fee. You can also park at Royal Oak High School for $10, and a shuttle will take you to and from the fest.

Sept. 1-4 on South Washington in downtown Royal Oak; 248-541-7550; artsbeatseats.com; Admission fees vary.

MICHAEL JACKMAN
  • Michael Jackman

Hamtramck Labor Day Festival
Sept. 2-4

Backstory: It's often said that this festival, founded in 1980, the year Dodge Main closed, was created to help cheer up a city in the throes of deindustrialization. From today's vantage point, it marks a transition point, as Hamtramck became less known for cars produced in factories and more known for music produced in its profusion of bars. It's no coincidence the "Hamtramck Blowout" started there.

Why it's great: There's always a thoughtful lineup of music, affordable beer tents, and a midway's worth of rides, all without the kind of overbearing corporate sponsorship you'll find elsewhere. Also, visitors can step just beyond the fair into the many bars and restaurants just off the beaten path. Don't forget to bring your water balloons and squirt guns to the canoe races at noon on Monday.

The types of people you'll see: There's a sort of "worlds collide" aspect of the festival that make for great people-watching. You'll see brand-new immigrants from all over the world experiencing their first carney-built rides, the city's hard-drinking bar crowd out in mid-day for a change.

Notable performers: International star and hometown-son-made-good Duane the Jet Black Eel, as well as the Craig Brown Band, Tunde Olaniran, Bevlove, and Tony Valla of Fortune Records fame. Oh, and of course the Polish Muslims will headline Sunday Night, and Stewartista Danny D — yes, a Rod Stewart impersonator — will do his thing.

What to look out for: If you are able to get a table at Polish Village Cafe or Polonia without waiting for almost an hour, that is wonderful. But due to the amount of people who come back during the festival for a taste of old Hamtramck, you're better off trying something else. These days, Hamtramck's eateries serve everything from Yemeni barbecued meats to Middle Eastern standards to Japanese and Korean fare. And don't forget: There's authentic Polish food just a few blocks north in Detroit at Krakus Restaurant until 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Sept. 2-4, on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck; See hamtownfest.com for details and a full schedule of performances.

Romeo Peach Festival. - LARRY SOBCZAK, THE RECORD NEWSPAPER
  • Larry Sobczak, The Record Newspaper
  • Romeo Peach Festival.

Romeo Peach Festival
Aug. 31-Sept. 4

Backstory: The annual peach festival is a perfectly adorable celebration of the fuzzy fruit and has been since 1931. There are lots of family friendly activities like a night parade, a carnival midway, and... bed races? Anyway, things get a little more rowdy come dark, when plastic cups of Bud Light drastically outnumber the people in attendance.

Why it's great: Peach Festival is a staple in the community and it doesn't try to be hip — if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Additionally, there are tons of peach-infused confections including donuts and pie. The local Dairy Queen even serves peach pie blizzards in honor of the festival. Get your hands on some of those before you head to the beer tent, which we all know is the real reason you're here.

Types of people you'll see: Small children, bikers, the crowned Romeo Peach Queen.

Notable performers: A heaping helping of local bands.

What to look out for: If we've learned anything from the news lately, it's that carnival rides are generally unreliable and should not be trusted (see the Ohio State Fair debacle). Don't spend $25 on a midway wristband so you can be thrown halfway across the county. Not worth it, bro.

Aug. 31-Sept. 4; 269 E. Washington St.; Romeo; michiganpeachfest.com; 586-752-6633; Admission is free, and ride wristbands at $25.

Michigan Renaissance Festival. - ALYSON WILLIAMS
  • Alyson Williams
  • Michigan Renaissance Festival.

Michigan Renaissance Festival
Through Oct. 1

Backstory: Opened in 1979, the Michigan Renaissance Festival is a 312-acre interactive recreation of a late 16th Century English village that attracts nearly 250,000 people every year. It runs from late August until early October, making it a fun fall tradition for Michigan families, pirate-lovers, and full-blown weirdos. Fun fact: The 2009 film All's Faire in Love, starring Christina Ricci, was filmed mostly at the Michigan Renaissance Festival.

Why it's great: Where else can you eat a Scotch egg while getting your hair braided? Plus, anyone who genuinely enjoys being heckled will be in heaven.

Types of people you'll see: Ordinary citizens often come dressed in full Renaissance-style garb, including those impossible corsets that surely cause gastrointestinal distress. People really let their freak flag fly here.

Notable performers: Medieval jousting shows are the main event here (hint: they're rigged), but there is also a full schedule of sideshow performers including lewd puppets, fire performers, mermaids, jugglers, magicians — OK, you get it. New this year: live unicorns (hint: they're just horses wearing headbands).

What to look out for: It's muddy, so don't wear white shoes. Also, you will not find Renaissance-era prices here. Bring cash and plan your meals accordingly.

Runs until Oct. 1; 12600 Dixie Hwy., Holly; 248-634-5552; michrenfest.com.

Ricky Rat. - JESSICA BRANSTETTER
  • Jessica Branstetter
  • Ricky Rat.

Panic in Hamtramck
Sept. 1-3

Backstory: Back in 2004, Human Eye, Clone Defects, and Timmy's Organism frontman Timmy "Vulgar" Lampinen started a music festival to bring to Detroit the sludgy, psyched-out, noisy punk acts he saw on the road.

Why it's great: Lampinen is something of a tastemaker in Detroit's mind-bending punk scene. Plus the new improved location at Hamtramck's Ant Hall means plenty of room, so you won't get an unintentional nose piercing when some dude with bullet studs all over his leather backs into you.

The types of people you'll see: Tripped-out punk rockers of all ages, from hard-drinking, tattoo-covered crusty kids to older couples in tight pants and porkpies.

Notable performers: Detroit punk royalty in the form of Detroit 442, the return of Gold Dollar vets the Buzzards, Human Eye featuring "Hurricane" Williams on drums, Ricky Rat, Texas-based Gary Wrong, the Beauticians, and more.

What to look out for: Parking around the Ant Hall can be a little scarce, but one place to absolutely not park is anywhere near the fire station. We made that mistake once. About $400 later, we got the car back.

Doors open at 9 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Sept. 1-3, at the Ant Hall, 2320 Caniff St., Hamtramck. For more information, see Panic in Hamtramck's Facebook page. Wristbands for the whole weekend are $26, available at Planet Ant's website, or admission for one night is $10.

Michigan State Fair. - MIKE PFEIFFER
  • Mike Pfeiffer
  • Michigan State Fair.

Michigan State Fair
Aug. 31-Sept. 4

Backstory: Once upon a time — 1849, to be precise — Detroit debuted Michigan's original state fair. It was one of the first of such events that would go on to become a staple of Americana throughout the country. Since 1905, it was held at the Michigan State Fairgrounds on Woodward Avenue. In 2009, Gov. Jennifer Granholm put the kibosh on that due to budget constraints, effectively ending a longstanding tradition. (Boo, austerity!) But in 2013, a grassroots movement stepped up to reimagine the state fair as a private event in suburban Novi, where it has been held ever since.

Why it's great: You'll find many of the traditions from the state fair's previous incarnation: Baby animals! Eating competitions! A butter cow! Beer tasting! All this, and more — and thanks to presenting sponsor Ram Trucks, with zero state funding. (Yay, capitalism!)

The types of people you'll see: Lots — more than 152,000 people attended last year's festivities, according to organizers.

Notable performers: Since 2014, a fixture of the Michigan State Fair has been its Superstar talent competition. Semi-finalists will perform during the fair, with a grand prize winner performing as Saturday evening's headliner.

What to look out for: All of the usual hazards of suburbia — double-wide baby strollers, mustard-covered children, Trump voters. Also, you can get unlimited Guernsey Farms chocolate milk. Drink responsibly, people.

The Michigan State Fair is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 4, at Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi; michiganstatefairllc.com.

Dally in the Alley. - DONTAE ROCKYMORE
  • Dontae Rockymore
  • Dally in the Alley.

Dally in the Alley
Sept. 9

Backstory: This weekend-after-Labor Day festival traces its roots to informal street fairs put on by university students in 1977. As late at the 2000s, it was a sort of "old home week" for former students and habitués of the Cass Corridor, although now it's a sort of "spirit week" for incoming and future Wayne State University students, and a block party for Midtown.

Why it's great: Although it has blown up a lot in the last decade or so, it still retains a bit of its original organic vibe, with free musical performances, a dearth of corporate sponsorship, and a few really inventive vendors, all amid a walkable environment. Best of all, if you have friends who have an apartment nearby, you'll enjoy the Dally in comfort and style.

The types of people you'll see: Fresh-faced 18-year-olds excited about attending WSU, drunken 22-year-old WSU students excited about taking them to bed, jaded WSU graduates returning to a neighborhood they can't afford, and a bunch of vendors trying to sell them all shea butter, belt buckles, and sunglasses.

Notable performers: There are usually a few more established local bands at the Dally — this year the veteran seems to be Citizen Smile — but it's also a place for younger bands to get some stage time, and they can range from folk to electronic to punk and beyond. With four stages, there's plenty of room for expression.

What to look out for: In the old days, you could walk down the alley from the party store on Third to the Hollenden in two minutes, tops. These days, that alley is a crush of people that can stall for what seems like ages. Do you really need to walk down that alley? Be advised, in recent years, organizers have deployed more beer tents than that one where the alley narrows. Also, though the area is mostly safe, some areas you may park in might be more challenging — say, south of Selden or west of Third, especially after dark — so keep your eyes open. What's more, the Dally is a payday for the Parking Violations Bureau; observe all the laws you normally wouldn't, because they'll be out in force.

Dally in the Alley is from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, in the block bounded by Forest and Hancock and Second and Third in Detroit. Visit dallyinthealley.com for more information.

DIY Fest - STEVEN HAUPTMAN
  • Steven Hauptman
  • DIY Fest

DIY Fest and Funky Ferndale Art Fair
Sept. 22-24

Backstory: Ferndale's annual ode to the "Do It Yourself" ethos turns 10. In a return to the setup from past years, the DIY Fest, held on the east side of Woodward, will be joined this year with the Funky Ferndale Art Fair, held across the street on the west side — making for a formidable arts and craft double-whammy.

Why it's great: The Funky Ferndale Art Fair is more of a traditional art fair — think sculptures, paintings, jewelry, and ceramics. Meanwhile, the DIY Fest is a little more offbeat — as in past years, you'll find screenprinted posters, T-shirts, and even stained-glass night lights. Combined, both fests provide the perfect place to find handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts.

The types of people you'll see: Ferndale's finest — beards, bangs, flannel, tattoos — probably toting their little hipsters-in-training.

Notable performers: A lineup hasn't been announced yet, but expect a solid bill of some of the best local bands and performers.

What to look out for: The craft beer will be a-flowing.

DIY Street Fair takes place on Woodward Avenue at Troy St.; See diystreetfair.com for more info and hours. The Funky Ferndale Art Fair is held at Nine Mile Rd. at Woodward Ave.; See funkyferndaleartfair.com for more info and hours.

DAMI designed and produced an afrofuturistic outdoor visual art and live music performance in Detroit’s North End, the city’s unofficial Cradle of Funk, during the 2015 Detroit Design Festival. - DESMOND LOVE
  • Desmond Love
  • DAMI designed and produced an afrofuturistic outdoor visual art and live music performance in Detroit’s North End, the city’s unofficial Cradle of Funk, during the 2015 Detroit Design Festival.

Detroit Design Festival
Sept. 26-30

Backstory: In 2010, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center founded the Detroit Design festival as a way of highlighting the Motor City's legacy of art and design. It worked — in 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization bestowed Detroit with a special "City of Design" designation, making it the only North American city to earn the honors. Each September, DC3 continues to highlight Detroit design with a series of happenings around the city.

Why it's great: It turns out "design" encompasses a lot — from the industrial designers who work in tandem with Detroit's storied automotive industry to the graphic designers coming out of the College for Creative Studies to the city's community of tinkerers and makers. Anything involved with visual design is fair game.

The types of people you'll see: You'll see Detroit-based artists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and appreciators — anyone united by a love of good design.

Notable performers: The festival is actually a series of separate happenings around the city. On Thursday, Sept. 28 is the annual Eastern Market After Dark, which transforms the farmer's market into a visual arts district, including pop-ups, installations, gallery open houses, and more. The DDF Design Village is held Friday, Sept. 29-Saturday Sept. 30, featuring a pop-up marketplace of makers and designers, in addition to lectures and workshops. Also on Saturday, Detroit's historic Avenue of Fashion hosts Light up Livernois, which this year will feature performances, artist activations, and even a miniature golf course made by local designers.

What to look out for: Due to the sheer volume of happenings, it's impossible to see everything (we know, because we tried). Don't stress it. Just go with the flow.

Sept. 26-30; see website for full schedule and participating venues; detroitdesignfestival.com; free and open to the public.


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