Alley cats

Sep 3, 2003 at 12:00 am

Ask gray-headed bohemians about the origins of Cass Corridor’s annual fall celebration, the Dally in the Alley, and you’ll likely hear it was a way for the artists, musicians, and poets of the lively neighborhood to throw a big party. What’s more, though, the famous mother of all block parties remains true to its Cass Corridor roots by remaining a way to party with a purpose.

The block bordered by Second, Third, Forest and Hancock, once a block of stately homes and apartment houses for the well-to-do, was a galvanizing focal point for Cass Corridor preservationists. As hard as it may be to believe now, in the 1980s, neighborhood residents were fighting plans to demolish the historic Horace Dodge home on Forest and replace it with a parking lot.

Fortunately for Detroit architecture and history, the demolition was defeated, and now it appears that the North Cass Community Union has taken the fight almost full-circle. Not only was the Dodge home saved, but the neighborhood organization is now jousting with the city for rights to plant a permanent garden and to rebuild the Dodge carriage house, which once graced the H-shaped alley in the rear and was demolished by brick scavengers in 1989. And there’s reason for hope on that front, because every year that Dally organizers host what some call the most important block party in the Midwest, it funds their ongoing preservation efforts.

And with 26 bashes under their belts, the older corridor denizens are delighted to have a new wave of younger organizers who share a sense of history in addition to offering youthful organizing energy. Dally co-chairwoman Kristine Trever, at 26, is as old as the Dally herself. Her efforts reflect the sense of neighborhood pride that is part and parcel of the festival. “The Dally is a celebration of the history and preservation of this neighborhood and Detroit and the people who live here,” she says.

And the authentic neighborhood pride and radical independence make this Cass Corridor event an unusual experience in an increasingly insincere world. Where other local festivals pursue corporate sponsorship or cheerfully name their stages after powerful companies, the Dally is an outstanding exception. All of the food vendors are local companies, and non-food vendors are discouraged from tabling mass-produced wares. The Dally’s proceeds go to funding the next sponsorship-free festival, as well as efforts to preserve and protect the neighborhood’s quality of life.

So, with a clear conscience, Detroiters are free to party. And the Dally offers an almost intimidating number of things to experience. The number of non-food vendors has tripled over the last couple of years, and the Dally now features more than 100, selling everything from Communist Party literature to homemade jewelry.

In what is perhaps a humorous reference to alleys, an art auction will feature dozens of pieces made by local artists from garbage can lids. In addition to belly dancing, kids’ activities, and an art exhibition, the festival remains true to its hippie roots, but with an updated techno-granola appeal, including two fashion shows, featuring the underground fashion cabaret of Liquid Silver, and a hemp and organic cotton fashion show from local outfit Spiral Clothing.

The main attraction at this year’s Dally, of course, will be music. Trever explains: “The Detroit music scene is really becoming pivotal, with the world looking to Detroit for all musical genres, and that’s something we want to showcase.” The Dally will feature dozens of local bands on four stages, encompassing everything from a smorgasbord of electronica acts to the bluegrass melodies of the Cass Avenue Ramblers.

Although neighborhood pride is a big part of the event, all are welcome to come down to the Dally and take part in the party that, as Trever puts it, “wakes this neighborhood up.”


The Dally in the Alley is Saturday, Sept. 6, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Rain date is Sunday, Sept. 7.

Michael Jackman is a freelance writer from Detroit. E-mail [email protected]