Survival and song

Aug 27, 2003 at 12:00 am

The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival didn’t happen in 2001. Few seem to want to discuss why, but for Cathy Gordon, longtime owner of the New Dodge Bar, the answer is obvious.

“Arrangements with the city weren’t made in time,” she says.

Just like that, an annual event that brings tens of thousands of people to downtown Hamtramck was 86’ed. But it won’t happen again; she suggests “I have the utmost confidence.”

Since the ’01 Festival meltdown, Gordon has joined Hamtramck’s Chamber of Commerce and the ranks of the Labor Day Festival organizers. Hamtramck has endured both political and financial upheaval over the past few years, and Gordon believes that the loss of the festival would darken the city’s future.

“The money is with the 21-35-year-olds,” she says. “The city is changing.”

Gordon intends to change with it.

Born and raised in a Hamtramck that was heavily populated by people of Polish decent, Gordon remembers the street party as the “Hamtramck Polish Festival.” But with the inexorable diversification of ethnicities and the overall changes of the town, that moniker became arcane.

“We really just needed to put a new face on it,” Gordon says of the festival. “I always had a booth at the festival and year by year I watched attendance go down.”

Gordon helped convince the powers that be that a little new blood might be a remedy. So, as one of the event coordinators, she saw that local band manager and promotions whiz Craig Posegay was involved in the 2002 fest.

“We brought Craig on board, and, well, he completely fine-tuned the whole thing,” she says. (Disclosure: Posegay sells ads for Metro Times.)

With Posegay’s help, the focus shifted to music.

“We brought in bands like the Witches, Black Bottom Collective, the Immigrant Suns and Blanche,” says Posegay. “Over 80,000 people showed up.”

“It was great,” adds Gordon. “There were so many new faces — and whole families came.”

Kinda like it used to be.

Gordon believes the festival has regained momentum. This year’s event is teeming with musical talent of every stripe. Local rock ’n’ roll luminary (and Hamtramck resident) Bootsey X (of Bootsey X and the Lovemasters) says, “I always wanted to play it. It’s a really cool atmosphere … a lot better than those suburban festivals.”

And there does seem to be something different about Hamtramck’s version of a street festival. Maybe it’s the moxie that comes from a workaday town that offers a certain retrograde charm. Or perhaps it’s the rich hodgepodge of cultures. Whatever it is, people have come to realize that the festival can’t be taken for granted.

“I believe in Hamtramck,” says Gordon. “Like I always say … once people spend some time here, they kind of go through a transformation. They always gravitate back.”

The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival is a down-home offering with a slice of new life.

Oh … and it isn’t going anywhere just yet.


Live entertainment schedule (music begins at 7 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. Sat.-Mon.): Friday, Aug. 29: South stage — Super TC, the Earworms, Dirge. North stage — the Fozzy’s, Innerphonic, Metaphysical Jones.

Saturday, Aug. 30: South stage — Margaret Dollrod, Audra Kubat, Scott Gwinell Septet, the Elevations, Danny D, Saoco. North stage — the GNS Band, Birdgang, the Rioteers, Eric Weir & Tiny Steps, Saturday Looks Good to Me, Pas/Cal, the Fags.

Sunday, Aug. 31: South stage — Jim Roll, Jody Raffoul, American Mars, Polish Muslims, the Greenhornes, Detroit Cobras. North stage — My White Mama, Troubleman, Gold Cash Gold, Scotty Karate & Jo Jo Buns, the Lanternjack, Five Horse Johnson, Bootsey X & the Lovemasters.

Monday, Sept. 1: South stage — the Time Machine, Gypsy Strings, Kielbasa Kings, Dave Hamilton and Jamobumi. North stage — the Flatliners, Proxi, the Strange, Lucas, Twistin’ Tarantulas.


The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival runs Friday, Aug. 29-Monday, Sept. 1. in downtown Hamtramck, on Jos. Campau between Caniff and Commer Streets. Visit for more information.

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]