When the musical lineup was revealed for this year’s Dally in the Alley, Greg Baise, a co-chair of the annual Detroit street fair, didn’t recognize many of the bands chosen by this festival’s music committee. For him, it was a happy surprise.
“That’s something for us that’s really exciting. I feel lucky because I’m going to be exposed to new stuff,” said Baise, whose past work history includes booking acts for Detroit’s The Majestic Theatre and the Crofoot in Pontiac. “I’m really into music — and I’ve never heard of these people.”
His passion is shared by his colleague Adriel Thornton, who handles communications for the North Cass Community Union (NCCU), the all-volunteer group that runs the festival. Both are part of a younger crew that formally took over the operation of the Dally when the NCCU’s elder board members stepped back after last year’s event.
In addition to the music lineup, which will feature nearly 50 acts performing on four stages, Thornton is fired up about about the arts side of the festival. Dally’s artistic offerings will include installations by Andrew St. Jukes, Chris Kozeleko, Silky Membrane and Emi Slade and Nick Pizana, as well as a “live” art component.
“I’m excited because our [art] chairperson Evan Dawber really stepped things up this year. He has a vision that dovetails with everyone else,” he said. “People are going to look at that and say, ‘Yeah! Of course, it’s the Dally in the Alley. Look at this amazing art.'”
Organizers are also working hard to build on the previous year’s efforts to make the Dally the greenest festival in the city. Last year, the NCCU required food and beer vendors to carry compostable products, which are designed to naturally break down into the earth. This year the event will have 12 green stations with separate bins for compost, recycling and garbage.
The Dally, which celebrates its 35th anniversary on Saturday, has come a long way since its first stirrings as a small inner city art fair in 1977. The NCCU formed around the same time to fight an “urban renewal” effort to demolish local historic buildings — including a garage where the Dodge brothers built their first car (that was ultimately taken apart brick-by-brick and stored away for a possible reconstruction). The group filled the role of a block club for the neighborhood and eventually took over the festival. At the time the NCCU used proceeds from the event to aid their preservation efforts — a tradition it carries on today with other worthy neighborhood causes.
Allen Schaerges, a longtime NCCU board member and former treasurer, said in the early days the event wasn’t held in the alley it’s now known for, near Second and Hancock.
“We put it out on the street for a couple years. It was hot, and then it rained and nobody came,” said Schaerges. “Then, one year we put it in the alley, and it rained really hard. And the next year we decided it was more fun when it rained in the alley, than out in the the street.”
He said people started calling the get-together the “dally in the alley” and it stuck, becoming the festival’s official name in 1982.
A switch in focus from visual arts to music and performance also helped the Dally to thrive.
“You’ve got this collection of bands that came together and all the food followed and all the vendors and all the tables and it just grew,” said Ralph Hogg, a former NCCU board member. “It was the whole alley, and then it was one street. And then it was another. And it just had a soul of its own and and it just went there.”
Over time the fair has become part of the legacy of the Cass Corridor, a neighborhood long known for its contributions to the Detroit’s arts, music and activism.
At 71, Hogg is a great example of the Corridor’s eclectic spirit. He’s worked as a blacksmith, an architect and even as a labor and migrant rights activist organizer alongside Cesar Chavez. These days he’s busy cultivating his own backyard wine vineyard. Hogg believes the Dally serves a vital role for the community — allowing current and former residents of the Corridor to catch up with one another, and giving younger people an exciting introduction to the neighborhood.
That some of these newer folks are now running the Dally is a good sign for Hogg. While he says the NCCU has never had trouble attracting younger volunteers, he believes this year was a good time to step back and let them do their thing.
“It’s not that we’re not aware, but we don’t go to the meetings,” said Hogg. “It’s their show. They turned over the books. They turned over everything to them and said, ‘Hey, stumble and bumble — we did.'”
Thornton, The NCCU’s current communications director, has a great respect for the older generation of Dally organizers and sees the current group’s work as a continuation of the joyful tradition they started.
“I feel there’s a responsibility that we have to honor the spirit of what they’ve created and the work that they’ve done,” he said. “The fact that this has been going on for 35 years — for a free, unsponsored, unsupported-by-corporate-dollars event — is astounding.”
The Dally in the Alley takes place Saturday, Sept. 8 near the corner of Second Ave. and Hancock St. in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. In the event of rain, the fair will be held on Sunday. For more information, visit www.dallyinthealley.com.