If you wonder why Detroit seems possessed, let me tell you…It’s the Devil. Some call him the Nain Rouge – and it’s time to kick him out…again.
Forget RoboCop; that’s old news. This devil guy is for reals. He’s been dragging Detroit down for more than 300 years. Someone, somewhere messed with the bull, and we’ve been getting the horns ever since.
But there is hope. One of the city’s newest traditions – and, some may argue, one of the best – is the Marche du Nain Rouge. This year’s event brings together city residents, community organizations and a new leadership team, taking the Marche up a notch.
The March 20 event will feature an opening ceremony at 1 p.m. outside the Third Street Bar, a parade through the Cass Corridor, a festival at Cass Park and follow-up reveling until who knows when. There will be bands (including Golden, Scarlet Oaks and the Detroit Party Marching Band). There will be beer, barbecue and at least one belly dancer. And, yes, there will be chariots. (‘Cause floats are for sissies. We’re Detroit, remember?) There probably will be about 10 of them, maybe more. Each city neighborhood has been challenged to make one.
Spokesman Peter Van Dyke and the organizing committee have taken what was basically a “pop-up parade” organized in three months and turned it into a Detroit-worthy extravaganza. They have an official beer (The Detroit Dwarf, natch). They had to get city-council approval, which they did. They got sponsors for the permits and other costs, such as an updated Web site. They have hopes of bringing three times as many people to the event; about 300 came to the first one last year.
Does getting sponsors make you a sellout? Does getting “The Man” to approve the event mean you’re not a top-secret batch of coolness? Nope, it makes you smart. And there was no way of stopping this Marche from growing. It was too much fun, had too much potential and brought too much life to the city to let it fade away or grow without some parameters. And the sponsors are true Detroit phenoms: City Bird, Canine to Five Detroit, Bureau of Urban Living, Avalon International Breads. These locally owned businesses are the roots that are holding this wilted city together.
A little history: Joe Uhl, Francis Grunow and their friends came up with the idea of reviving the parade to march the evil Red Dwarf out of Detroit in January 2010. These historians knew of the old legend – that of little dark cloud known as the Nain Rouge from Detroit and all of the bad tidings he is said to have brought with him. In the past, people had tried to drive the spirit out…but look around. They clearly failed.
So the idea was hatched. New Orleans had Marti Gras, Detroit would have the Marche. It would be equal parts healing and hedonistic. Plus, it brought people out for the Spring Equinox and for Detroit. Those who attended (including moi, in my mousy reporter gear) generally had a blast. Even the Metro Times called it the city’s Best New Tradition.
Fast forward to 2011. Uhl has a new baby and Grunow has the Bar. Van Dyke stepped up as the new harbinger for the Nain. He is a known quantity in the city, working for a respected public-relations firm and formerly heading MOCAD’s young professional board. Van Dyke said his goal was to keep the quirky parts that everyone loved about last year – like the unexpected protesters who felt the Nain was getting a bad rap – and add a few more things for this year.
“There was no way of controlling the event’s popularity, so we had to prepare for a larger festival,” Van Dyke said. That means sponsorship requests and responses, like those of Team Detroit, Miller Canfield and the University Cultural Center Association. So Avalon with the help of Slows Bar BQ will bring the eats. Detroit Beer Company will bring the brews.
“It’s been really challenging, but really rewarding at the same time,” Van Dyke said. “People are coming out of the woodwork. It seems like we get an email every day from someone who want to help out. Like the one from the belly dancer, who wanted to know if she could perform. We told her, ‘Come on in.'”
‘Cause if you want to draw out the devil, ruin his pride and run him out of town – or if you just want to get a crowd into Detroit for a truly great cause – then the lure of a real belly dancer in our midst will just about do it.
“We’re calling out to the community to be involved in any way you want, do what you want – dress up, protest, bring your dog, bring your kids, play the drums – they can literally get involved in any way they want,” Van Dyke said. “Be as you are, be as you want to be or be as you don’t want to be. Just come.”