Dally in the Alley

by Joe Giuliani and Steve Knoche

Illustration by Scott Mick

For years now, the Cass Corridor has had a reputation of being a dangerous neighborhood. But amid the grime and the drugs and the burnt-out streetlights, the neighborhood surrounding Wayne State University has always been a hub of creative energy.

And every year going back to 1978, that creative energy explodes in a burst of a street party that is the Dally in the Alley. With four stages of nonstop music, performance artists, visual artists and merchants, the festival turns the streets and alleys just south of WSU into a 14-hour marathon of a party.

The first Dally in the Alley took place in August of 1978 with a half dozen or so artists showcasing their wares along Second Street. The only musical entertainment was a neighbor who brought out his guitar and spent the afternoon on his porch playing songs for attendees. The weather was extremely hot, and it grossed $178 from selling hot dogs and Cokes.

And even though it now gets 30,000 visitors each year, the Dally in the Alley is still more like a party than a festival. There are no huge beer company logos courtesy of corporate sponsorship. While artists and merchants sell their goods on the street, the balconies above the alley are filled with the people who live on the block.

"The Dally is that place you can go and run into old friends you haven't seen for years," says Matthew Jaworski, who attends the Dally every year and also writes for The Record. "Not only will they be there, they will be in great spirits from drinking in the street all day. There is something refreshing about being able to get liquored up in the street right next to cops, homeless people and ex-girlfriends. Something about spending the day outside getting wasted seems to make people extra friendly. Every year I am introduced to at least one kick-ass band that I was previously ignorant to."

"It (Cass Corridor) has this cohesiveness of the arts coming together," says Ann Kennedy, president of the North Cass Community Union, which produces the Dally each year. "People living here, doing art, writing poetry. I couldn't possibly live any place else."

Going back to the 60s, the Cass Corridor has always been a neighborhood flowing with creativity. Rent was relatively cheap, and it was located in the heart of the cultural center that is made up of Wayne State, the College of Creative Studies and the many museums.

"People moved into the lofts, and artists squatted in the Forsythe building," says Allen Schaerges, treasurer for the NCCU. "(Artists) found that they could rent $50- and $100-a-month storefronts and that's where the artists lived.

"Cass Corridor artists pertained to a style of art. You go out and look in the alley and see what you can find, and you might end up putting a rabbit together out of barbed wire."

While the festival began as a way to feature visual art, music has become probably the festival's biggest attendance draw. The Dally seems to have been destined to become an important music festival. Organizers decided to include music the second year, and everyone got a surprise when famed jazz trumpet player Marcus Belgrave showed up to play.

"We booked a guy's band, and they showed up, and it just happened that he (Belgrave) was in the guy's band," says Linda Krupp, one of the Dally's originators.

The music has become such a big part of the Dally that in 2002, the Detroit Music Awards presented the Dally with a Lifetime Achievement award.

Every year, organizers receive approximately 80 submissions from bands only to turn away almost half of them. The Dally now features four different stages of music.

The Alley Stage offers local favorites from the rock scene while the Garden Stage features folk and country artists. The Forest Stage has everything from blues to funk to world music, and the Urban Stage (the most recent addition) features electronica and hip-hop.

"It started off as an art fair, and now it's a performing arts fair," says Schaerges.

All the musical acts who play the Dally do so for free. An amazing fact considering the caliber of music each year. Derrick May has played the festival, as have The Sights, The Hard Lessons and many other Detroit heavyweights. And it all started with Marcus Belgrave back in 1979.

In the beginning

The idea for an arts festival came from Cass Corridor resident Krupp, who was 28 years old and attending law school at WSU at the time. The city of Detroit was planning to purchase much of the property along Forest between Second and Third streets so that WSU could expand its campus. The university wanted to tear down many of the homes in favor of new development. This drew concerns from residents who were fearful of being forced out of their neighborhood. It seemed as if WSU would overtake and redevelop the entire community.

"Everybody was afraid (WSU) was going to take it as their domain and spread this way (south)," says Kennedy.

Krupp - along with neighbors Mike and Ursula Wells, Mary Mahoney, Carolyn Allen, Scott Decker, Lee Tillson and Gary Mundt wanted to keep the neighborhood intact. So they decided to hold a festival as a way to get people together and raise money to pay for court fees to fight WSU's plans. The group teamed up with the NCCU, and eventually the plan was defeated.

That first festival wasn't called Dally in the Alley. It was called Gallimaufry, a 16th century word used to describe a jumble of various things or people. Besides the art, there was an "Ugliest Pet" contest, and a ceremony of sorts in which an old foreign car that was donated was smashed with sledgehammers. This was the 1970s after all, and this is Detroit.

"We were kind of irreverent," says Krupp. "We were fighting City Hall.

"The motivation (to hold a festival) was to raise money to fight WSU's development plans, but I have to admit, I always wanted to do something like that. I thought it would be fun."

In 1982 the festival moved into the alley that snakes through the block bounded by Forest, Hancock, Second and Third. That year, the festival's organizers obtained a liquor license and renamed their yearly party Dally in the Alley after a medieval drinking song. They put up a stage and added concession vendors as well as other merchants.

"It (the alley) seemed like a better place," says Schaerges. "Putting it in the alley made it seem more crowded. And it gave us a reason to clean out our garages."

Of the 1982 festival, Schaerges says, "We really knew we had something then."

And from there the event continued to grow. With the addition of music came additional attendance. And by 1997, the Dally had gotten so big that it spilled over from the alley back onto the surrounding streets.

Today, stages and vendors now line Forest, Second and Hancock in addition to that alley.

Growing up without selling out

Since that little art fair nearly 30 years ago, the Dally in the Alley has grown to become an end-of-summer institution in the Cass Corridor.

The Dally now gets 30,000 visitors each year. But the most amazing thing about the Dally's success is that its organizers have never done much to advertise it, and it has never had corporate sponsorship.

"The atmosphere is just much different at a corporate festival," says Connie Mangilin, chairperson for the Dally in the Alley. "We have more control over festival decisions. We don't have to answer to someone whether we can do this or that. The main reason is to keep the integrity of the festival."

Indeed, there are few corporate festivals where you'll find the Dally's eccentric characters, such as the lemonade vendor who blesses each pitcher of his lemonade in a loud ornate ritual.

Schaerges says the group has received offers of corporate sponsorship, but, "It would change the whole nature of it. And nobody working on the Dally right now is interested."

A vendor's booth at the Dally costs between $75 and $150, significantly less than other area festivals, where renting a space can cost more than $1,000. All music acts perform for free, and everybody works on a volunteer basis. And the Dally has always been free admission.

According to Schaerges, the 2004 Dally made $5,000 after expenses, with most of the money coming from beer sales.

Dally policy requires that all the artists, musicians and vendors who participate in the festival be from Southeast Michigan, although organizers receive interested inquiries from artists, vendors and musicians from around the state and even outside of it.

"We have to turn down some good out-of-town artists and vendors because of that," says Mangilin. "But it's worth it."

More than a party

Proceeds from the Dally in the Alley benefit the NCCU. The organization that fought to keep the neighborhood standing uses the money to fund such things as environmental litigation against the Detroit Trash Incinerator, to hire a private security company to patrol the area at night, for trash and snow removal, to care for vacant properties and to fund scholarships to neighborhood children who want to attend the Cass Corridor's Art Center Music School. In the works is a plan to light the alleys in the neighborhood to make it safer for residents when walking to and from their houses and apartments.

Asked if she ever thought her and her friends' little festival would grow to become what it has, Krupp says, "Certainly not."

And NCCU President Kennedy says, "No matter how excited the crowd gets there has always been a good feel."

Those who can be seen enjoying themselves in the alley range from the neonatal to the elderly, from those who are attending their first Dally to those who have been at every one since 1978.

"It's still a lot of the tie-dyed hippie crowd," Schaerges says. " (We saw them) pushing their children in their baby carriages, now (they're pushing) their grandchildren."

Indeed, for those who started the festival almost 30 years ago, the Dally has become somewhat of a yearly reunion. Many of those 20-somethings who started it have moved out of the area, or as tends to happen, have lost touch with each other. But the Dally brings them all back.

While that first little block party hardly resembles the huge festival the Dally has become, that spirit hasn't changed a bit. It's still just a block party in nature.

"For the first one we had T-shirts made that said, 'North Cass has class,' written in 27 different languages," says Krupp. "We still have them, and me and my husband wear them every year. We don't wear them any other time."

For a complete schedule of performances at the Dally, please see the print edition of The Record, or

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