Once a year at summer’s end, the good people of the North Cass community put together an event in the I-shaped alley bordered by Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Hancock and Forest that really makes you feel proud to be from Detroit. The Dally in the Alley, which started as a five-person barbecue, has grown into a multistage block party, where up to 25,000 individuals converge to socialize, people watch and experience some of the city’s most absorbing new art, music, film, fashion, food and poetry.
The Articles, Mudpuppy, Give, Stunning Amazon, Robert Jones, DJ Assault, Champtown w/D’Phuzion, Derek Plaslaiko and Keith Kemp are just a few of the artists scheduled to perform at the 23rd annual Dally, which goes from 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Saturday. The ambient funk of Soul Clique will close out the Main Stage on Forest at 10 p.m. And you’ll find the Atomic Numbers rock kickin’ on the Alley Stage at closing time. Flamenco dancing, poetry, flea markets, food, wine, a children’s fair, art exhibits and film have found their way into the alley as well.
A gathering supported by volunteerism and spread by word of mouth, the event isn’t advertised and shuns corporate sponsorship. Located just south of Wayne State University, the area has always been a hub of art culture, drawing creative folk to its historic apartments, restaurants, galleries and music venues.
The North Cass Community Union, which organizes the Dally every year, formed in 1978 to save the beautiful buildings in the area from demolition. The union recently bought a plot of land near Second and Hancock and plans on rebuilding the Horace Dodge Garage, a Michigan historic landmark built in 1904 where Dodge, Henry Ford’s chief engineer, worked on his first motor car.
“(The Dally’s) a great mix of old and new,” says Alan Franklin of the Layabouts, a band that has played the festival since the early years. The eclectic ska-punk group has been a strong voice in the community for almost 20 years, using music as a medium for political activism.
“It’s one of those things where if you haven’t seen someone in 15 years, you’re bound to see them there,” Franklin explains. The Layabouts aren’t playing this year’s Dally, however. The organizers wanted to keep space open for new artists.
“It’s not a strict policy,” says Saule Jackunas, one of the event’s organizers. “We get hundreds of tapes and CDs from Michigan bands. You can only book so many people from 11 (a.m.) to 11 (p.m.). So we generally say that if you played last year, (you won’t this year). We’re keeping it open for new people.”
Jackunas isn’t too worried about possible disappointment from individuals expecting to see old favorites from Dallies past.
“In terms of music, the draw people have is that they know they’ll have an opportunity to see new bands they haven’t heard of,” she says.
One of the bands playing this year for the first time is the rock-heavy Atomic Numbers, a group of guys who continue to shock audiences with their talent and sharpness no matter how many times you’ve seen them. They’ve been out of town for a while, a tour here, a vacation there, but they’ll all meet at the Alley Stage at 10 p.m., Saturday.
Atomic Numbers drummer Matt Aljian is resting in California at the moment, but he let me know that the Atomic Numbers were submitted and chosen by some “secret, high-powered panel” and that they might play a few new tunes if they come up with any by the date.
Jackunas is looking forward to the Dally because she knows it means she’ll run into old friends.
“I grew up and lived in the Detroit area for most of my life. The Dally is representative to a lot of people that at one time a year you’ll see 30 to 50 people you used to know, go to high school with. It’s kind of a reunion of sorts of downtown Detroit people, people you used to hang out with atSt. Andrew’s or Bookies. They’ve grown up and gone on to do different things, but they make it a point to come back for the Dally.”