Everything You Must Do in Detroit This Spring
Spring is a much-welcomed time of renewal everywhere, but especially in Detroit, where the winters can be long, bitterly cold, and cloudy. The ability to finally step outside for an extended period of time without feeling existentially punished is greeted with appropriate fanfare in our fair city, with music festivals, film festivals, parades, and other delightful events. If you’re unsure how to make the most of your spring, here are our suggestions for the season.
The Ann Arbor Film Festival holds the excellent title of first experimental film festival in North America. Since 1963, the AAFF has sorted through piles of entries to find the most intriguing experimental and independent films in any category you desire, from narrative short films to documentaries to music videos. And it’s still wildly popular -- the AAFF was voted Best Film Festival in USA Today in 2019.
Cost: $12 per screening, $75 for a weekend pass, $125 for a full pass
Second and Canfield/Masonic Temple
The Marche du Nain Rouge feels a bit like Detroit’s Mardi Gras. The Nain Rouge is Detroit’s mythical harbinger of doom, so every year we throw an epic parade to chase him away. Literally anyone can join in, and you can expect people to go all out with floats, costumes, performances... the works, essentially. It really is a party in the streets, just with an additional burning of an effigy.
While our beloved Tigers’ first game of the season is technically on March 26 -- the earliest opening day ever in US baseball history -- Comerica Park will celebrate the Tigers’ first home game on the 30th. Let’s face it, the Tigers didn’t do... uh... great last year, but that just means there’s more to look forward to during the new season. Hopefully.
Cost: $35 and up
Third Man Records
The Krautrock movement of the 1970s was a fascinating and formative period for experimental rock. At the forefront of that movement was Can, whose albums Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi still remain highly influential. And Damo Suzuki was in Can just long enough to deliver the memorable vocals on those albums. These days, Suzuki has committed himself to improvisation and will be performing with both touring and local musicians.
Squarepusher is undoubtedly one of the most influential electronic musicians of the last thirty years. Which is why his return from a five-year hiatus with his new album release, Be Up a Hello, is such a huge deal. It’s definitely not often that you get to see this iconic producer do his thing in person.
Cost: $25 advance, $30 day of
The highly anticipated annual Freep Film Festival is, above all, a celebration of Detroit in film. The festival largely specializes in documentaries -- this year, the headliner is the world premiere of America, You Kill Me, which tells the story of Detroit LGBT rights activist Jeffery Montgomery. Also of note is a screening of the 1997 black comedy Grosse Pointe Blank, featuring a Q&A with its star, John Cusack.
Cost: $175 festival pass; $450 VIP pass; single admission varies by film
Explaining the Residents to the uninitiated is a daunting task. For starters, they’re a completely anonymous, highly experimental band that’s been around since the mid-60s. And their band members famously appear with giant eyeballs for heads, complete with a dainty top hat and cane. This particular tour is celebrating the anniversary of their album Duck Stab!. Trust us -- they’re cult heroes, and you should go.
Greek Town (Monroe Street)
On March 25, 1821, Greece declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Detroit’s Greek Independence Day Parade is one of the largest cultural parades in the country, with 5,000 people pouring into Greektown to celebrate. Expect music and dance and charming homemade floats.
Where are my Nedheads at? Okilly Dokilly is the world’s only Nedal band -- which, yes, does mean that they all dress up as Ned Flanders from The Simpsons and all their songs consist of actual Flanders quotes. Okilly Dokilly is one of those rare novelty bands who are incredible musicians and expertly enact their rock-solid gimmick, so don’t miss your chance to catch these neighborinos.
The Backwoods and Bonfires Festival is back, and this time they’ve relocated to Eastern Market. Backwoods’ lineup features both national acts and local favorites, with a special show of affection for rap artists. This festival is an excellent place to expect the unexpected -- especially since they’ll have “adult bouncy houses” for festival-goers.
Belle Isle has many gorgeous attractions, but perhaps one of the most underrated is the grand koi pond that lies between the Conservatory and the Aquarium. Taking advantage of the proximity to the Japanese holiday Children’s Day, Belle Isle celebrates placing the koi back in their lovely home with an afternoon festival dedicated to Japanese culture.
Ferndale Spring Fever had a hell of a debut last year, so it only makes sense that it would return for round two. The festival brings together incredible bills that expertly pairs national headliners like F**cked Up and the Black Lips with local favorites. And, excitingly, they’ve expanded the festival out from three days to almost two weeks! Get ready.
Ann Arbor / Detroit / Dearborn
The Cinetopia Film Festival scoops up their favorite films from some of the most elite film festivals existent -- Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, etc. -- and brings them to southeast Michigan for 10 days of incredible cinema. Whether you’re into documentaries or fiction, you’ll find something in the over 60 films Cinetopia presents. Plus, the festival tends to bring in directors and actors to discuss their work.
Cost: passes for $100 and up; $50 student pass; individual film tickets available
Suburban Collection Showplace (Novi)
Don’t have the budget to attend the Comic Con in San Diego? Never fear, because Detroit’s iteration will more than fill your appetite for nerdery. The epic three-day event has an artist alley, cosplay contest, an “anime room,” and, of course, panels with everyone from Alice Cooper to Phil Lamarr.
Cost: $30-40 per day, $85 for the weekend
To many, Memorial Day Weekend means one thing: Movement. The techno and electronic music festival is one of the biggest and most celebrated of its kind, and you’ll bump into people from all around the world who have come to Detroit to dance. The stacked line up includes Underworld, TOKiMONSTA, and Chris Lake. And definitely don’t sleep on the afterparties.
Cost: $99 and up per day, $209 and up for the weekend
Did you, too, feel infuriated when the White Tiger got more votes than freaking Chaka Khan?! If you’re scratching your head, congratulations -- you have not been pulled into America’s strangest reality competition, The Masked Singer. Imagine what would happen if Hollywood got their hands on Japanese mascots and stuffed T-Pain inside. Also, Nick Cannon, Ken Jeong, and Robin Thicke are all hanging out. That’s kind of the vibe.
Cost: $39.50 and up
Belle Isle is truly one of Detroit’s treasures, a gorgeous island that feels like a retreat. So, naturally, during the last weekend of May, it must become grounds for high-speed car racing. Since the race moved to Belle Isle in 1992, it’s become a tradition for many Detroiters. And you have to admit -- a grand prix is pretty exciting.
Cost: Free Friday, $55-$110 for Saturday or Sunday
Motor City Pride is the largest Pride celebration in Michigan, attracting over 40,000 people to Hart Plaza. While Motor City Pride carves out a space for a vigil to recognize violence against the LGBTQ+ community, Pride is a celebration at its core, and this one pulls out all the stops -- with several stages of live music, food and drink vendors, a parade, and more.
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