“Dally is essentially the original Pop-up,” says Adriel Thornton. The veteran event coordinator and media guru has been volunteering his support to the annual street party for several years, and isn’t surprised by its perseverance.

This Saturday, in the Cass Corridor, between Forest & Hancock, and 2nd & Anthony Wayne, the 40th annual Dally in the Alley returns to push the boundaries of summer festival season. The free, community-organized festival runs all day (11am-11pm) with four individual stages filled with lineups of local bands, musicians and DJs, along with several food vendors and lots of artist booths showing their crafts and wares in the open air.

“As a committee,” said Thornton, referring to a sizeable squad of fellow volunteer coordinators, “we always make sure to abide by the spirit of every other group (of volunteers) who has come before us. To this day, Dally remains free of corporate sponsorship. That’s not who we are; we’re beholden to this established identity that Dally has, and I think that keeps the vibe there. When you walk through Dally, you don’t see branded tents, or corporate signage, or anything that would make it feel different from past Dallys. We had 80,000 people come through last year, and yet it still felt neighborhoody, ya know?”

Staggered performances across four outdoor stages in the afternoon and into the late evening feature Honeybaby, MotorKam, LXL, Mother Cyborg, JUNGLEFOWL, Tart, Raven Love and the 27’s, Holly Bernt Band, and many more! Attendance levels have increased steadily over the past few years, but as Thornton emphasized, it still retains its signature authenticity, focusing on, and powered by, the community.

Defining the identity, the essence, or the story Detroit, that theme is sometimes taken on by businesses or organizations as a means to augment their brand, and that story is often under threat of being co-opted with sometimes (not always) self-serving intentions. Thornton, as he said about it being the original “pop-up,” clarifies that Dally doesn’t have any ulterior intentions. Just one:

“The mindset isn’t: ‘this is gonna fix Detroit…’ Our mission is to just create a platform for people to come and figure it out for themselves. Dally isn’t gonna fix Detroit, but that’s never been its mission; it’s never been the mission to attract people down here just so they can see how safe it is. That’s not the really the mission. It’s always been, first and foremost: ‘Let’s do something really, really fun, and make it something that we all would wanna go to, and then let that inspire people.”

And if more people attend Dally, make a deep connection to it, have a great time in the Cass Corridor and they experience Detroit in a unique way—then more power to that, said Thornton. That, still, isn’t the implicit mission. Starting in the late 70’s, Dally’s original organizers in the neighborhood came together with passions for social justice, eager to stoke community-empowerment, and a flourish a counterculture spirit that reinforced the togetherness and the distinctive identity of the neighborhood.

But as Dally’s grown, they haven’t lost sight of its roots: throwing a sensational block party – and celebrating local artists, music, food and culture. “It’s just to provide that platform for people,” said Thornton. “Let’s just entertain folks, and let’s have a good time.”

Large scale events, festivals, and gatherings might tide in a few more waves of concern than before with the last year or so, seeing an uptick in violent attacks that were either politically or idealistically motivated. And yes, you will likely see signs of solidarity for Black Lives Matter and Queer Lives Matter. But- Dally is not a political rally, and there isn’t any unified statement or agenda being presented. “We’re just a bunch of weirdos in a basement planning a party,” said Thornton. “I don’t think it’s purposeful to specifically respond to any current events. I think our response is really just to keep that spirit, from 40 years ago, still going today.”

Thornton is the PR/Marketing Chair for Dally, which is sponsored by the North Cass Community Union. Any funds raised during the weekend to go toward improving the quality of life for the members of the neighborhood. He has been with Dally for a while, but his substantial experience in large local entertainment events with lots of moving parts goes back to the early 2000’s, when he worked with the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. He also helped to coordinate Allied Media Projects for a couple years, and continues to plan events with The Fresh Media Group.

“I try to fill niches,” said Thornton, referencing his approach to events, including Dally. “That’s been my greatest strength; it’s to work on things that are sort of singular in what they are and can fill specific niches, and I’m never trying to work on anything that’s replicating something else.”

2017 DALLY IN THE ALLEY LINE-UP [BY STAGE]:

GARDEN
11:15 Honeybabe
12:15 Ahmi
1:15 Ian Lee Lamb
2:15 Mango Lane
3:15 Speak Easy
4:15 Teener
5:15 Malaya Watson
6:15 Pancho Villa’s Skull
7:15 Isles of ESP
8:15 ERODERS
9:15 Hazmat live

FOREST
11:30 Six and the Sevens
12:30 Holly Bernt Band
1:30 LXL
2:30 Anthony Retka’s Big Parade
3:30 Shay Lewis
4:30 ANCIENT LANGUAGE
5:30 Motorkam
6:30 Luis Resto
7:30 Abbe & Toth
9:00 Nyumba Muziki
10:00 Detroit Trio Live

ALLEY
12:00 Raven Love and the 27’s
1:00 Mega Powers
2:00 Valid
3:00 Vespre
4:00 CITIZEN SMILE
5:00 The Tapert Sparling Band
6:00 bigOmuziq
7:00 JUNGLEFOWL
8:00 We Are Culture Creators
9:00 Mother Cyborg
10:00 Tart

MCB
1:00 AKT
3:00 David Shettler
5:00 MINEDRAIN
6:00 Sax and Violence
7:00 Caleb Pepera
8:00 Lyrans
9:00 Adje

RSVP / More Details: Facebook 

Interview and words by Jeff Milo for PLAYGROUND DETROIT.
Photography credit, Brian Rozman Photography