This most charming of area festivals, a regular street party spectacle each Labor Day weekend, almost didn't happen this year.
Constraints in the Hamtramck city budget meant events programmer Eve Doster, who guided successful Paczki Day and Blowout weekends, was not retained. Fans of the festival -- and we are many -- feared the worst.
Enter Kathleen Bittner and Rachel Srodek, two young Hamtramck women with business savvy and a knack for party promotion. They came up with a plan to grab the festival by its grass roots and replant it the same way they say the late Robert Kozaren did in 1980, when he helped steer the good times back to a city devastated by the loss of the iconic Dodge Main. The plant, which straddled the city's southern boundary with Detroit before closing in January 1980, was Hamtramck's largest manufacturer and biggest taxpayer. It was also an industrial architectural gem, another building designed by the master of that art, Albert Kahn.
Bittner, whose parents own and operate the Polish Art Center
, says it was Kozaren's "love and hope for the city that became contagious and was felt throughout the community. He wanted to show that even without Dodge Main Hamtramck could still survive." It did indeed, 30 years later still a dynamic, bustling enclave made up of first-, second- and -third generation immigrants, families originated in Poland, Bangladesh, Yemen, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere from around the world. Add to that fine artists, musicians, writers, graduate students, college professors, urbanists and other unclassifiable hipsters (or not) and you've got a pretty good start on a sustainable global vibe. It's definitely here, and visible, on a daily basis.
Srodek is also from a Hamtramck family with a record of business success in the city. Her in-laws started Srodek's Campau Quality Sausage in the early 1980s and she now works in the store with her husband, father- and mother-in-law. Her dad, a former Hamtramck council member, also has promoted bands at the neighborhood club the Polish Sea League, managed by the family for decades.
"We want to bring back the community feel to the Hamtramck Festival
," Srodek says. "To go back to the beginning and get people involved who feel passionate about the city."
Perfectly said. We like the blueprint. Add performers like 1960's garage rock-soul giant Mitch Ryder
(factoid: he was born in Hamtramck's St. Francis Hospital in 1945), the Luddites, Howling Diablos, Polish Muslims, Swinging Chopin and the Displays; not to mention some straight polka and polka-rock hybrids, and you've got the start of a pretty good party. Plus food, beer, a parade on Labor Day itself, carnival midway rides and people of all colors and creeds and -- bingo! -- it'll be hard to leave once you get on the pedestrian-only grounds, on Jos. Campau north of Caniff. Look for the premium Sobieski Vodka -- one of the festival sponsors this year.
Sept. 4-6 in Hamtramck. Come early, stay late. Have big fun under sun and moon. Walter Wasacz is FilterD editor. He thinks globally but likes to party in the community. Send feedback here.