Starting tomorrow, the Spirit Festival will be celebrating 25 years this weekend at 1801 N. Beech Daly (one block south of Ford Road).
Antonio’s Cucina Italiana will return for the eighth year as the major sponsor for Dearborn Heights’ Spirit 2011, which will have the celebrating of its 25th year as the festival’s official theme for this year, said Parks and Recreation Director Kenneth P. Grybel.
“It’s been a great partnership, and I hope it continues for years to come,” Grybel said. “What we attempted to do this year, and I think we were very successful, is we wanted to create a ‘Best of Spirit.’ entertainment-wise.”
Grybel and Entertainment Chair Gerry Willemse had reviewed the different acts the Spirit Festival has engaged over the past 25 years, and after ruling out the groups no longer together today, the city went after the ones that had shown the most appeal over the years. Kentucky Chrome, an Ohio country band from the Toledo-Cleveland region, “a band that we had last year that people just raved about, probably the best we ever had,” Grybel said, will return to close out Friday night for the June 8-12 festival.
The Phenominals first got started several years ago by performing for the Festival after the parade on Community Night, according to Grybel. Originally students at Crestwood High School, he said, the band went on to success as professionals after high school, so they have been invited back as the close-out band for Thursday night.
The Taste of the Heights is the main event for Thursday, Grybel said, and always follows the theme of the Festival, “so the room will be decorated in such a way that it will reflect the 25th anniversary.” The 6-8 p.m. event in the Canfield Community Center will cut off ticket sales at 7:30 p.m. The fund-raiser for the Spirit Festival seems to draw the same food vendors year after year.
“It helps us pay for it (the festival), and all of the food that is provided at this event is all donated, the staff that are there are all donated—all volunteers or staff donated by all the restaurants participating–and we pretty much have all the standards back: Antonio’s, Mexican Fiesta, Jimmy John’s, Warren Valley Banquet Center, Lona’s Pizza,” Grybel said. “The list goes on and on, and I’ve yet to see anybody feel that they’ve gotten cheated.”
An 5-6 p.m. event that has proved very popular for years, cultural Middle Eastern dance demonstrations put on by Star Academy schoolchildren, he said, will be followed by the Phenominals at 6 p.m. Since it was thought that people coming from the food fest will probably not be ready to dance, a 7:30 p.m. “sit-down” performance will follow until 8:30 p.m. with Johnny Ginger doing the family variety show he has performed in Las Vegas, New York and Florida.
“A lot of people might say, Johnny Ginger, that’s his son, or I wonder if that’s a relative of Johnny Ginger I remember when I was a kid,” Grybel said. “No, this is the authentic Johnny Ginger.
“Johnny Ginger, for the baby boomers, was a way of life. Everybody watched Soupy Sales at eight o’clock, Johnny Ginger at nine, and then Mom took over the TV with Rita Bell’s Prize Movie. It’s going to be almost like a nightclub type atmosphere, you’re going to be entertained, there’s going to be singing, dancing, comedy, he does it all,” Grybel said.
The Phenominals will then return from 8:30-10 p.m. to close out Thursday. The stage will open up at 5:30 p.m. Friday with Zumba exercise demonstrations, to promote the recreation department’s exercise through dance program.
As Kentucky Chrome takes the stage from 6-10 p.m., the Crestwood Cheerleaders will be holding their own fundraiser on Friday, the fifth annual Pasta and Pizza Feast in the air-conditioned Canfield Community Center. The 5-7 p.m. meal will raise funds for the Cheerleaders’ competitions.
Also starting at 6:15 p.m. Friday, softball will commence on on the Central Park Softball Field (adjacent to the Canfield Ice Arena, right behind the last ride of the midway). Dearborn Heights Police will play the Fire Department in their Softball Challenge, sponsored by the Rotary Club. The Mason-Moore Softball Tournament played throughout Saturday and Sunday will also have “bragging rights for a year” at stake in this year’s festival.
Also on Friday, for the second straight year, Grybel said that senior citizens intimidated by large crowds in the evening can get their taste of Spirit more with their own “Celebrate Our Seniors” segment from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Purchasing a ticket entitles a senior to free transportation to the festival from Eton and Berwyn Senior Centers by air-conditioned charter buses, a catered luncheon, free bingo by the Kiwanis Club, an anniversary waltz with prizes, and entertainment.
A dozen sponsors will provide giveaways, and local comedian Ellen Chene with “show the lighter side of life through laughter.” Grybel said only 25 of the total 250 tickets remain for sale, and must be purchased in advance only by seniors age 55 and up at either Eton or Berwyn Centers (open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday).
Tickets to the Taste of the Heights will be $6 ($4 for those age 3-12, free to those under age 3), and will be sold at the Canfield Community Center, or at the Eton and Berwyn Centers. Tickets will also be sold at the door, but those purchasing tickets in advance can stand in line to enter the food fest without having to stand in line for tickets as well. Tickets for the Pasta and Pizza Feast will be $8 at the door ($6 for age 55 and up or age 3-12, free for those under age 3).
Another event that has become a key tradition of the Festival through the years, Grybel said, is Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. The 2 p.m. “A Salute to Our Military, Past or Present” will feature patriotic tunes from the Ford Chorus, including the songs honoring all branches of the armed services.
Immediately following from 3:30-5:30 p.m. will be a polka band. Out of the few bands the Festival has engaged over the years, Grybel said, the first was Big Daddy & The La-Dee Da’s Polka Band.
“All you have to say is Big Daddy is going to be at your event, and the tent fills up,” Grybel said. “He’s in the Polka Hall of Fame.”
The biggest night of the festival has been Saturday, and this year it will showcase the group which has performed the longest for the Festival, “Steve King and the Dittilies.”
“They’ve been performing here for probably the past 20 years,” Grybel said. “It is a group that we’ve stayed with only because they keep it fresh.
“People look forward to seeing them here at our event. I think if we didn’t have them here, we’d actually get some complaints, so people can get their fill of Steve King and the Dittilies from 6:30-10 on Saturday evening,” Grybel said.
Sunday will feature the festival’s 25th annual Family Day, kicking off with the Sandy Adams Dance Revue. The local dance studio “will bring out all the cute little kids, both boys and girls fully costumed” in a mini-dance recital.
“Dixieland has always been synonymous with Spirit Fest, and we have what we think is one of the finest bands that you can find in the Detroit metro area, The Dixiecrats,” Grybel said. “So they’ll be playing from 2-4 (p.m.) beautiful Dixieland music.
“If you’re not familiar with Dixieland music, it’s music that you hear in New Orleans down in the South, it’s very uplifting and enjoyable music to listen to,” Grybel said.
Another event held at Spirit over the years that has not been seen in recent years is an Elvis Tribute, so an Elvis impersonator will perform from 4-5 p.m. Another Spirit tradition the past decade has been to close out the festival with a novelty band such as impersonators of the Backstreet Boys and the Eagles, Creed’s Clearwater Revival, and Motown Revue.
“We looked back at all of those and asked which one had the biggest appeal, which had the biggest attendance of all those we did over the past 10 years, and hands down, it was when we did our tributes to the Beatles,” Grybel said. “So we went and checked and sure enough, the Beat Club were still together and still performing, and we booked them as our close-out act for Spirit this year.”
Another tradition that has fallen by the wayside over the years has been the children’s tent. Grybel believes in past years this off-site entertainment stage did not draw kids more interested in riding all the rides. But this year, there will be a children’s tent on the front lawn of the Canfield complex for “times the kids get a little tired and need a break.”
Since Ronald McDonald was the children’s act that had the greatest appeal in past years, he will return to do his magic act from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Saturday.
“And with our local McDonald’s here in Dearborn Heights, we were able to secure him at no charge, which is of course a cost savings to Spirit,” Grybel said. “We did it during the dinner-eating hour, so kids could take a break and eat.”
In that same tent on Sunday, Home Depot will bring back the children’s craft shop it has been holding at Spirit for the past decades. From 3-6 p.m., children and their parents can use the hammers, nails and glue provided to make craft projects like tool boxes or birdhouses.
Community Night will stay in the same format for Wednesday night, Grybel said, featuring high school bands, jazz bands, and choral groups. The mayor’s walk was moved from Family Day to Community Night two years ago, he said, because it was considered a better fit (and also a better time of day if it should be very hot during the Festival)
But the walk has been pushed back to 7 p.m. this year to give people more time to come home from work (the free registration will be at 6:30 p.m., with an official t-shirt for the first 150 participants).
“We wanted it to be very inclusive because it’s a great event,” Grybel said about the one-mile non-competitive walk. “It’s mainly been designed to promote walking as a healthy form of exercise, though (Spirit Festival) is a community event, it’s still an extension of the Parks and Rec Department, and of course we are the proponents of health and fitness in the community.”
People attending the festival starting Wednesday night can park at the neighboring Crestwood High School, according to Grybel, or wherever they can find a spot in “some street parking, or there’s other areas people will find.” During the times of highest attendance, he said, a free shuttle service will be running from 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5-10 p.m. on Sunday.
People can park at the lighted Dearborn Heights Post Office parking lot, which will be monitored by city staff and regular police patrols. The shuttles will run every 10 minutes.
“It’s the most convenient way to ride to the festival because it picks you right at your car, and drops you off right in the center of the grounds,” Grybel said. “You don’t have to worry about driving around finding a spot; because on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night; parking is at a premium near the Festival grounds; so you can spend a lot of time around and getting frustrated, or you can go right over to the Post Office.”
Dearborn Heights’ largest amusement ride midway will offer “pay-one price” starting 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and again from 3-10 p.m. Friday, 1-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-10 p.m. Sunday. Pay-one price for all rides will be $14 Wednesday, $18 Thursday and Friday, and $20 Saturday and Sunday. Festival-goers can pick up a $4 coupon for pay-one-price Thursday at all city buildings, or download it off the city’s website for printing (the coupon is per-person, not per-family).
Each individual ride runs about $3 in price. On the weekend, as long as the pay-one-price wristband is not torn or stretched in transferring it to another person, Grybel noted, the wristband will still be good for rides even if a festival-goer leaves the grounds and comes back later. Over the years, the Freak Out has been the number one ride for the Spirit event, he said, and the carnival unit has also had the Thunder Bolt, Century Wheel, Raiders, as well as kiddie rides (train rides, Strawberry Go-Round, Bumble Bee Ride and Twirler).
“We’re very thrilled to have Mid-America Shows back again this year,” Grybel said. “Mid-America Shows has probably been with us for 15 years, they’re one of the most highly recognized and respected companies in the United States for their quality and their safety.”
Local groups having booths on the midway include District-7 Dads’ Club, Dearborn Heights Redskins Football, Dearborn Heights Chamber of Commerce, Dearborn Heights Raiders Football, Dearborn Heights Wrestling Club, Donovan VFW Post, and North Dearborn Heights Baseball League.
These vendors will be offering hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as halal meat. The public will be encouraged to take the non-returnable plastic bottles containing the water and Gatorade sold by vendors to a recycling center in front of Canfield (Waste Management will be providing a container there).
The face painter will be returning to the midway, and Power Jumping is back after being absent last year. Power Jumping participants will be outfitted with bungee cords, and will bounce up and down on trampolines.