I have always been a fan of electronic dance music (EDM). I remember the days of going to the Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF) at Hart Plaza and dancing my face off to music I never got to hear otherwise. But eventually, DEMF turned to Movement, clubs now play EDM, and you can’t turn on the radio without hearing something by Calvin Harris.
Enter the Charivari Festival at Belle Isle.
The Charivari festival is an EDM festival spanning two days and featuring local artists from Detroit. This year – August 1st and 2nd – it took over a section of Belle Isle by Lake Takoma from noon until 10pm each day. Its line-up featured 83 predominantly local, Detroit DJs with many different styles, so you were bound to find something that grooved you.
The best part about this festival is that it was and IS free! There is small charge for a park pass ($11), as Belle Isle is now a state park, but parking and the event, itself, are totally free. They have a fence to separate the festival from the people who came to barbecue in the park, but the fences do not keep anyone from enjoying the music or seeing the sites while they play catch or have a picnic. Tents and hammocks were set up outside the festival gates, and people of all ages were enjoying the music while spending time with their friends and family. The atmosphere of the entire festival – inside and out – was very chill while still managing to get people hyped up and dancing to the beats.
Charivari is only in its second year, so the festival is small, but growing. It has already outgrown its original location at Milliken State Park, and this year estimated seeing upwards of 17,000 people. Its four stages and row of vendors and food trucks covered only a portion of Belle Isle that you could walk in under 10 minutes.
Its small size is truly the beauty of the event. This is a festival where you can actually participate in the music. There were no massive, unreachable stages or pavilions filled with bouncers that separate you from the DJ. There was only a tent or platform, some speakers, and you. When I heard a sound I liked, I did not need to rely on the itinerary to figure out who was spinning. I walked right up to the area around the DJ booth and speak with one of the people working the event. Everyone I spoke to was very excited to tell me who the DJ was and that he was from Detroit.
On Saturday night, Detroit group, Golf Clap, tore it up on the Land Stage with a sound like midnight on party night – amped up and ready to go. Local DJ, Jay Daniel, took the speakers at the Red Stage
around 8pm, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect setting. His subtle grooves were like dusk – easy not mellow, chilling out but not winding down. The willow trees swaying over the shoreline framed the perfect setting for a beautiful night. It was easy to get lost in the music while looking over the lake to see the Detroit Princess float by to the beat. People were dancing or milling about, and group of small kids around age 7 were having a dance off in the middle of the dance floor among adults cheering and dancing along.
Sunday afternoon brought an amazing set in the Band Shell by influential Detroit DJ Mike Grant. The music rose and fell like a great end-of-summer party where you want to get it all out because you know that winter is coming.
Vendors and artists lined Loiter Way, which was safely closed off to traffic both days. Companies like Breathe in Detroit and Slow’s BBQ mixed with live artists and festival sponsors like LA Fitness and DTE to truly round out the festival vibe. Most vendors took credit cards, but the alcohol vendors were cash only.
According to , the festival was named for the middle ages word describing a loud public ritual, but I think this festival is a lot more than that. This whole festival is about good music and good community – not about selling a brand. This is an event to bring Detroit together. Charivari is taking back the electronic music scene in a big way and bringing the music to all people.