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Marche du Nain Rouge

Driving the devil out of Detroit

By John Q. Horn

By John Q. Horn

It’s symbolism at its finest.

The Marche du Nain Rouge — now only in its second year in 2011 — is a colorful, festive parade/march through the Cass Corridor, whereby participants banish the mythical deity believed to be the root of Detroit’s problems.

The “Nain Rouge,” (English translation: red dwarf) is an imaginary-being-come-to-life that, through folklore, is identified as the little devil that has haunted Detroit for more than three centuries. Revelers gather in the Corridor to march down Cass Avenue mid colorful costumes and, this year, hand-crafted chariots, chanting and taunting this red beast, until they arrive in Cass Park, where the effigy is burned and the party begins.

It works this way:

  • Participants meet at Third Street Bar at 1 p.m. on 3/20. An individual dressed as the Nain Rouge will appear in costume and will be playfully chased down the Corridor as the march begins.
  • In a new twist this year, no less than 10 chariots — hand-crafted and non-motorized — created by various community groups, will lead the way, along with the Detroit Marching Band.
  • The Nain will taunt them as they go, until they reach Cass Park at 3 p.m. A quick ceremony will follow, and an effigy of the Nain, long-believed to be the symbol of the negative events that have haunted Detroit for approximately 300 years, will be burned.
  • The Cass Park Festival will begin after that. The same drinking and mirth that started the march at Third Street Bar will continue in the park through 7 p.m. Individuals, families, well-behaved dogs on leashes and those with rich imaginations are welcomed.

Peter Van Dyke is the organizer of the 2011 March. He says they expect close to 1,000 people, up considerably from last year’s inaugural event, where approximately 300 attendees turned out. He looked to community groups when considering the chariots.

“We wanted to get the community involved,” Van Dyke says. “We wanted to have them create chariots that were appropriate for the folkloric atmosphere of the Marche. They can make the chariot any way they want. The only requirement is that it is man-powered.”

The event itself is richly unique. Where else can you find revelers marching down Cass Ave., in full costume and regalia, heading to the park to torch the very effigy that represents the ills that plague the city? For Van Dyke, the Marche is all about what the Nain represents and the crowd’s reaction/response to doing away with what they feel is the little devil on the city’s shoulder.

“The symbolism is rooted in a negative story. The Nain Rouge is the impetus behind Detroit’s most notorious events. It’s taking the most negative parts of Detroit and making it a positive,” Van Dyke says.

Following the ceremony, the festival will include performances by DJ Big Time America, as well as bands Golden and Car Parts. The Detroit Brewing Company will roll out the event’s signature beer, Detroit Dwarf. Food, courtesy of Avalon and Slow’s To Go, will also be available. Other restaurants/community businesses will have special events and discounts. For more information on who is doing what, visit marchedunainrouge.com.

There is no cost to participate in the Marche and festival, but food and beer tickets are $3 each. Two tickets get you a sandwich; one ticket, a beer.

Canton resident Jenna Petroskey was at last year’s event, and plans on attending this year as well.

“I love the quirky, uniquely Detroit nature of the Marche,” she says. “One of the other things I loved about the Marche is the diverse crowd it drew. ”

Story previously published by Real Detroit Weekly Magazine. Photo courtesy of  Peter Van Dyke.

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