Is Dexter Daze in Peril?

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| 3 min | by Doug Marrin |

Yes. Dexter Daze, the little festival with a big heart, is in jeopardy of being cancelled but not if the committee in charge has their way.

Dexter Daze Committee President Tracy Lambert spoke to the Dexter City Council at their May 11, 2020 meeting asking them to approve the necessary permit for the summer festival held annually in downtown Dexter. Should restrictions be lifted sometime between now and then, the committee wants everything in place to move quickly so that Dexter may yet enjoy its popular summer event.

“Our committee is hopeful,” said Tracy in a follow-up email. “We know that the state has requirements for opening up safely, and we are hopeful that it won’t take as long as needed to open Michigan back up.”

Covid-19 has become the reason why we can’t have nice things. As everyone is well aware, executive orders by the Governor to mitigate the spread of the novel virus have closed many businesses and restricted public movement and interaction. Summer events from private weddings to community festivals are being cancelled as a result.

For decades, Dexter Daze has been held the second weekend of August every year centered in Dexter’s Monument Park with satellite locations around town as the event has grown. The festival brings artisans from around the state as well as entertainers and a variety of food trucks serving up unique street food.

Tracy explains that there are vendors who count on festival proceeds to contribute to their livelihood. Non-profit groups also use Dexter Daze to raise money for local community support. The event contracts over $40,000 a year to performers, entertainers, and other providers who supply services or rentals for the festival, all who use these funds to support their families. 

“The festival supports many people, businesses, and groups,” says Tracy. “The festival may come across as a fun event, a party, something nonessential, but it is far from that, (although it is VERY FUN too!)  This is why we love doing what we do and why we are hopeful that we will be able to continue with the event.”  

During her update to City Council, Dexter City Manager Courtney Nicholls reported that the Sheriff’s Office is uncomfortable signing off on the Dexter Daze permit due to the uncertainty of what social measures will be in place to enforce come August.

The Sheriff’s Office is using the six phases of Governor Whitmer’s “MI Safe Start Plan.” According to the plan, Michigan is currently in phase 3 where the curve of new cases flattens. Large gatherings would not be allowed until phase six.

“Large gatherings like Dexter Days wouldn’t be allowed until phase six, which takes effect when there is either a vaccine or a treatment available,” Nicholls explained to the Council. “I would assume we’re going to be in phase five for the foreseeable future because that’s where things are basically reopened, but still no large gatherings are allowed.”

While the Dexter Area Fire Department signed off on the permit, feedback from the county health department concurred with the Sheriff’s Office and pointed to a number of events that have been cancelled in the area: Art Fair, Sights and Sounds, and Top of the Park.

The City Council could approve the Dexter Daze permit without the Sheriff’s approval, but this will be an uphill battle for the Dexter Daze Committee.

“I have to say that I’m not really comfortable with this,” said Mayor Keough. “We’re only at stage three, flattening the curve, and we don’t know when we’re going to be at stage four or five, let alone six. I’m not in favor of supporting this, especially if the Sheriff is uncomfortable with it.”

Councilmember Scott Bell echoed Mayor Keough’s thoughts. “I seriously doubt we’re going to be in phase six in three months. I don’t think we should be encouraging this right now.”

“It is very, very sad to think that the festival could not happen this year,” says Tracy. “It is very, very sad to hear the City’s apprehension on approval of a permit for a festival that is scheduled in August.”

Tracy wants to make it clear that the committee is not insisting that Dexter Daze happens at all costs regardless of coronavirus mitigation measures that may be in place in August. But for planning purposes, if the City of Dexter grants the permit, vendors and participants will be more likely to commit. Then, if social conditions open at some point and allow for large group gatherings, plans will be in place rather than having to start organizing from scratch, which couldn’t be done. Ultimately, the social restrictions at the time will determine whether the Dexter Daze takes place.

She adds, “We absolutely agree that making the best decision for our community’s safety is important, but we don’t know what the following months leading up to August will bring.  For now, we are hoping that the City will approve the permit on May 26th, so that should it be safe we can hold the event in August.” (emphasis hers)

One idea would be postponing Dexter Daze instead of an outright cancellation as suggested by Community Development Manager Michelle Aniol at the meeting. “Maybe rescheduling it into the fall when we have more concrete details and information on holding larger gatherings. Maybe by then, we would be in that final phase of the Governor’s plan.”

It’s an idea Tracy and the committee is already working on. They are reaching out to other summer/fall events to explore the possibility of combining their celebrations into an even larger festival.

“We are not naive to COVID19 and what is going on,” emphasizes Tracy. “We are taking the steps necessary to support the festival for our people should we be allowed to have one.”

“Our message is that we need the City to be on board with this,” concludes Tracy. “We need our police to be on board with this. Dexter Daze supports so many people, and if we have a chance to continue to do that, we want it.”