The Fate of Dexter Daze Hangs in the Air
By Doug Marrin
The Dexter Daze Committee has requested a permit for the use of Monument Park and closure of Central St. adjacent to the park for the 2021 Dexter Daze Festival scheduled for August 13 & 14. The City Council discussed the application at its February 22, 2021, meeting.
The popular event is the much-anticipated climax of many fun festivities held in the Dexter area during the warm summer months, all of which were cancelled last year. Dexter Daze is held the second weekend in August. Vendors and artisans from across the state reserve a coveted booth space months in advance for the chance to mix with the people attending the festival.
August is still a long way off, but the planning for Dexter Daze is already underway. As Tracy Lambert, Chair of the Dexter Daze Committee, told the Council, “We’re already behind in our planning. It takes months to line up vendors and organize the activities.”
While time is of the essence, in this time of COVID planning anything months in advance requires courageous and glass-half-full prognosticating. Last year was easy—cancel everything. This year, however, the cases and deaths are down and expected to continue in that direction. But new strains of the virus conjoined with a slow and disappointing vaccine distribution have placed brooding question marks tumbling around in our sunny summer skies.
Along with a refreshing optimism about COVID safety guidelines being lifted by August, the Dexter Daze Committee also emphasized adherence to any restrictions that may still be in place. Their application states, “this permit is based on the assumption that all will be back to normal by August. It is also based on the assumption that we will adhere to any guidelines in place thru the State or CDC at that time and will adjust the event accordingly.”
Mayor Keough recognized the Committee’s need for the permit to begin organizing but also acknowledged the prevailing uncertainty of summer events. “I'm trying to make sure that we're leaning towards allowing this to happen,” he said during the Council’s discussion. “It would be great if we could return to more normal activities. I still think, however, there needs to be an air of caution on it.”
One of the significant issues for the Council is the Dexter Daze Social Tent, where people historically gather “elbow to elbow and shoulder to shoulder,” as Councilmember Cousins described it. A caveat here is that the Social Tent is not a function of the Dexter Daze Committee. Another local group applies for the permit and operates the tent. While a concern in itself and its sponsors, the Social Tent is a non sequitur for the Council when considering the Dexter Daze Committee application. As disappointing as it would be, Dexter Daze could still go on if the Social Tent could not be safely regulated.
Another concern raised in the Council discussion was food safety, to which Lambert replied, “I do still anticipate having food vendors. That's a big part of the festival. People enjoy these vendors. I think the way that it will be handled or monitored would be coming from the Health Department.”
Last year, Tracy and the Committee submitted a plan that incorporated CDC public safety measures to restrict the spread of the virus. Even though Dexter Daze was cancelled for 2020, the group kept the plan and is ready to implement it this year as required.
The problem for the Council is the idea of permitting an unpredictable event. During the discussion, suggestions were made on booth spacing and arrangement, safety restrictions enforcement, and controlling the number of people allowed into the Social Tent.
Councilmember Knight asked Lambert when she needed a decision. “I would need to know by March,” answered Lambert. “We need a lot of sponsors. We need a lot of booths. We need to pay for a lot of things.”
Councilmember Griffin recognized the hesitancy by Council to approve the permit as Dexter Daze has been run in the past but encouraged both the Council and Dexter Daze Committee to get creative in finding a way to proceed with the festival.
“Maybe we can’t do it the way we have in the past, but can we re-imagine it,” suggested Griffin. “I am more than willing to re-imagine Dexter Daze in a way that takes some or all of the components in their original form or a modified form, as long as it’s meaningful to the Dexter Daze Committee to be putting in the time and effort.”
“I think we can look at our last year's modified plan to answer a lot of your questions,” Lambert concluded. “I'm hearing many of you guys want to support this, and obviously, so do we.”
Lambert also pointed out that surrounding communities are moving forward with their summer events. Chelsea is planning its Sights and Sounds Festival and its fair in September. Lambert suggested the City choosing a representative to work with the Committee to satisfy both parties’ objectives.
The Council voted to postpone a decision on the permit until March to get specific information on safety protocols and other standards for the event.