Hazel Park

A cool way to heat up: Hazel Park's summer festival line-up complemented by young upstarts

For the past decade or so, Hazel Park’s summer festival season has been punctuated by two main events. The Hazel Park Memorial Weekend Festival opens things up with a multi-day carnival highlighted by the Memorial Day Parade, and the Hazel Park Art Fair, now in its eleventh year, signals the eventual transition from summer to fall. Each takes place at Hazel Park’s largest park, the 17.9-acre Green Acres Park in the city’s northwest corner. Lower profile, but no less important, community events come and go throughout the summer, but these two mainstays have established themselves as the events that draw the most attention – and people – to Hazel Park.

That all should change come the weekend of Saturday, June 24, and Sunday, June 25, as a new event, Sandbar Summerfest, looks to establish itself – and a different part of town – as yet another reason to visit this increasingly popular inner-ring suburb in Oakland County.

Eastern Palace Club and Smoked Lotus BBQ are located at 21509 John R Rd. in Hazel Park.“We were looking for a fun, unique way to let the neighborhood and let Hazel Park know that we're here,” says Mike Pierce, co-owner of the still relatively new Eastern Palace Club in Hazel Park’s South End. Sandbar Summerfest is presented by Eastern Palace Club and local alt-weekly Detroit Metro Times.

“We opened right in the middle of winter. So we were looking to create a huge, unique block party, essentially, to make a big announcement that we’re bringing something new and exciting to Hazel Park, and kick off the summer, in general. So we teamed up with Metro Times, who has a huge history of throwing massive and successful, fun and unique events. With our powers combined, we are super excited to really do our first big summer event.”

Pierce explains the vibe of Sandbar Summerfest as an outdoor extension of what they created inside the Eastern Palace Club, a former private social club and banquet hall-turned-Key West tiki bar. The festival itself will take place in their parking lot, on the adjacent Madge Avenue, and the neighboring parking lot across the street. A $5 cover is waived for children under 13 years old.

There will be food and artist vendors, family-friendly activities, and two days of concerts with a line-up of bands that dovetail nicely with a bar that aims to bring a touch of Key West to Hazel Park. That includes the Jimmy Buffet tribute band Air Margaritaville, the Grateful Dead tribute band Raising the Dead, and several more acts that offer live sets of yacht rock, reggae, and other island-inspired genres.

“We’re bringing that Key West-y spirit – fun, energetic, inclusive. Everyone has a great time when they're at the beach, and we're looking to just kind of do what we're doing inside and bring that outside,” says Pierce. “The beach vibes will be resonating throughout the neighborhood.”

'A down-home feeling'

While Pierce and company aim to establish the city’s South End as a destination for summer fun, the more traditional gathering space of Green Acres Park, with its abundance of mature, shady trees, and picnic areas and pavilions, remains a popular destination for events big and small. It’s not uncommon to stumble across reunions and impromptu get-togethers, or Pagan Pride Day, an all-day affair scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 19.

Jennifer Xerri of Starlily Creations shows off her wearable crochet art at the Hazel Park Art Fair in 2019. (Photo: Nina Ignaczak)The big (no cover) ticket event, of course, is the 11th annual Hazel Park Art Fair, which is organized by the Hazel Park Arts Council nonprofit organization. Scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 26, and Sunday, Aug. 27, the annual festival lines the shady walking lanes of Green Acres with more than 100 artist booths, local craft food and beverage makers, and a stage for live music. The event is free and open to the public.

The Hazel Park Art Fair routinely draws thousands of visitors to the neighborhood park, where visitors interact with the artists, makers, and musicians in a relaxed, no muss-no fuss vibe perfect for the end of summer. It’s no wonder that artists like Rebecca Sisler, artist and owner of Silver Gypsy LLC, looks forward to the Art Fair, year after year. And that's especially true for Sisler, who looks to return to selling her handmade jewelry at the Fair for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

Rebecca Sisler of Silver Gypsy LLC at the Hazel Park Art Fair in 2019. (Photo: Nina Ignaczak)

"The Hazel Park Art Fair is one of my favorites," says Sisler. "It has a down-home feeling that larger art fairs lack. And to be honest it is a show for upcoming artists."

Artist, food and beverage, and music line-ups for the 2023 Hazel Park Art Fair will be released later this summer, and can be followed along via the Hazel Park Arts Council website and social media accounts.

Artwork from Carl Oxley III at Green Acres Park. (Photo: Steve Koss)

Welcome to the South End

Back in the city’s South End, Sandbar Summerfest organizers are hoping to establish their corner of town as another go-to spot for outdoor events. In fact, they’re hoping to turn their stretch of John R between 8 and 9 Mile roads as a year-round destination unto itself. It’s where the name South End came from, says James Sikorsky, co-owner of Smoked Lotus BBQ, the barbecue joint that shares the building with Eastern Palace Club. The business owners here want to establish a more well-defined sense of place for their district, and it’s seeming like the name South End is going to stick.

The Smoked Lotus BBQ service window at Eastern Palace Club.

“We've branded and we're trying to continue to reinforce the branding of this area of Hazel Park as the South End. We're working with the city to help get that out, too,” Sikorsky says. The West End Hazel Park business coalition serves as an earlier established example of shaping a sense of place.

“A lot of cities have neighborhoods – I spent 10 years in Chicago and lived in Lakeview, I lived in Wicker Park, and a whole bunch of other places. It’s fun. It creates an air of community pride when you can say, ‘Hi, I live in South End, Hazel Park.”

There’s a lot happening here in Pierce and Sikorsky’s South End, to be sure. Across the street, BDT Smoke Shop readies their cannabis consumption lounge, Shredderz food truck gets closer to opening their permanent location in a renovated ice cream stand, and several more businesses have either recently opened or are nearly there.

Local business owners are also working toward establishing a social district here, Sikorsky says, where customers can grab alcohol to go and enjoy it on designated city streets and common areas. And the 2019 “road diet” of John R between 8 and 9 Mile roads helps, too, making the corridor more pedestrian-friendly for the businesses and their customers.

[Related: Read "Hazel Park hopes to spur downtown development with John R road diet" on Metromode.]

A Key West flag flying outside of Eastern Palace Club.The community block party that is Sandbar Summerfest is just the beginning, Pierce and Sikorsky say. Next year will be even bigger, Pierce attests, but this is a good start.

“The big part with us being not only business owners here in Hazel park but residents of Hazel Park, is that the city has been doing an incredible job with their local events," says Pierce. "They've just had a great Memorial Day Festival. We've got the Art Fair coming up. Lots of really cool things are consistently happening here in Hazel Park and so we were just looking to continue that.

“Let’s kick the season off with a bang and have this block party that celebrates Hazel Park. It’s going to be a very cool way to start summer.”

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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.