For many years now (after the Vernal Equinox) Rock City has hosted a parade were crowds gather in costumes to chase a mythical creature (a.k.a. Nain Rouge) out of town. The parade is a sort of symbolic liberation from that year's failures, with Nain playing the part of antagonistic bad guy. In short, Detroit literally chases out the bad vibes via a huge, city-wide parade and then has a big party.
With the Marche Du Nain Rouge just two weeks away I asked Detroit native, author, weird lecturer, and Ghost Stalkers star, John. E.L. Tenney, how to get in on all the revelry without looking like a total tourist.
The Nain Rouge and the city of Detroit have had a long and sordid past, but it wasn’t always that way. Nain Rouge, which literally translates into “red dwarf” was originally though to be a protector of Detroit... unfortunately, that didn’t last for poor old Nain.
“The Nain has caught a bad rap over the years because he is historically the herald of bad tidings,” Tenney explained. “Local legend has it that he is sometime seen right before some kind of major crisis happens. The original inhabitants of Michigan thought of the Nain as a protector Earth-Spirit who could not physically interact with our world but he could give advance warning to the peoples of the area. When Cadillac and the French came to Detroit the non-Judeo-Chrisian earth spirits were relegated as demons and devils. So it's actually the European settlers who were d*cks.”
The plot thickens...
It’s said Nain Rouge has been spotted hanging about during some pretty awful points in Detroit’s history. There were multiple Nain Rouge sightings during the great fire of 1805, which leveled much of the city in an entire afternoon. He was also spotted the day before the 12 Street Riot, and even so recently as 1996, when a group leaving a bar saw him fleeing from the scene of a burglary. Nain really gets around.
Today Nain Rouge has been labeled an official disturber of the peace, and it’s the job of the citizens of Detroit to come together to collectively will his bad mojo out of the city... at least until next year, when they do it all over again.
So since this is our first Nain Rouge Marche where do we start?
“The parade begins near Traffic Jam and Snug, which is a great place to start drinking and get sweet potato fries, then I suggest people make their way to Corktown and have some Mac & Cheese at Slows Bar BQ. Then stumble around to Gold Cash Gold, Green Dot Stables, and finally PJ's Lager House so you can see a bunch of old Detroit Punks sitting around acting like old Detroit Punks.”
For a first timer to the march, what are the customary formalities one should observe?
“Anything goes for attendees. People dress up in red masks, usually devil masks, or they wear horns. Red clothing is most customary, some people go full on Mardi Gras and are decked out in feathers and beads. For the protestors, such as myself, we just carry signs that try and inform the paraders as to why they are mistaken about our city's little hero.”
Finally, after the parade, where are the best places you should go to continue spreading the revelry (or protest)?
“Detroit has a lot of great bars and restaurants but the surrounding suburbs have some amazing places too. People can head into Ferndale and get their food on at the newly opened Zeke's Bar-B-Que or the never disappointing The Fly Trap. Just a few more miles north is Royal Oak where Gusoline Alley has the best jukebox and cheapest drinks, if the Nain Rouge hangs out anywhere...it's Gusoline Alley."
So there you have it, your guide to celebrating Nain Rouge this year like a bonafide Detroiter. Regardless of whether you think Nain is a total jerk or just a mislabeled hero, the event is a seriously enviable city festival absolutely worth attending. Special thanks to John E.L. Tenney for the amazing grub suggestions, history lesson, and the alternative perspective on Detroit's little red devil.