The Marche du Nain Rouge is a 300-year-old tradition in Detroit centered around the idea that French settler and founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, encountered a little red dwarf, or “Nain Rouge”, and struck him with his cane. The Nain cursed Cadillac and his colony. The Marche brings revelers out to chase out the Nain Rouge and undo the Curse.
While the legend is old, the tradition and parade are new. It was “re-started” in 2010, with 400 revelers turning out to chase the Nain Rouge. This year, more than 3000 showed up.
Just after noon, people began gathering in the parking lot of Motor City Brewing. Some were dressed normally, while many wore costumes ranging from simple to incredibly elaborate. The most striking thing about the event was the representation of basically every single culture in Detroit, all together, all smiling, and all getting along wonderfully. The camaraderie was palpable.
The Marche is similar to Mardi Gras in style, if not in scope. There’s a slightly frantic, slightly sensual, French flair to the whole event. There were men in drag, children and women with fake mustaches, and dogs with tutus. People threw beads, but I didn’t see any nudity (although there were people wearing underwear). There were many kids and families in the parade and in the crowd, but if one were terribly conservative, they would probably find something to be offended by.
Other than perhaps “mustaches” and the color red, there wasn’t a real theme to the costuming. There were a lot of Steampunk costumes, there were Renaissance-era costumes (and a few Plague Doctor masks), Carnivale-style masques and boas, lumberjacks and hipsters, punks and robots, furries, circus types, luchadores, and ballerinas.
Besides people in costume, there were also vehicles and other silliness. A man in a bike-drawn cardboard “bathtub”, a land canoe, and a steampunk, Mad Max-looking pedal-driven contraption were all in attendance.
The parade took the menagerie in a circle around the center of Midtown and then down Cass, ending at the Masonic Temple. Along the way, loudspeakers carried the voice of le Nain as he said dirty and mean things:
- “I’M responsible for increasing parking enforcement hours until 10pm! Hahahahaha!”
- “You think a parade is gonna stop me? Detroit is falling apart and no one cares!”
- “Detroit is bankrupt! Hahahaha!
And so on. The Nain is a mean little thing, and every time he said something awful, there were thousands of “boo”s heard from the crowd.
At the end of the parade route, le Nain himself took to a pulpit wearing a snazzy suit, and addressed the crowd by telling everyone that negativity, hate, crime, littering, lack of participation, lack of voice, and lack of voting all made him stronger. Finally, a young woman stood up to him, grabbed the mic and said “I will stand up for Detroit!”
The crowd followed her lead. Other people—black, white, Asian, young, and old—all chanted the same thing: I will stand up for Detroit.
Le Nain didn’t like that. He cowered before the positive words and energy and eventually ran off, bringing the Marche to successful conclusion.
The Detroit Party Marching Band drew the crowd into the lower floor ballroom of the beautiful Masonic Temple, where revelry continued with dancing, food, and drinking.
The Marche is a lovely new tradition, and judging by random comments heard from the crowd, will become a long-standing and lovingly attended one as well. If this year’s was 3000 strong, it’s easy to believe that next year’s will be even more.