Grosse Ile is a small island in the downriver Detroit area, situated in the mouth of the river where it empties out into Lake Erie. Despite being small - there is only one business street, no public library, and only three full stoplights - the south end of the island houses a small airport that used to be a military base. Today, the facility houses hangers for private planes, City Hall, and every first weekend of June, the Island Fest Carnival.
The History of Island Fest
Originally called the Azalea Festival to honor the blooming of flowers at the local nurseries, the festival was used to draw attention to the local businesses located on Macomb Street. A parade would make its way down the street on Saturday morning, and local shops would have special sales going on. Other attractions included a children’s game carnival, an arts and craft fair, an electric car
In 1999 the festival’s name was changed to Island Fest in the hope of attracting a greater number of attendees from nearby cities and in 2000 the majority of the events were moved to the airport on the south end of the island. Left on Macomb, the single commercial street on Grosse Ile and the original location, was the parade and the sales tents of local businesses. The electric car race no longer occurred.
The movement of all events to the airport made it easier for guests to attend all portions of festival and allow new additions – a tent stage for music and plane and helicopter rides. Other attractions, such as a rodeo and racecar races, have come and gone from Island Fest’s list of activities.
Sadly, the move to the airport has diminished the attraction of the festival to local craftsmen. While venders used to fill an entire hangar and the parking lot outside, for the past few years only the hanger has been filled with tents and even then most belong to local businesses and organizations to capture the attention of tourists who never visit Macomb St. Most craftsmen instead set up shop at the Trenton or Wyndotte Street Fairs, both neighboring towns. All three local events take place within the same month and a half.
While attractions vary to year to year, there are a few staples island residents can rely on attending.
Fireworks – Considered the official start to Island Fest, the community gathers in the grassy field next to City Hall to watch the show. It’s always worth watching. Due to Grosse Ile’s island location another popular vantage point is from a boat on the Detroit River.
Parade – A hour and a half affair, the streets of Macomb are lined an hour before the parade starts on Saturday morning. If you have kids, it’s best to sit to the east of the local drug store if you don’t want to run the risk of floats running out of the novelties they distribute.
Jazzapalooza – Part of Island Fest for the past six years, Jazzapalooza is a line of up local jazz bands that play behind the airport hanger. The same location turns into an outdoor music bar after dark.
Classic Car Show – Set up near the hanger, there is always an impressive turn out of classic cars and hot rods.