It seems at first like a normal Friday night in Ann Arbor: A long crowd of moviegoers gathers around the Michigan Theater for a showing of “Cats,” and an even longer line of people winds down Main street for a concert at “The Ark”. Slowly, the busy streets melt away as dragons, walking mushrooms and anthropomorphic cats run rampant through downtown. Flashing lights and enchanting sounds eerily creep around every corner.
This is no longer Ann Arbor — this is Wonderland.
Downtown Ann Arbor certainly felt like an alternate reality during the annual Fool Moon festival, part of Wonderfool Productions’ weekend-long festivities in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. Fool Moon celebrates April Fools in the wider Ann Arbor community and encourages festival-goers to craft their own luminaries, dress up, let loose and enjoy the music.
The event engulfed Kerrytown, with the Ann Arbor’s Farmers Market functioning as the main site for activities and congregation. Main Street was also closed off to allow for additional events and festivities. A parade showcasing the combined creativity and character of the festival was led from Kerrytown, winding through downtown with hand crafted lights and street drummers in tow.
With Fool Moon having taken place the evening of Friday, April 1, and the coveted 50th Anniversary Hash Bash the following day, the weekend was packed with authentic Ann Arbor celebration and festivity. This year’s festival theme was Alice in Wonderfools, taking obvious inspiration from “Alice in Wonderland.” With plenty of Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats to go around, the streets of Ann Arbor transformed into its own Wonderland.
The event took on a very family-friendly flavor, with interactive games and craft tables lining the sides of the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. However, this did not diminish the spectacle of the event in the slightest. By the end of the night, the picturesque landscape of Fool Moon felt straight out of a movie (or more accurately, a cartoon).
Countless aspects of the festival bordered on fictional — a group of makeup-laden singers belted “Happy Birthday” to seemingly nobody. A moving bronze statue greeted the singers as they flocked away — the crossover event of the century. Storefronts decorated to match the surrounding wonders displayed costumed employees performing otherworldly trance-inducing dances and movements. A brave knight chased a fire-breathing dragon around a crowd to slay the beast. Just as things were settling down, a giant rabbit burst onto the scene and revived the party. It was a strange amalgamation of sights and sounds that felt utterly surreal; yet somehow, amidst all this chaos, crowds of people still managed to cheer, dance and embrace the madness of a blissful Wonderland.
The one thing noticeably missing in this hodge-podge of costumes and lights was a student presence. As an event advertised primarily to Ann Arbor youth and families, it is understandable that there was shockingly low attendance from University of Michigan students.
Because of this, Fool Moon was a rare Ann Arbor event that felt completely isolated from the University; the vibrant local culture was able to represent itself in full force while establishing a distinct artistic identity separate from the student body.
While carving out its identity, the festival at times felt messy. A chaotic and random collection of characters is consistent with the Alice in Wonderland theme, but the addition of aliens, astronauts, sharks, dragons and all sorts of creatures felt overstimulating. Mixtures of loud music, uncanny carnival displays and window performances created an atmosphere unsure of what it was trying to achieve. However, this patchwork of characters and personalities gave an irreplaceably authentic feel to the evening’s festivities.
What the festival lacked in cohesion, it certainly made up for in character. Underneath the layers of makeup, there was a sense of closeness, gratitude and satisfaction. Being the first in-person Fool Moon in two years, this served as an opportunity for the community to blow off steam and congregate for such artistic endeavors. A little bit of madness goes a long way, and Fool Moon certainly embraced this to its advantage.
Ann Arbor is known for its vibrant arts scene, and Fool Moon lives up to its reputation. Although the festival at surface level seems disconnected from reality and firmly rooted in Wonderland, at its core, Fool Moon celebrates a city fully aware or and embracing its artistic identity.
Daily Arts Writer Connor Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.