Detroit locals love this neighborhood blues festival. The city, not so much.
Every Sunday during the spring and summer months, you can swing by John’s Carpet House in Detroit, and hear some of the best local blues musicians jam for free. But John's Carpet House is not a house, it's actually a field, located in an area called Poletown, where I-75 and I-94 meet.
The music happens all day long, as a roster of musicians rotate on and off the tiny stage that’s set up in a grassy area.
Shareef Hassan is a host at the event, which means he welcomes people and makes sure everything runs smoothly.
“You’re in the east side, in the hood, in a factory area. But the ambiance is great because there’s trees blocking the bad parts of the 'hood. We’re down here where it’s secluded and wooded. It looks like a bunch of squirrels and raccoons should be running around but they’re not.”
But why the name John’s Carpet House?
Hassan explains it’s a tradition named after the original host.
“There was a guy named John who was a musician and he had a house. He put carpet on the porch to reinforce the sound and he had different people come by and each Sunday the band would play on his porch and people would be in the yard eating and listening. They called it John’s Carpet House.”
After John died, "Big Pete" took over and relocated the event across the street, onto a property he bought. “Big Pete” is the nickname for Albert Barrow, who’s been running the event for the past ten years.
Big Pete runs a pretty tight ship.
Rumor has it there are rarely any problems, or “dumb stuff,” as Big Pete refers to it, in part because of his security system. You can hear him explain exactly what he means here:
Basically, members of the local motorcycle clubs show up every Sunday and set up shop around the edge of the festival, and enjoy the show. They are what Big Pete calls his “security system.”
Even though the locals love this event, the city has had some issues with it.
Big Pete has been hit with eight tickets, which he says are unfair. He's gone to court to fight them. They were for issues like running a business and lacking port-a-johns. Big Pete says he’s not running a business, and this service is entirely free to the community. He says he's always had port-a-johns available on the property.
Scott Benson is a big fan of John’s Carpet House. He’s also the city councilman for Detroit’s 3rd District.
Benson says there have been development pressures in the area and offers for Big Pete to relocate it.
“I won’t say the city is trying to squash it, but there may be a need to relocate and formalize these operations because you have people selling items and selling food, and there are also health and public safety issues. You don’t want someone getting hurt because no one is regulating it.”
Big Pete says it’s hard to fight the system when they make the rules and control everything. “That’s what I’m dealing with. They’re trying to force me off my property because they have plans for this neighborhood and I won’t sell.”
Despite the headaches, the festival continues.
“I enjoy doing this and I know beaucoups (sic) of people out here,” says Big Pete. “Detroit is full of good people and if you listen to the news all you hear is the negative stuff. And all Detroit is not negative, we've got a lot of good people here!”
John’s Carpet House is winding down for the season. Plans are to start back up after Mother’s Day, 2016.