By Elena Dolores Solano
RuboFest is the essence of what a community can be, is and should be.
RuboFest began in 1980 when a group of young musicians gathered in the yard of Mrs. Sally Ramon to play music. From there the tradition was set that each year on the second Saturday of July, musicians from around Detroit would come and play with their bands. The small gathering grew large enough to move on to the empty lots that adjoined Mrs. Ramon’s home in the Hubbard Richard Community.
Josephy (Joey) Ramon and his mother, Mrs. Sally Ramon told me that the music festival was important because it gave people the chance to perform in an environment where children could run around and play freely while their parents played music. They didn’t want to do the bar scene while their children were at home. The intention to have what they called a “family event” in the Hubbard Richard community was and is a complete success.
It is the epitome of a family music event. Children played on pogo-sticks, blew bubbles into the wind, and walked around selling baked goods and fruit cups. Adults sat in the shade of the trees, listened to music, and watched children as they ran around and played in the bright Saturday sunshine.
Several years ago the event moved to a large lot on the corner of Bagley and Ste. Anne’s Street. This year the stage was set in the cool shadow of large trees. Aubriana’s Barbeque and Lemonade Stand, Taste Testers Detroit, and a mom and pop hamburger stand, run by Robert and Joyce Romero, stood guard in the street selling food, sweets, and cold drinks.
I grew up in the Hubbard Richard community. It was a small, tight knit community where everyone knew everyone. Hubbard Richard was and is part of the mythical South Detroit that Journey sings about. It is its own place in Southwest Detroit. It’s boarded by the Ambassador Bridge and the I-75 Freeway on the west. The long abandoned train depot was the marker to the east, with its tunnel that ran underground to Canada. Growing up on 17th street, music was always playing.
Music in our mythical neighborhood ran from Honkey Tonk, to Mexican Rancheros, to the Blues, to the heart and beat of Motown, to the rock and roll legends of Kiss, to grunge and garage rock that bellowed from the houses that dotted 17th street, Ste. Anne’s, Porter and Bagley. Music was everywhere and it was very real and alive.
While Mrs. Ramon and her son Joey founded the festival in 1980, the Romero family added more magic to an already incredible event and kept the legacy alive. 34 years ago Ruben Romero and his family took over the event and gave it the name RuboFest.
This year I talked with several people at the RuboFest. Mary Andrade grew up on Ste. Anne’s street. She has attend RuboFest for many years. Ms. Andrade pointed out that this is where she comes to see childhood friends. “These are the people who I only see once a year. This is where I come from, this neighborhood is a part of who I am. These are the people I played with when we were little, we went to the same schools, and stayed friends. Now we see each other here. This neighborhood is who we are.”
Alexis Kellog of Detroit pointed out that this was a “Block Party, this is community. That’s what you see here, community.” This was Ms. Kellog’s first time attending RuboFest. RuboFest is the essence of what a community can be, what it is and should be.
I also spoke with community icon Ms. Gloria Rosas and her guest, Lily B. It was Ms. B.’s first time at RuboFest. She seemed mesmerized by the music and people. I took no offense when she seemed enthralled by the music and was only able to say “this is nice.”
This year the music ranged from the classic Motown music performed by MondoKane, to covers of iconic rock music by Dirty Minds Detroit, Bonnie and the Working Girls, and Chronic Therapy. Each group had their own special take on the pieces they covered. In between each set classic rock kept the music and magic going.
At the front of the stage were ten new guitars that were raffled off throughout the day. Ruben Romero sells tickets to young children and teenagers only between the ages of 2 and 17. Each year Mr. Romero raffles off five to ten new guitars for young 2 people only. It was endearing to see a five year old walk away with a new guitar. There was magic in his eyes when he held that guitar. Such a raffle ensures that the music will continue to play and music will be made long after we are gone, passed on to our children and our children’s children.
RuboFest is about music and magic and making memories. It is about remembering who we are as a community, a neighborhood, a city. It is about listening to music while your heart remembers all that is important in this world, and what matters in this very short life. It is about taking a day and listening to the people you grew up with blast the tunes you heard again and again coming from houses throughout Hubbard Richard. It’s about listening to new music and seeing old friends group together, laughing in the sun, sitting in the shade. There is always music and magic all around us and in us. We just have to listen and watch.
In the words of the iconic rock group Yes, I’ve Seen All Good People, “Don’t surround yourself with yourself, move on back two squares, send an instant karma to me, initial it with loving care.”
Each year RuboFest is a chance to be in community, listen to music ranging from grunge, to classic rock, to the blues, to country and Tex-Mex. It’s a chance to re-group, and re-connect. It gives us a day to surround ourselves with the past and the present and look at each other with loving care.
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Elena Dolores Solano was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is one of fifteen children. Her parents were migrant workers who moved north in the 1940s. She is a certified school counselor and works with Latino/a students in the public school system of Detroit. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Ms. Solano has written for many years of her experience growing up in a large Mexican American family in Detroit.