UPDATE: Alcohol banned at Howell Melon Fest amid flap over 'Drag Queen Bingo'

To booze at Melon Fest or not to booze at Melon Fest? That is the question.

(This story was updated at 1:48 p.m.)
FRIDAY, Aug. 6 — The Howell Melon Fest will go on next weekend with one big exception — there will be no alcohol.
WHMI reports the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority made the move in response to a Howell City Council resolution passed last week requiring the organization to shutter the beer tent on Saturday Aug. 14 at 4 p.m. to reduce the risk to public safety. 
Elected officials were concerned a planned, private Drag Queen Bingo event could result in violence or other disruptions, particularly if Melon Fest celebrants were allowed to continue drinking for hours before the sold out 9:30 p.m. event.
Executive Director Tim Church of HAPRA told the radio station the elimination of alcohol sales will impact the festival's bottom line, likely leaving it in the red.

The Bingo event was originally planned for one of the festival tents, but after a Facebook post early last month from Livingston County Republican Chairwoman Meghan Reckling, the controversy has caused organizers to move the ticketed event for ages 21 and up to a nearby historic theater.

Reckling said she was concerned that the “family friendly” festival would be “sexualized” by allowing the Drag Queen Bingo. But city officials told the Livingston Daily there were concerns of violence on Aug. 14 if the beer tent is allowed to continue into the evening, complicating the ability of law enforcement to respond to potential disruptions — including at the bingo event.

This intrepid reporter spent three and a half hours in downtown Howell this week, seeking the opinion of the everyday Howell resident. Many who stopped to talk on Grand River Avenue claimed to be from out of town when the recent drag queen controversy was mentioned.

One mother clamped her hands over her inquisitive daughter’s ears upon the mention of drag queens. She sputtered a comment that was a combination of “we don’t talk about that,” and “we aren’t from here so we wouldn’t know” while marching her young daughter down the street.

Around the corner at Vibology and Weaver’s Kava House, some were more willing to speak.

“It’s just entertainment,” said 49-year-old Kava House owner Steve Conn, noting the event was out of the way from the rest of the festival. “If you don’t agree with what is happening with the event, then don’t go. You always have those small groups that want to interfere with things.”

Kava House barista Stephen Ramirez, 21, labeled the drag queen controversy as “ridiculous.”

“It’s honestly just ignorance or fear of change or just hate, frankly,” he said.

Lydia Bilinsky, 45, inherited property in Howell but said she spends more time in Ann Arbor. 

“I am definitely not scandalized by the drag queens,” she said.

Howell is no stranger to controversy. Many believe that the Ku Klux Klan was once headquartered in the city but it wasn’t. Residents are quick to point out that the group was stationed on a farm in a neighboring township. There was also a Klan rally there 25 years ago, and the city was also scandalized in recent years when it hosted a Klan memorabilia auction.

Conn and Ramirez both admit that the KKK label on Howell is probably not going away anytime soon, but situations like this also certainly don’t help erase that perceived label of bigotry either.

“I don’t think it will ever go away,” Conn said.

Both men were also disappointed to learn the show was sold out.

“I would definitely have gone out of curiosity,” Ramirez said. “I think it’s kind of awesome.”


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