In early April 2014, on a night barbed with sleet and gusts of wind, I count no fewer than seven moons hanging in the sky. There is a full moon with a hooked nose, a butter-colored quarter moon, a greenish-blue crescent with a prescient gaze, a lady moon wearing lipstick, and others. Frequently, a moon is eclipsed by a unicorn or dragon. In the middle of the street, a bloom of jellyfish bobs along to “Super Freak.” Despite the wet and cold, people dance and smile and mill about while drinking beers or pushing strollers. The crowd is spangled with countless wide-eyed children and only a few umbrellas, including a couple of twirling, illuminated parasols.
What sounds like a dream or a scene from a Haruki Murakami novel is in reality FoolMoon, an annual festival of costumed revelers who parade around with handmade papier-mache luminarias held aloft on poles. The procession starts at sundown from three locations–Kerrytown, UMMA, and Slauson Middle School–with each group forging its own dazzling path through downtown before converging on Washington St. between Main and Ashley, where the entertainment features DJs, shadow puppetry, films projected onto buildings, and whimsical street performances. This pageant of light, color, and sound is attended–no, created–by hundreds of people, some of whom build their luminarias and plan their shimmering outfits weeks in advance. Families with kids generate a good portion of the euphoria, but the festival also attracts plenty of college students and other townie populations. Popular and beloved among residents, FoolMoon indulges all of Ann Arbor’s passions: to make and enjoy art, to dress up, to perform, to mingle, to shut down streets and fill them with music and beer tents and people.
FoolMoon turns five this year, which makes it the child star of Ann Arbor’s festival season. The idea for this successful event originated, paradoxically enough, in failure. U-M art professor Mark Tucker was commissioned to create luminarias for a production of the children’s classic Peter and the Wolf. Ultimately, the project fell through, leaving Tucker with the unused luminarias and the inspiration for FoolMoon. No novice to foolishness, Tucker is also the creator–along with a former student, Shoshana Hurand–of FestiFools, the annual spectacle of giant puppets marching down Main St. The papier-mache puppets are so delightful that residents frequently contacted Tucker to learn how they could build their own. Whereas the puppets take months and many hands to make, the luminarias require much less time (two to three hours minimum) and materials.
The organizers of FoolMoon provide plenty of opportunities, guidance, and resources to help people make a luminaria, including free workshops throughout March and on April 5 (see listing), as well as a video tutorial on their website. The theme of this year’s fest, on Friday, April 10, is “Cirque du Fool-eil,” which promises circus-themed luminarias–come rain, sleet, or starshine.