When I pulled up to Gabriel Richard Park on Detroitâ€™s east side at 5:55 a.m. last Wednesday, it was dark and just over 40 degrees. I had two thoughts: â€œIâ€™m glad I wore a hat instead of a headband,â€ and â€œAm I the only person here?â€
It took me a moment to notice the woman seated on a bench between two cherry blossom trees, but as I walked closer to the river, I saw the glow of two fire-orange orbs marking the welcome circle for Sunrise Club – Detroit.
What I got isnâ€™t what I expected. There was no requirement to introduce myself to strangers at an hour when Iâ€™d rather be in bed. No whispering affirmations as our heads collectively looked toward the rising sun. Instead, I was greeted by the clubâ€™s organizer, Sarah Gallimore, and encouraged to commune along the riverfront in whatever way worked best for me. Color me grateful. Iâ€™m no introvert, but if you see me early in the morning and get a cheery hello, itâ€™s not genuine.
Inspired by artist Hunter Frankâ€™s League of Creative Interventionists project, Sunrise Club – Detroit is an iteration of a club by the same name that meets on Mondays in southern California. That Sunrise Club was started by Joanna Miller, a native Detroiter and Gallimoreâ€™s friend. Miller and a group on the West Coast had begun to periodically gather on a mountain to watch the sun rise together.
Those meetings were conceived as special events, where guests wore fancy attire and organizers booked a musical guest, as Gallimore explained. Gallimore learned about them from her friend and in 2017 decided to start hosting gatherings with the same intent but different vibe.
â€œI was interested in creating some more accessible opportunities to get outside in the city,Â where the thing wasn’t a sports activity with a physical commitment you had to make,â€ she said. â€œAnd, I didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d want to make everyone get super dressed up in the morning.â€Â
The Detroit River provides a meditative and gorgeous background for each meetup. Gabriel Richard Park offers benches, manicured grass and well-maintained bathrooms for comfort.
Detroitâ€™s more informal club still shares some traits with its California cousin. There is always a musical guest, and pre-COVID, there were snacks. Gallimoreâ€™s commitment to nurturing the space shines through there: Snacks and stipends for performers are paid for directly from her own pocket. But thereâ€™s no requirement to RSVP and certainly no directive on dress. Itâ€™s just a cool way to spend the first hour of your day five Wednesdays per year. Due to Michiganâ€™s seasons, the club only meets May through September.
The day I went, nine people attended. I thought to attribute that to the cold, but Gallimore said, â€œIt just flows that way. Sometimes five people show up and other times itâ€™s 30.â€
The first guest I encountered was also a first-timer, with her own ideas of what to expect. Shawn Whitsett drove from Ypsilanti for the gathering. â€œI was on Facebook and saw â€˜sunrise clubâ€™ and then a post that said entertainers and stuff. So I thought, â€˜Oooh, an open air sunrise jam session.â€™â€
Whitsett comes from a musical family and was expecting to share that gift at the meetup. She came prepared with a song — â€œWhat a Wonderful Worldâ€ by Louis Armstrong — and printed lyrics for us to sing. While she didnâ€™t end up leading a performance, Whitsett and Gallimore agreed sheâ€™ll return later in the summer as a guest vocalist.
Instead, we heard from Jordyn Davis, a vocalist and jazz bassist also known as ComposeTheWay. She decided to celebrate earning her masterâ€™s from Michigan State University by challenging her norm and rising before dawn to serenade the sun.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t normally do this and guitar isnâ€™t my primary instrument,â€ Davis said. â€œI just picked it up for the sake of the art I love and decided this was a good time to do something different.â€ Davis sang a handful of original songs and was surprised by an unexpected fan in the audience. At least one of the sunrisers drove in solely to hear Davis perform.
The hour-long experience was full of communal moments like that. A self-described introvert talked to me about her shoes and shared that the Sunrise Club is one of her favorite ways to start a Wednesday, especially when sheâ€™s working from an office. The regulars, easily identifiable by the pop-up chairs and blankets they carried in with them, welcomed me with a nod and returned my exit wave. Even the seagulls seemed quieter and honored the space.
I canâ€™t say that Iâ€™ll be there on another chilly morning, but look for me in July. It felt like a nice way to welcome the second half of the year.