Birmingham packs ’em in with two popular events

The annual Common Ground Birmingham Street Art Fair and Don Thomas Sporthaus Rail Jam return to the city’s downtown this weekend

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 18, 2013

 Ceramic pieces, by Birmingham artist Janelle Songer, will be among the items for sale at this year’s Common Ground Birmingham Street Art Fair.

Ceramic pieces, by Birmingham artist Janelle Songer, will be among the items for sale at this year’s Common Ground Birmingham Street Art Fair.

Photo provided

BIRMINGHAM — Birmingham is biding adieu to summer with one jam-packed weekend of events downtown.

Now in its 39th year, the Common Ground Birmingham Street Art Fair will bring 150 artists to South Old Woodward and Maple Road this Saturday and Sunday. From ceramics to photography, painting, jewelry, wood, metals and more, there will be a range of artistic goodies to peruse in the city streets.

The fair is presented in part with the Guild of Artists and Artisans, and is continually rated as one of the best shows of its kind throughout the country. As usual, several artists will donate pieces of their prized work to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to support the work of Common Ground.

“We are delighted to bring such an extraordinary collection of artists from across the country to the streets of downtown Birmingham. For 39 years, this wonderful event has worked its magic, providing the community with an outstanding cultural event and providing Common Ground with support that has helped us continue to give the best services possible to those in need,” said Tony Rothschild, president and CEO of Common Ground, in a prepared statement. 

One of the artists heading downtown this weekend is Birmingham’s own Janelle Songer. After graduating from the College for Creative Studies in 2008, she’s been creating nature-inspired ceramics for everyday use.

“It is hand-built and wheel-thrown functional ceramics for the home. I make bowls, cups and plates, decorated with floral designs. Not a specific flower, but floral elements that you can enjoy as sculpture or for function,” said Songer, who was recently commissioned to create pieces for the upcoming Birmingham restaurant, The Stand.

She said she had originally entered art school to be a painter, but she fell in love with the way she could connect with clay when she immersed her hands into it.

“I also enjoy the element of magic that happens with ceramics. You can do everything as best you know, but once you put it in the kiln, the heat does what it does, and I have no control over it. Everytime I open the kiln, it’s like Christmas morning. Either you get what you dreamed of or you don’t,” she said.

Just down Old Woodward, the fifth annual Rail Jam will be underway 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday. Like in years past, the median between Old Woodward and Woodward’s main stretch will be reserved with ramps, rails and all things snowy to accommodate an all-star lineup of ski and snowboard competitors. 

“It’s a pretty cool thing,” said Hans Erni, manager of Don Thomas Sporthaus, which hosts the event each year. “We’re going to have more features. Last year, we had two features; this year, we’re going to four. All the ski and snowboard reps will be here. And Concrete Cuisine will be here to sell food. It’s just going to get a little bit more colorful every year.”

Hundreds of people gather to see skiers and snowboarders strut their stuff in the rail jam competition. They’ll also get to meet with sport vendors to see what equipment and apparel is going to be hot this winter.

New to this year’s event is a special premiere of the movie “Tracing Skylines,” to be screened at the Birmingham 8 theater beginning at 8 p.m. Erni said many of the scenes in the Poor Boyz ski movie were filmed in Detroit and surrounding areas, such as the historic Packard Plant.

“We’re in a pretty big segment of the movie, and some of the kids in the movie are going to be here signing autographs,” said Erni.

The price of admission for Saturday’s Rail Jam has doubled from last year, going up to $10 per person. But the cost is well worth it, said Erni, who said 100 percent of the proceeds from admission will go to support the Rainbow Connection in Rochester.

The Rainbow Connection grants wishes to terminally ill children around Michigan. That cause is one that’s close to Erni’s heart, especially since his daughter’s classmate, Seaholm High School graduate Collin Trask, died earlier this year after a long battle with cancer.

“We always like to do a fundraiser for a nonprofit within this key community. But, this year, it was a more personal deal to me,” said Erni.

For more information on the fifth annual Don Thomas Sporthaus Rail Jam, call (248) 220-1999 or visit For more information on the 39th annual Common Ground Birmingham Street Art Fair, visit