Howell, Michigan is up near Hell. In more ways than one. It's noted for two things: Neo-Nazis, and really, truly, amazingly sweet melons (cantaloupes, "Howell Melons"). Apparently, the times, they are a-changing in Howell.

One of the events on the program at the annual Howell Melon Festival this year is . . . Drag Queen Bingo, a benefit for "the Pride Alliance of Livingston and the Livingston Diversity Council."

And the city fathers don't like it one little bit.

Howell Melon Fest will be canceled unless beer tent closes early on Aug. 14

The Howell City Council on Friday voted to rescind approval of a civic event application for the Howell Melon Fest on Aug. 14 unless organizers agree to shut down the beer tent at 4 p.m.

The vote came after a lengthy conversation about the fate of the festival and whether it can be executed safely.

Friday's special council meeting was in response to, "divisiveness and emotional anger amongst some and around our community," Ervin Suida, interim city manager, said in a press release announcing the meeting.

Howell police Chief Scott Mannor told council members he was worried about the possibility of a riot breaking out by mixing high emotions, alcohol and a lot of people in downtown Howell on Aug. 14. Mannor also said no specific threats have been made.

Downtown Development Director Kate Litwin said the Melon Festival brings in an average of 40,000 to 50,000 people over three days of festivities. On Saturday, the busiest day of the weeklong event, she estimates there would be 10,000-15,000 people gathered in downtown Howell.

Council members were reluctant to rescind the civic event application entirely, because that would have forced organizers — the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority, or HAPRA — to cancel every event on public property. The change in Saturday beer tent hours is an alternative with which Mannor is comfortable.

If HAPRA doesn't agree by 5 p.m. Wednesday to shut down the beer tent, the city's approval for the civic event application will be revoked.

This puts the ball in their court," said Mayor Pro Tem Jan Lobur.

Council also voted to suspend the social district for the entire day on Aug. 14 to limit alcohol consumption downtown.

"This will starve the alcohol at the event so we can manage one site from a law enforcement perspective," Mayor Nick Proctor said. "This will allow police to focus on ensuring the event at the theater goes off without a hitch."

History of the controversy

The part of the event in question is a Drag Queen Bingo and drag show, scheduled to take place at the Historic Howell Theater from 9:30-11:30 p.m. on Aug. 14. Attendees must be 21 or older to attend.

Not everyone is supportive of the show, which is billed as drag queens and kings entertaining with hilarious bingo and fabulous drag performance. A portion of the proceeds from the show will benefit the Pride Alliance of Livingston and the Livingston Diversity Council.

Meghan Reckling, Livingston County Republican Party chair, voiced her displeasure with the event on Facebook after learning of it.

"This is disappointing to see happening here in Livingston County. The Howell Melon Fest is supposed to be a family-friendly event and not one that should be sexualized with an event like this," she wrote in a July 8 post.

In her post she also encouraged residents to reach out to HAPRA, which organizes Melon Fest, to voice their opinions.

Tim Church, HAPRA director, couldn't immediately be reached for comment Friday. He said in a press release earlier this month that he understands the mixed feelings regarding the drag bingo show.

"We would like to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all who live and visit the Howell Area," he said in the release. "We should celebrate our community together. We do not support hate or want to create an environment for hate."