I half-expected to see Scrooge’s scowling mug on the commenter’s avatar.
At the bottom of a preview for the 49th Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts sat one grumpy response. The basic sentiment amounted to a summertime “bah humbug.” The best thing about the festival, went the grumbling, is when it ends.
Well, Mr. Sourpuss, the festival has one more day left before it rolls up the booths, stages, food stands and displays. Happy?
I’m not smiling.
Regretfully, I’ll say farewell for another year to State College’s signature event, when the town shines its brightest.
Sure, the downtown garages fill up as the festival swallows parking. Yes, visiting cars clog the streets, creeping along cautiously for their next turn. And there’s partying late into the night.
In other words, standard for a football weekend.
These are annoyances certainly, but if you can see past them and get into the spirit of the communal celebration, there’s a lot to enjoy.
Like its enticing cousins also sparkling this weekend — the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts, Philipsburg Heritage Days and the latest addition, Lemont Fest — Arts Fest is much more than eye-catching objects. All are really life festivals, for they encompass things worth living for — art, music, food, friendships and discoveries.
I’ll admit that I enjoy the solitude after the students leave and the pace slackens. It’s refreshing to grab restaurant tables or a Creamery cone without waiting, and drive down East College Avenue and not feel as though you’re in the middle of a real-life video game full of darting jaywalkers.
Some may wish for the nap to resume after the Fourth of July revelry. I’m all for restful summers, but not tumbleweeds. Arts Fest pops up just at the right time, as its founders intended almost a half-century ago when they envisioned the festival enlivening State College’s summer. Downtown snaps out of the doldrums and comes alive in a burst of colors, sounds and smells.
Walk down Allen Street, the heart of the festival, and you’ll see children cavorting under the dumping buckets, shrieks mixed with laughter after every drenching. You might marvel at the horticultural displays that turn most of the first block into a temporary arboretum.
All along, it’ll be crowded no doubt. But that’s only a problem if you’re in a rush. Just relax and look around. People will be smiling, laughing, chatting, browsing, enjoying each other’s company, at ease and happy on a summer afternoon.
Now what’s wrong with that?
Arts Fest not only brings visitors closer, it draws the entire community — businesses, residents, officials — into contributing to a mutual source of pride. Volunteers picking up trash and assisting otherwise are the most visible examples, but the event’s annual success reflects the commitment of hundreds.
Part of the festival’s appeal also lies in the shared tradition. From seemingly everywhere appear familiar faces. You’re bound to run into someone you know, and I’m convinced that I might see almost everybody from my past decade if I stand long enough in one spot.
As with other festivals, Arts Fest also spurs new acquaintances. Some of my favorite memories are of meeting artists, asking them about their works, hearing their stories — sort of a reflexive habit for a journalist. My children, Ted and John Michael, have experienced that while growing up, starting with checking out the Children’s Festival sidewalk sale when they were younger.
Two years ago, they led us to a particularly memorable encounter.
Walking along Burrowes Road on campus, they spotted Geraldo De-Souza’s Everyday Bow Ties booth. How could they not with the spectacular displays? John Michael, a bow tie aficionado who wears them daily, struck up a conversation with De-Souza, and the artist was clearly charmed by a nattily dressed boy sporting a tie.
Before long, De-Souza was giving John Michael sartorial tips, helping him choose a tie and then throwing in another for free from one kindred soul to another. As a bonus, he told us about growing up in West Africa, learning to sew in the family business and then leaving a successful career selling insurance in upstate New York to pursue his dream of making bow ties.
We left a few dollars poorer but enriched beyond measure.
De-Souza is at this year’s festival for one more day, and so are my family’s perennial favorites — the giant sandcastle art in Sidney Friedman Park, the cherry strudel from the Helmut’s Strudel stand, the Italian street paintings on Hiester Street.
If you haven’t been already, there’s still time to stroll around. Stake out a spot on the Old Main lawn at 3:30 p.m. for the traditional closer, the Earthtones and their captivating blend of soul, reggae, funk and calypso. It’s a shame the free concert no longer takes place in the soft twilight with local families gathered on blankets, a magical end, but the music should make the trip worthwhile nonetheless.
Arts Fest, of course, doesn’t have a lock on tasty food, creative artwork, engaging music and good times — all of which were in abundance in Boalsburg, Philipsburg and Lemont this weekend.
But the festival’s scale and vibrancy set it apart from the pack. Arts Fest helped put State College on the map culturally, and being in the thick of the latest chapter of that heritage can be exciting even within the confines of a spartan information booth.
All the volunteer had to look forward to were answering questions and handing out maps, but with the sun shining and music in the air, he sounded as delighted as a child in the front seat of a fire engine.
“I couldn’t ask for a better assignment,” he said.
I wonder how he’ll feel Monday morning.