Barre gears up for heritage festivalJuly 23,2013
By David Delcore
BARRE — The words “closed to through traffic” sure do have a different ring when it’s just for fun.
Just ask organizers of the Barre Heritage Festival and Homecoming Days who are itching to block off North Main Street from Creamery Court to City Hall Park and maybe a little beyond, to throw a popular community party that had to work around a construction zone for two straight summers. Not this year.
The “Big Dig” is done, the Granite City’s main thoroughfare has never looked better, and if that isn’t cause for celebration, what is?
“It’s hard to have a Main Street festival when you don’t have a Main Street,” says Mollie Brault-Binaghi, who is enjoying her first post-Big Dig gig as director of a five-day festival that routinely attracts more than 15,000 people
The long-awaited reconstruction of North Main Street was a mild inconvenience in Brault-Binaghi’s first year as festival director, and last year it forced her to shift much of the focus — not to mention the parade — off North Main Street and onto Merchants Row.
This year Brault-Binaghi says festival organizers plan to make the most of Barre’s new-look North Main Street — blocking off a significant section of it first thing Saturday morning to create the walkable festival zone she envisioned three years ago.
“It’s going to be great to showcase our downtown … and kind of see it in action,” she says.
Nick Landry, one of Brault-Binaghi’s key volunteers for each of the past three years, agrees.
“It’s going to make (North) Main Street like Church Street in Burlington for the day,” he says of a layout that will feature two separate stage areas — one in City Hall Park and the other across from Depot Square — and a family-friendly “Kid Zone” between Depot Square and Creamery Court.
The idea — one that seemed to work in each of the past two years and will be fully put to the test Saturday — is to encourage festival-goers to walk between the stage areas that will each feature a wide variety of live entertainment, while filling in the area between them with street vendors, sidewalk sales, a flea market and craft bazaar, and a collection of clowns and other street performers.
“That way people can really experience the whole street,” Brault-Binaghi says of a festival that officially kicks off Wednesday but has arguably already begun.
Some downtown storefronts have already been decorated for the occasion, and most merchants are participating in a weeklong
“Shop local, win big!” campaign that will earn interested festival-goers a chance to win more than $2,000 in prizes including a $1,400 downtown shopping spree.
Details about the downtown promotion, like the vast list of events, entertainment and activities, and a range of volunteer opportunities, are posted at barreheritagefestival.org.
If Brault-Binaghi had to pick a word to describe this year’s festival — an event that will start relatively quietly Wednesday, progressively pick up steam Thursday and Friday, and hit its stride Saturday before ending Sunday — it would be “diverse.”
What else would you call a festival that is billed as a “celebration of community, culture, history and the arts”? An event where traditional fair food like fried dough, candy apples and Italian sausage will at least briefly compete Friday with a decidedly ethnic mix of foods, ranging from polenta and paella to quiche Lorraine and cock-a-leekie soup? A celebration where you can spend part of your Saturday morning feasting on an epic breakfast prepared by local Rotarians while watching teams tug a tractor-trailer truck up
Elm Street and part of your Saturday afternoon watching teams push a bathtub through an obstacle course on North Main Street while being pelted with water balloons provided to bystanders?
How’s that for diverse?
“There really is a lot going on,” says Brault-Binaghi. “That’s the idea. We try to have a little bit of something for everyone.”
Mission accomplished, and you don’t need to read too far into a list of events that includes a growing fiddle contest, an antique car show, a couple of museum exhibits, and music ranging from rockabilly, country-western and Dixieland to Celtic, Scottish, Yiddish, Italian and West African.
For the second straight year, Brault-Binaghi says, Barre’s Old Labor Hall on Granite Street — a historic red brick structure built by immigrant Italians — will host a fundraiser that will be a nod to those with French Canadian roots.
Proceeds from Thursday’s Quebecois Dinner & Dance will be split between the labor hall and the heritage festival. Tickets are available online, at a Wednesday night concert in the park featuring Patti Casey, from downtown merchants or at the door.
According to Brault-Binaghi, it is one of the few things — vendors and sidewalk sales aside — that will actually cost money. All of the entertainment, most of the events, and children’s activities are free.
“We’re really trying to encourage families to come down and kind of experience the Barre community,” Brault-Binaghi says.
To make the festival more accessible, Brault-Binaghi says people are encouraged to park at Spaulding High School on Ayers Street or the Vermont Granite Museum on Jones Brothers Way. Shuttle buses will be running every 15 to 20 minutes between those locations and downtown.
The museum, which is hosting the Smithsonian Institution exhibit “The Way We Worked,” will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. A special exhibit, “The Emergence of the Granite City: Barre 1880-1940,” will be open all day Friday and Saturday at the Vermont History Center on Washington Street.
This year’s parade, which is set for Saturday at 2 p.m., will return to North Main Street, according to Brault-Binaghi, who says Saturday’s festivities will conclude with a street dance in City Hall Park featuring the local rock band Native Tongue. The band, which is scheduled to perform from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m., will take a break for a fireworks display that should be easy for those at the festival to see.
“The fireworks should be really spectacular,” Brault-Binaghi says of the “close proximity show” that will involve launching fireworks from the Washington Street lawn of the nearby Vermont History Center.
Fireworks aren’t the only thing Brault-Binaghi says she is looking forward to seeing as the heritage festival ramps up and eventually engulfs the heart of downtown Barre throughout the day and into the night Saturday.
“One of my favorite parts is looking down the street and seeing everybody out with smiles on their faces and having a good time,” she says. “I think sometimes we forget that we have that community sense here in Barre, and it’s really nice to see everybody come out and celebrate that.”
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