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7 wonders of Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival

Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday Downtown Fort Worth Free, though some activities as well as food/beverages require coupons 817-336-2787; www.mainstreetartsfest.org

Posted 4:53am on Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013

If we could pick any weekend on the calendar to bring our closest out-of-town friends to Fort Worth to show off a little, it would be this one.

Main St. weekend.

The annual festival, in its 28th year, paints a portrait of our city in its most flattering light: artistic but unpretentious, diverse but distinct, welcoming and chock-full of wonders.

Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival — its full name — isn’t just a showcase for eclectic trinkets and treasures, live music and food on a stick, like so many other spring celebrations. It is a showcase for downtown, the beating heart of the city, and it establishes a vibe that is purely Fort Worth.

Strolling along the bricks, admiring the artists’ creations, gnawing on some insanely delicious street food or bopping to some pumped-up Texas blues or Tejano music, you can’t help but feel at home.

So the next time our friends ask when’s a good time to plan a trip, we’ll tell them Main St. weekend. Come enjoy a few of our favorite days on the calendar, and discover some of the festival’s many wonders.

The art: Andrew Carson’s kinetic sculptures

Turn that corner onto Main Street, in any given year, and you’ll find a loyal and exuberant friend — happy, waving and just a little wild. Ten feet tall, made of twisty pieces of metal and brightly colored glass, the lifelike sculptures by Andrew Carson are one of the most prominent wonders of Main St., beckoning you to come closer and smile, even if you can’t possibly afford to take one home.

Carson is a Seattle artist who’s been coming to Main St. with his large-scale “person-sized” sculptures since about 1998. In addition to creating installations and public artwork, Carson attends about six to eight art fairs each year. For someone who’s been around the festival block, his sentiments about Main St. are a bit surprising.

“It’s certainly my favorite show of the year, without any doubt,” he said. Many things, he adds, contribute to that superlative.

“There’s more art than science when it comes to building up a really great show,” he says. “But more than anything, it has to do with how supported that show is by the people in the area.”

People come in great numbers, many drive from long distances, and, he says, they buy.

“They’re buying all kinds of things — paintings, and sculpture ... and because of that, really good artists like to come and do the show, so it kind of feeds in on itself.”

Plus, he says, he gets to meet up with a lot of artists he knows, “who I don’t see at any other show out there. And of course, it’s a good place where I have a chance of meeting that customer that I’m always looking to find, too.”

He doesn’t necessarily expect to sell all his pieces, but he tries to bring anywhere from nine to 14 artworks to Main St. The most common price for a Carson sculpture is $5,000 to $6,000; though some are much higher, and a good number will only set you back $3,000.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it’s a miracle and a strike of lightning when we have a customer for one of my pieces and happens to have a place for it,” he said, adding that most years at Main St., he’ll sell a piece or two.

Ask Carson what sorts of surprises he might have in store for festivalgoers this year, and he turns the tables.

“What surprises do you you guys have for me? Because I don’t know what we’re going to get — is it going to be weather, big crowds, is it a different way of laying out the show? Is there going to be room for large sculptures to go up, or am I going to be leaving my big pieces in the truck? I don’t know any of that until I set up.

“I’m fine with any amount of wind, but I prefer weather at a show that I can have a picnic in.”

But Carson does have at least one Main St. tip: “I do have a secret about how to approach the show. There are some times when it’s not crowded. Thursday any time, and early Friday or fairly early Sunday.”

When you seem him, and his fantastical wind sculptures, just don’t forget to wave.

This year, Carson’s booth will be on Main between Third and Fourth streets. For more info on the artist, visit www.windsculpture.com.

— Heather Svokos

The food: Ode to a Bahama Mama

We met in the mid-’90s, on a crystal-clear day in Cincinnati. The beer was flowing, music was playing and I held her close.

It was magical.

Her name was Bahama Mama, and even though she had a reputation, I fell hard for the spicy beauty. You might even say it was love at first bite. (Oddly enough, my wife introduced us.)

We spent some great years together, Bahama Mama and me, but when I moved to Texas in early 2001, I was fairly certain I was waving farewell to her forever.

So imagine my surprise and pure joy when, that spring, I was strolling along at Main St. and caught a whiff of her perfume — smokin’ hot as ever.

We were able to steal away a few times that year — for an afternoon lunch, dinner under the stars and a late-night snack. And we’ve been doing the “same-time-next-year” dance ever since.

Some might say there’s no real future for us — she’s a sausage, and, well, I’m not.

But I don’t care. Bahama Mama is the kind of savory dish that inspires sonnets and soliloquies. I love her still, and she is truly one of the wonders of my Main St. experience every year.

Reluctant as I am to share her, I know I can’t keep Bahama Mama to myself.

The Schmidt’s German Village booth is where you’ll find her at this year’s festival, sizzling on the grill and glowing red hot in the sunlight, just as she did that first time I met her at Oktoberfest in Cincinnati.

Whatever she costs, pay it. Bahama Mama’s beauty can’t be measured in tickets (eight for the sausage, or 11 for a dinner with German potato salad).

A product of the Columbus, Ohio, family that’s been making sausage since 1886, Bahama Mama comes to Fort Worth twice a year — for the Stock Show and Main St.— because, according to her handlers, people here “get” her. We understand the greatness of a perfectly formed sausage — the snap of the skin, the blend of beef and pork, the lovely sting of jalapeño mixed with mustard seed and a blend of secret “island spices.” And because Cowtown can’t get enough of Schmidt’s jumbo cream puffs, too.

Of course, I’d like to think she’s coming here to see me. But I know better. Bahama Mama’s a celebrity now. She’s been featured on Man vs. Food and several other TV shows. You can even get her shipped to your house ($55 for a picnic pack of 15 links, spicy mustard, horseradish and some German sauerkraut — order at www.schmidtssausageshop.com/).

But we’ll always have that first juicy bite. See ya soon, baby.

— Rick Press

The music: Carolyn in Wonderland

Music has long been one of the wonders of Main St. and, this year is no different. One of the performers even has “wonder” in her name.

Houston-born/Austin-based Carolyn Wonderland, who performs at 7 p.m. Friday on the Sundance Square Stage (201 W. Fourth St.), is a singer-songwriter-guitarist who does the legacy of Texas blues proud with her infectious style that also incorporates elements of swing, country, New Orleans and Latin music.

In other words, she’s all mixed up, just like Texas.

But she’s not the only reason to hurry up with that piece of art or jewelry you’re buying and head over to the music stages. As usual, the festival emphasizes both roots music and heritage acts, and they’ve got a couple of winners this year.

The Wailers (7 p.m. Saturday, Sundance Square Stage), the group that Bob Marley turned into a global sensation, continues to tour, flying the Jamaican flag for a classic brand of reggae.

If British soul is more your thing, the fest has the James Hunter Six (7 p.m. Friday, Bank of Texas Stage, 1001 Main St.) and Average White Band (9 p.m. Friday, Bank of Texas Stage). Hunter finds his blues-rock-soul inspiration in early 20th-century African-American traditions — he used to go by the name of Howlin’ Wilf — and has recorded with the likes of Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker. In their ’70s heyday, Average White Band — AWB to their friends — mined a love of old Stax and Motown Records to come up with hits like Pick Up the Pieces, Cut the Cake and School Boy Crush (the latter became a popular sample for hip-hop heads from Eric B. & Rakim to Nas).

Finally, there’s the Robert Randolph & the Family Band (9 p.m. Saturday, Sundance Square Stage), who just might have you asking yourself: Who knew a pedal-steel guitar could be so funky? Guitarist Randolph plays a brand of R&B/soul inspired by the likes of Sly & the Family Stone and Earth, Wind & Fire. In other words, the only remaining wonder will be if you’re not dancing Saturday. Cary Darling

For more Main St. music highlights, click here.

The drinks: Soak in the atmosphere at new craft brew pavilion

Beer has long been an essential ingredient of Main St., but mostly the Coors variety. This year’s festival features something of a sippable upgrade. The Craft Brew Pavilion, hosted by longtime downtown staple the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, is new this year and smartly reflects the the heightened stature of suds in North Texas.

So, if like us, you’re cuckoo for craft beer, you may want to check out the pavilion, which will be near the Bank of Texas Stage on Main Street, between Eighth and Ninth streets.

For six coupons, you will be able to sample one of a half-dozen local and national brews on tap (participating breweries include Fort Worth’s Rahr). Canned and bottled beer from a variety of national and international breweries also will be available.

The Craft Brew Pavilion also will offer a series of “Master Brew Sessions.” (Find the full “Master Brew Sessions” schedule at mainstreetartsfest.org.) According to festival publicist Claire Bloxom, these tastings “will feature a flight of five specialty brews.” Those who participate (each session is limited to 30 people) get a full pint of their favorite beer in a commemorative glass, etched with the festival’s 2013 logo, for $25.

Reservations can be made by visiting the Craft Brew Pavilion and signing up for one of the available slots. Per the festival’s website, “anyone who is not present will forfeit their seat to someone on the waiting list.”

Wine lovers aren’t being left out, either: Times Ten Cellars will host a “Wine Experience” tent all four days. For $35, aspiring oenophiles will be able to sample four wines from Times Ten and take home a commemorative glass. The festival’s website also says “recipes and food pairing suggestions for the wines” will be made available to attendees. — Preston Jones

Check out how Cowtown's performing arts groups (Fort Worth Opera, Texas Ballet Theater and more) are getting into the Main St. act.

The dollar signs: How Main St. makes an economic impact

Admission to Main St. is free, which is a wonder in and of itself. But those of us who have spent a few paychecks there over the years on everything from food and drink to jewelry and fine art photography know there are plenty of ways to leave downtown without a penny in your pocket.

So we got to wondering about the economics of the festival, and where all that money goes.

Assessing the economic impact of the festival on Fort Worth — and especially downtown Fort Worth — isn’t easy, but festival organizers shared with us a Birchhill Enterprises study of the 2012 fest, based on surveys and a statistical sampling of people attending the fest. This is oversimplifying things a bit (it’s a 30-page study), but according to Birchhill, here are some of the numbers for the festival, which is rated as the best in the Southwest and often shows up on national best lists, too:

445,000: Estimated 2012 attendance over four days, including repeat visits.

$18 million: Direct overall economic impact, including spending from vendors and money from the festival budget and taxes.

$13 million : Amount 2012 festgoers spent on arts, crafts and services.

$6 million: Amount festgoers spent on festival food.

$1.9 million : Sales-tax revenue from the fest.

8 percent: Portion of attendees who were “visitors” — people who traveled 50 miles or more to get to the fest.

$568,600: Amount visitors spent on lodging.

$245,000: Amount visitors spent on nonfest dining (the study didn’t cover what locals spent)

— Robert Philpot

The construction: Wonder how to get around this year?

Those of us who have worked in downtown Fort Worth for a long time often run into signs that not everyone comes downtown often — like drivers going the wrong way on one-way streets, or people making left turns out of middle lanes when they suddenly spot that street they were looking for.

With construction on Sundance Square Plaza going on, and parking at a premium, downtown is more confusing than ever — even to downtown insiders. The Plaza, which will take up two blocks on either side of Main Street between Third and Fourth streets, will change things quite a bit at this year’s Main St.:

The Sundance Square Stage (main stage) will be moved one block west to the parking lot bordered by Fourth, Fifth, Houston and Throckmorton streets.

The artists usually showing in “Artist’s Square” will be accommodated throughout Main St. And the festival is already planning for 2014, when the new “Artist’s Square” will be unveiled in Sundance Square Plaza.

Food vendors will be throughout the nine-block festival (most, but not all, of which is on Main Street), with a new food court on Fifth Street between Throckmorton and Houston streets, next to the Gateway Lot.

Depending on traffic, Houston Street may be closed between Fourth and Fifth streets 6-11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

At this point, Main St. organizers don’t expect further changes, but for updates, check the festival’s Facebook page or Twitter feed.

These changes, by the way, are nothing compared with the street closures that occur downtown during every Main St. fest, and there are more of them than we care to mention here — but you can find a list at mainstreetartsfest.org, where you can also find a festival map and ways to get there, some of which involve letting someone else do the driving.

— Robert Philpot

The weather: ‘If it’s April in Texas ...’

Like any longtime North Texan, Main St. has seen its share of weird weather.

Downpours, hail, heat waves, 50 mph winds blowing pricey art around, frigid temperatures and even some perfect springtime weather have all made their presence felt at the annual festival. In 2000, Main St. had to move to the Cultural District because downtown was still undergoing cleanup from tornado damage.

So by comparison, the forecast for this year’s fest is looking really good, especially for the weekend, with highs in the 70s (at press time, however, the first day of the fest was supposed to be cold and windy), but Main St. comes at a time of year when Texas weather is at its most unpredictable. How do organizers brace for Mother Nature’s mood swings?

“It starts months prior,” says Jay Downie, director of events for Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives. “With the development of a complete emergency plan designed to provide clear direction and guidance to our staff and volunteers.”

Maybe you get weather info on your smartphone, but Main St. takes a more scientific approach, working with the National Weather Service, web-based weather-monitoring systems and the KTVT/Channel 11 weather team. Fest organizers also rely on a storm-spotter network, staffed by RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) volunteers.

Jeff Jamison, one of CBS11’s meteorologists, reminds us that it wasn’t that long ago that Main St. had to deal with some severe weather problems.

“One of the more memorable weather events ... was the incredible windstorm that kicked up in 2011 that caused portions of the event to be closed,” Jamison says. “The wind was really whipping through the buildings of downtown Fort Worth, and the tents covering the different stations of artwork were getting slammed, testing the strength of the anchors holding them down.”

Organizers say their first concern is Main St.’s customers, but the vendors — especially the artists — are also given heavy consideration.

“There are some very anxious artists that wouldn’t want their masterpieces and/or profit washed away by a thunderstorm,” Jamison says.

So if severe weather approaches, fest organizers get word out to vendors via a web-based communication system that it has been using for about five years. Block captains and volunteers alert patrons, and if necessary the fest also has prerecorded announcements it can use over its public-address systems.

Considering all that Main St, organizers have to deal with here, we wondered if they had any running in-jokes about the Texas weather they used to help cope with the stress. But they take things pretty seriously.

Says Downie: “‘If it’s April in Texas’ ... is about as far as our jokes go.”

— Robert Philpot

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