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 isnt 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 cant help but feel at home.
So the next time our friends ask whens a good time to plan a trip, well tell them Main St. weekend. Come enjoy a few of our favorite days on the calendar, and discover some of the festivals many wonders.
The art: Andrew Carsons kinetic sculptures
Turn that corner onto Main Street, in any given year, and youll 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 cant possibly afford to take one home.
Carson is a Seattle artist whos 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 whos been around the festival block, his sentiments about Main St. are a bit surprising.
Its certainly my favorite show of the year, without any doubt, he said. Many things, he adds, contribute to that superlative.
Theres 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.
Theyre 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 dont see at any other show out there. And of course, its a good place where I have a chance of meeting that customer that Im always looking to find, too.
He doesnt 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 dont understand that its 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., hell 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 dont know what were 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 dont know any of that until I set up.
Im 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 its not crowded. Thursday any time, and early Friday or fairly early Sunday.
When you seem him, and his fantastical wind sculptures, just dont forget to wave.
This year, Carsons booth will be on Main between Third and Fourth streets. For more info on the artist, visit www.windsculpture.com.
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 weve been doing the same-time-next-year dance ever since.
Some might say theres no real future for us shes a sausage, and, well, Im not.
But I dont 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 cant keep Bahama Mama to myself.
The Schmidts German Village booth is where youll find her at this years 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 Mamas beauty cant be measured in tickets (eight for the sausage, or 11 for a dinner with German potato salad).
A product of the Columbus, Ohio, family thats 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 cant get enough of Schmidts jumbo cream puffs, too.
Of course, Id like to think shes coming here to see me. But I know better. Bahama Mamas a celebrity now. Shes 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 well always have that first juicy bite. See ya soon, baby.
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, shes all mixed up, just like Texas.
But shes not the only reason to hurry up with that piece of art or jewelry youre buying and head over to the music stages. As usual, the festival emphasizes both roots music and heritage acts, and theyve 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, theres 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 youre 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 years 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, youre 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 Worths 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 festivals 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 festivals website, anyone who is not present will forfeit their seat to someone on the waiting list.
Wine lovers arent 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 festivals 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 isnt 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 (its 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 didnt cover what locals spent)
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 years 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 Artists Square will be accommodated throughout Main St. And the festival is already planning for 2014, when the new Artists 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.
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.
The weather: If its 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 years 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 Natures 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 CBS11s meteorologists, reminds us that it wasnt 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 wouldnt 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 its April in Texas ... is about as far as our jokes go.