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Monday, September 17, 2012

Centerfest triumphant 

Durham's 38th annual Centerfest Arts Festival returned to the streets with a triumphant explosion of culture, art, music, and food. Saturday afternoon the streets of Durham were packed with people like your editor has, quite literally, never seen previously.

The Clarion Content's photobooth pictures will be up soon...

Special thanks to Dolly's Vintage for lending us the cool props that made it happen.

The Durham Arts Council press release reported over 24,000 folks attended the two day festival, a tremendous increase from the last few years when Centerfest had been shunted out of downtown, first to Durham's Central Park, and then relegated to the parking lot beyond the downtown YMCA.

This year the festival returned to the downtown loop. Traffic was blocked off. The streets were full. The mass of humanity on East and West Chapel Hill Streets in the middle of Saturday afternoon looked more like the Manhattan subway queue at rush hour than our Durham. The cultural renaissance is in full swing. But it beggars the question, and some of our long time Durham residents will have to help us here, when were the Durham streets last that full?

Your editor has lived in Durham a little over twelve years, and we have never seen that many people inside the downtown loop. We asked a variety of passers-by at the Clarion Content booth, but nobody had an answer. Dear readers, please do weigh-in, what event, what moment last saw downtown Durham packed with that many people? An estimated 17,000 on Saturday alone.

While you ponder that, we will try to hit some of the highlights of an amazing weekend, beyond the fabulous crowds of people, who were out reminding us how much Durham loves itself.

Of course, the visual artists were tremendous, 130 of them from across the state and around the country set up shop. Jean Yao, a basketweaver from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was selected by the Merit Award Judges as the Best in Show winner this year and presented with a $1,000 check. Melissa Lowery, a jeweler from Zebulon, NC, won the people's choice award.

The newly fashioned Creative Community expo was outstanding. It is one thing to hear that Durham is among America's best cities for start-ups and has one of its strongest creative communities, it is another to see it demonstrated en masse.

The Durham Arts Council deserves a lot of credit including this important element of our town's cultural depth. We met Plastibot, a company run by Luis Freeman, which has developed an amazing three-dimensional printing technique using extruded plastics. They were making, right on the street, everything from bracelets to miniature statues from a printer. It was developed as an open source project, and Freeman told us the practical and scientific applications are nearly endless, including doing things like printing 3-D models of human organs from MRIs and other scans so that doctors can simulate surgery before they even begin to cut someone open.

We also re-met the folks from Organic Transit, who were rolling around in there wildly efficient vehicles. These Organic Transit Vehicles, or OTVs, are a new class of velomobile fusing solar power with elements from bicycle and car design. The Clarion Content will have full article coming soon from Ned Phillips. We heard that thirty new vehicles will be on the production line as of October.

We also got to talk to the people from Wanderful, who have in partnership with our friends over at Open Durham, created an app for exploring our downtown. As regular readers know, Open Durham is an amazing repository of Durham photos and Durham history. We were glad to see the word about this terrific website and founder, Gary Kueber, being spread further.

The music was also outstanding. Our booth was set-up just across from the main stage in Major the Bull's plaza so we got to groove all weekend. In the middle of Saturday afternoon, with a wall to wall audience, Peter Lamb & the Wolves had us all swaying to their funky tunes. They are veteran Durham musicians, led by front man Stephen Coffman, with other names you know from Durham's The Beast, and the sweet, dulcet tones of The Art of Cool's Al Strong.

Saturday evening was capped by local Durham sensations, LiLa, who had crowds of young and old dancing to their Durham themed hip-hop~ska fusion. Folks were, as is the norm at LiLa's shows, quite literally jumping up and down as they belted out a chorus of, "Hip-hip, hooray!" Were we celebrating the band? The festival? Durham? It didn't matter, joyful delirium reigned.

Also noticeably well-received by the crowds was a Saturday morning performance by The Durham Jazz Orchestra and a Sunday morning jaunt from the Freylach Time Klezmer Band, who began wishing the crowd a joyful, La Shana Tova and ended with ecstatic dancing in the plaza.

Of course, the Young People's Performing Company was a hit. Though years and years of Centerfest, the YPPC has been a constant and an incubator of talent. Many of the twenty and thirty-somethings at the forefront of this Durham cultural renaissance did time in the YPPC in their formative years. The enthusiasm for their performances remains as high as ever.

And the Bouncing Bulldogs1, blew people away as the crowd surrounding them in Major the Bull's plaza got deeper and deeper. It is no coincidence that the sign reads, "World Champions" on the side of their gym. Watch for five minutes and you knew you were in the presence of world-class talent. These jump ropers hopped, leaped, back-flipped, break-danced, did combos with two, three, four, even six people simultaneously. Cirque du Soleil has nothing on these kids.

Keep in mind as this litany goes on and on, all of this was available for a $5 donation!!!

If there was any criticism the Clarion Content could offer of this fantastic event, it would be that coordination with local merchants, especially the restaurants could have been a little better. More than once, we were asked by out-towners, or maybe folks who live out in the burbclaves around Southpoint, where to eat. This was while we were surrounded by the Durham restaurant scene that is being written up everywhere from the New York Post to the Boston Globe.

Perhaps instead of trying to sell local businesses on sponsorship, next year the Durham Arts Council can sell the restaurants on a being in separate map page of the Centerfest festival's guide. Said guide, while a great way to find the visual artists and figure out the band's schedules, hardly mentioned the restaurants, who could have been featured and maybe even sold ads. The restaurateurs we spoke with still enjoyed bang-up sales weekends. The beer garden at the festival was a HUGE hit with attendees.

Ultimately, this coordination stuff was small potatoes for a Centerfest weekend that was amazingly triumphant.

A grateful thank you to all of the Centerfest VOLUNTEERS!!!

Remember the Durham Arts Council runs this thing with a full-time staff of less than ten.2

The crowds in the streets were delighted. The festival was a hit. Without exception, everyone we asked felt a tremendous surge of Durham pride. There is a reason why, nationwide, they are mentioning our culture, our arts, our music, our innovators in the same sentence with the cities that led the 90's, Seattle, and the 00's, Austin.

In a demonstration of just how deep our culture runs, while thousands were jamming the streets3 to enjoy the 38th annual Centerfest, we heard rave reviews and tales of a packed house, at the simultaneously scheduled opening of The Cookery's Front Room.

1Our apologies for continually mistweeting your name.

2The Clarion Content says hip-hip hooray for and to Sherry DeVries, Margaret DeMott and Lindsay Gordon at the Durham Arts Council. Kudos to you ALL. It was fantastic.

3It should be duly noted, in large part due to rainy weather, Sunday's second day crowds were only about a third of the booming attendance on Saturday.

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