Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blockheads

Mention the Caroline Street Block Party around Jim Stanley and the longtime owner of the Tin n’ Lint will undoubtedly go into a vitriolic diatribe about the medalling bastards in City Hall. Then ask him his thoughts on the Caroline Street Art and Blues Festival.

Stanley is among a contingent of people who still aren’t exactly tickled about the city’s decision six years ago to nix the annual even on Caroline Street, which for many bars along the city’s Bourbon Street signified the first big day of the summer season.

In its heyday, the Caroline Street Block Party could have easily been described as a blue-collar party; as sort of event that was anything but wholesome but far from raucous. On the first Sunday in May, police would block off the length of the street, suspend open-container laws in that area and allow revelers to freely float amid what often ranked as the first pleasant weather of the year. And more often than not, it served as the last time city natives could kick back without having to deal with half-cocked twits from out of town.

But then the city council had to get involved. First, it was decided that the block party wasn’t as family-oriented as it should be to properly convey the image of Saratoga Springs to visitors. Of course, there’s a very salient argument that any street with a bakers’ dozen bars in less than two blocks isn’t by nature a family-oriented area. Still, the decision was made in 2000 –under pressure from the council and the city Chamber of Commerce –to force any consumption of alcohol back into the bars.

Then, in another brilliant move, it was decided to over publicize the bash via radio. This meant the block party that once drew up to a couple thousand suddenly pulled in tens of thousands from outside the city, which was a number no one could have been prepared to deal with.

Predictably, the event got out of hand. With temperatures soaring into the 90s and a crowd of nearly 15,000 shoehorned into side street bars, violence began to percolate, especially when a handful of drunk Schenectady cops started throwing fists in Gaffney’s. Things only got worse when the hired security guards were dispatched from the event –already understaffed by city police –long before the rowdy crowd dispersed.

But rather than offer solutions, former Councilman Thomas Curley, who’s now well loved in the city, stepped up on his mighty pedestal and began launching an unabated attack against the event. In their trademark pandering way, The Saratogian editorial staff saw their opportunity to draw some blood too, espousing how horrible the event had become without taking even an ounce of credence to what was behind all the problems.

Today, in lieu of the block party, the city has the so-called Art and Blues festival, which is just another pompous white-bred event aimed at drawing wealthy tourists and their grandchildren to eat overpriced funnel cake while standing in, oddly enough, The Saratogian’s beloved parking lot. Given all the free advertisement they stood to receive, the paper was quite quick to make the offer to host the event, a fact that quite frankly smacks of collusion.

Now, The Saratogian prints such cheery headlines as “it’s party time on Caroline Street” to advertise the denuded event their editorial board helped foment, which in truth is anything but a party. Try more like hackneyed tourist-dollar sponge that Barbara Lombardo and her cronies have the unabashed gall to call a “block party.”

Five "fests" later, it's unfortunate that both city residents and the Caroline Street Association don't have the cojones to stand up to this nonsense and re-establish what was once the working man's celebration of the rites of spring.

1 Comments:

Anonymous George Fletcher said...

Hey Horatio,
You made some points regarding the Caroline Street Arts & Blues Fest last year that beg a response - even if I am a year late, it IS the week of the 2007 event and therefore .
Despite your inference that the Caroline Street Arts & Blues fest is a waste of time and a white bread affair, at least The Caroline Street Association is doing something to bring people downtown to help businesses kick off summer in the absence of the old Block Party.
Jim Stanley is a great guy who I have nothing but love for, but while he doesn't exactly support the event, he does a pretty good business as a result of it. He could easily double that by getting involved, hiring an acoustic blues artist and putting out a few gallons of chili. Sundays at this time of year are still kind of dead on Caroline Street. I know. I work there on Sundays.
Sperry's, who doesn't contribute a dime or minute's effort to the event, benefits from the increased traffic, as well. Talk about Cojones?
There are as many good restaurants whose primary business is food service on the strip as there are bars, so why shouldn't it be a family event? The beer brawl fest you mourn for did little to improve the public's perception of this area of downtown, while the Arts & Blues Fest does plenty. What's not Blue Collar about the blues?
As usual, too few people do all the work while those who don't, benefit from it anyway, while a few out of the loop folks like yourself make the most noise (and least sense) over it.
A small group of people, including myself work hard every year helping the fest take flight. My job is booking the headline acts and handling press duties. I truly resent your uninformed and clearly biased comments.

11:46 PM  

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