Monday, June 04, 2007

What's wrong with this picture

Robust coverage for the Spa City’s so-called Arts and Blues Fest still couldn’t turn out a crowd tantamount to Caroline Street Block Party, the raucous event the milquetoast street crawl replaced. That didn’t prevent some sponsors from hyping up the event that basically denudes the traditional atmosphere of Saratoga’s own Bourbon Street.

The Saratogian, the same newspaper that editorialized the Block Party into nonexistence and then sponsored the new event, posted what appears to be a photo of the normal afternoon street traffic on Caroline Street. The beneath caption reads “Caroline Street was loaded with people Sunday afternoon.”

True, this could be a misprint. Perhaps they meant to say “people were loaded on Caroline Street Sunday afternoon,” which would make a hell of a lot more sense on any given day. Or maybe they’re just banking on the fact that people will read the caption and article, but ignore the picture.

Either way, the arts and snooze fest were about as popular as always, which is basically not very much so at all. True, there were a few more people on the street than your standard Sunday afternoon; the Times Union claims “hundreds” of people were there. But in comparison to other street festivals of similar ilk –even winter’s Chowderfest –the turnout was paltry to say the least. This is nothing new for the Caroline Street Association’s annual event, which has limped through the city for seven consecutive years now.

Several years ago, organizers tried to steal a bit of Chowderfest’s thunder by throwing a chili cook-off among the street’s restaurants. After three or so years, the competition has yet to draw the crowds or entries that its winter doppelganger does each year.

So what bedevils this event every year? Well, first and foremost, it’s difficult to appeal to the soulless masses of the white-bred 50-something tourist culture with the lure of raspy soulful blues. Perhaps an Arts and Michael Bolton Fest might be more of a draw. After all, he’s probably looking for work anyway.

For blues, however, having free-flowing booze is almost a prerequisite, especially if it’s being played on a city block with no less than eight bars. But boozing is one element the organizers don’t seem to keen on bringing to the event. They seem to think they can repetitiously call something a “bluesfest” and eventually have the masses buy into believing it. It’s the same tired package every year as the downtown businesses trudge between Skidmore graduation and the fast times after Independence Day.

For organizers, the arts and blues fest is a perfect fit: a lazy tourist magnet to draw some of the sloppy seconds from the Elvis Fest in Lake George. For longtime residents, however, it’s a constant reminder of the vibrancy that is increasingly lacking in gentrified Saratoga Springs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the Sartaogian trashing the block party - I think the Chamber was also voicing opinions ("needing a family event")...Do I correctly rememeber that the 'last straw' for cancelling the party that there was a huge fight at Gaffney's between two groups of party goers ? And that one group was off duty Albany police officers and the other group was off duty Schenectady police officers?

2:28 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Pretty much, the chamber and the Saratogian did a tag-team ousting of the block party between 2000 and 2001. The rumored fight between cops definitely involved members of the Schenectady’s rough-and-tumble boys in blue. Yes, the same cops that had one officer drink and drive, then assault his brother in law after flipping the car. And the same cops that were probed by the state police for missing drugs only to have one of their top investigators arrested for a crack addiction that even a member of a grand jury could identify in unrelated proceedings; in other words, real upstanding citizens.

But the real villain behind the curtain was the city council, which always had wanted to do away with the block party but politically couldn’t because of its popularity among the merchants. See, the party was THE kickoff for the summer season; it was the nudge that pushed many bar owners over the hump of the winter and early spring doldrums. The cops didn’t seem to care because they all got overtime.

The commissioners, however, wanted a more civil and “family oriented” celebration that didn’t involve droves of drunken people meandering around the street. They figured this didn’t fit into Saratoga’s new gentrified image. So they had the Chamber set it up to fail, and then relied on the Saratogian’s fickle news eds to publicize the hell out of it.

The first move was to ban the open-container waiver, which really was one of the hallmarks of block party. Then, they had the chamber advertise across the Capital Region for the event, which had previously drawn primarily from within the county. The result was 20,000 people, rather than the usual 8,000, and all crammed into the bars on Caroline Street, not outside where there was plenty of room. An added bonus was that it was a 80-something degree day, which made fireworks inevitable in the end.

Ask any of the longtime bar owners on that street and they’ll still speak glowingly of the event and sour when discussing what it has become. It’s a sham what they have now and a shame they cancelled one of the best celebrations this city has ever witnessed. The essence of block party was a rite of spring. In its heyday, it WAS a civil event where people enjoyed good food and cold beer. But now that the rich plutocrats have overrun the city, such a proletariat celebration is frowned upon.

And what they have now is just pathetic; it's an insult to everything the blues stands for. Blues fest my ass.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I owned a store on Caroline Street all through the '90s (remember when there were actual retail establishments on the street?).
At the beginning of my tenure on the street, everyone looked forward to the Block Party. It was an event that brought all sorts of people downtown, and it brought a lot of business as well.
But gradually things changed, as the focus for the event seemed to change entirely to alcohol consumption. Then business began to drop, and the crowd became unpleasant to deal with. They began to steal merchandise, and one "patron" decided to use the dressing room for a lavatory. By the final year, it became a situation of trying to do business IN SPITE OF the Block Party, instead of because of it.
So when it comes to the Block Party, the final years don't exactly bring back a flood of halcyon memories. Most of the folks I know prefer to remember it in its early days, when things were a bit more mellow and less testosterone-driven.

8:30 AM  

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