Chewing the Fat

It is simply too nice outside to rant.

Sunny, it is. Warm. A couple of interesting clouds in the blue sky. A little breezy, but just enough to keep some of the boats at the dock and to dry one’s sweat. That’s almost the same report from North Puffin where it is actually just 74°, South Puffin where it is 80°, and Arizona where Limousine Liberals think illegals should be werry werry afwaid and it is only about 70°.

I wonder why Limousine Liberals are worried about sick birds in Arizona but you never know.

A thunderstorm threatens North Puffin but that should burn off this afternoon. The chance of rain in both South Puffin and Arizona is somewhere south of zero.

The Burlington Waterfront hosted the final Green Mountain Chew Chew (“Vermont’s Favorite Family Feeding Frenzy”) last June with chicken kabob pitas, grilled cajun chicken bites, Lion’s Club pork backribs with cannonball sauce, Lovemaker crepes, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and more. Each Chew Chew food purveyor (restaurants and farms, mostly) served three food items at their booths. No one duplicated another vendor’s menu. Each booth had one new item each year so the menu stayed fresh but retained many of the festival favorites. Organizer Rick Norcross booked two tents full of performers so music flowed almost constantly throughout the event. Depot Token Booths sold brass Chew Chew food tokens priced at 9 for $5. The menu samples ranged from one to four tokens each. More than 400 foodies grossed about $3,500,000 in the 24 weekend run.

Downtown St. Albans hosted the annual Vermont Maple Festival this weekend with pancake breakfasts, a maple buffet dinner, dancing, music, arts and crafts, performances by some of Vermont’s best bands, Vermont specialty foods, carnival rides, the “best maple syrup on the planet” and the biggest parade in Vermont. The parade stretches for miles with over 100 bands, clowns, dancers, unique floats, horses and tractors, musicians, neat cars, the odd politician or two, and the ever-popular pooper scooper following right behind the politicians. Vermont foods included Woodstock Granola, Vikki Machia’s special fudge, cheeses, Vermont peanut butter, and Richard’s sauces.

The Tempe (Arizona) Town Lake Beach Park hosted the annual St. Katherine “Taste of Greece” Festival this weekend with Greek dancing, music, specialty, and import booths, performances by costumed Greek dancers, Greek wine tasting, carnival rides, and the “best Greek food in Phoenix!” A lamb turned on a spit over coals as men flipped souvlaki. They had Greek spiced meatballs, fried and served with tzatziki sauce. How about Greek fried calamari, lightly floured, and served with lemon and red sauce. Or over-sugar yourself on Baklava, Pantespani, Karythopita, Kourabiethes cookies, and more.

Like most outdoor festivals, all three events have similar planning committees, hosts of volunteers, and cultural goodies to attract (and keep) the crowd. And like most outdoor festivals, all three events have similar problems: high costs for food, sinking budgets for entertainment, and weather worries.

The weatherman has frozen, snowed, baked, sleeted, and rained sunshine on the Maple Festival over the years. 13 inches of snow fell on St. Albans two days before the 2010 event. The perfect storm of increased production costs and crippling rain delivered a crippling 2008 loss to the Chew Chew. Only Phoenix seems immune to snow and rain although the winds practically blew visitors out of the park this year.

The food was good — visitors stood in line — but too expensive at the Maple and Greek festivals and the music stage stood silent too much of the time at both.

Cost is a real issue. The Chew Chew started out in 1984 offering little samples for a single token. Now the food costs one to four tokens per plate. The Greeks use tickets in Tempe; unfortunately, each one costs $2 and most food items range from one to four tickets. A family of four can put together a pretty nice sampler afternoon in Burlington for $25. Can do that for $100 in Tempe. The prices are pretty similar in St. Albans where you spend actual cash rather than scrip at each booth.

Tempe and St. Albans have just one stage each, so keeping the music going is a challenge but a challenge worth meeting. Food festival-goers come for the food. The music aids digestion and keeps them on the grounds longer so they can eat more.

When I booked the Main Street Stage for the Maple Festival we did everything possible to avoid dead air. The stage was divided into two performance areas so one band could be setting up while another played. The sound company (I used Tim-Kath) made sure we had good fidelity around most of downtown. And we never had more than 5 minutes of my chatter about the food between sets. People could find the food on their own.

It’s a good model and it makes the Fair food taste better.


2 thoughts on “Chewing the Fat

  1. mr blogmeister, these festivals should receive government money. i have worked all over the usa, helping festival workers put these things together, and believe me, there is grant money available .

    i was especially attracted to your reference to “hosts of volunteers”, as the government is actively seeking opportunities to fund volunteerism.

    best of all, this money is free. that’s what government is for.

    i urge you to contact the operators of these events and help them find grant money for their activities. it simply does not make sense that they should have to foot the bill for it when government stands ready to help.

    BTW, there is usually a small questionaire to fill out, but almost everyone can do it. HINT: where it says *party affiliation* I would simply write president obama. it works for me.

    — adeline moore

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