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Belltown Messenger #83 - September 2010

CLARK HUMPHREY basks in the afterglow
Founders Days: Just Getting Started

Seattle Founders Days, Belltown's entry in the neighborhood summer street fair game, have come and gone.

And, in my opinion, they succeeded.

Its instigators were wise not to attempt the scale of the U District or Fremont fairs, at least not in Founders Days' first year. They were also mindful to concoct a name with potential citywide appeal, and to have both day and evening event schedules.

There was a single main performance stage, right at Second and Bell. It was flanked on Second's surrounding blocks by a couple dozen tented merchant booths.

In lieu of a separate, fenced off beer garden, attendees were invited into the street's existing sidewalk bar tables and to the Buckley's patio (with its own tiny live-music stage).

Along with the on-stage acts, costumed performers milled about. There were civic pioneer characters during the day, more nightlife-esque characterizations by night.

The main stage performers were a good mix of top local bands, rising stars willing to work cheap, and extremely talented friends (Mark Pickerel) and relatives (Ramona Freeborn) of the fair organizers.

Thus, on two of the year's hottest days, a few dozen to a few hundred people at any one time milled about along the closed street blocks. They enjoyed the sun, the music, the food and drink, the art, and the low-key fun atmosphere. The evening sessions complemented, and contrasted with, the more high-energy partying along First Avenue.

It was all a big advertisement for Belltown, specifically for the artier, Second Avenue aspect of Belltown.

And it said to the rest of the city: Come on down and have some fun. Belltown's not really that mean, scary place in all the news reports. It's safe. We've got more cops now. We've always had great food and different kinds of bars. We've got a whole lot of things to do, even if you don't like to get all pushy and rowdy.

In all, it was a great debut for what organizers plan to be an annual affair.

Yet there's plenty of room for future growth, even with the single stage layout.

There could be more merchant booths and food booths. Now that Founders Days will be on the regular regional street-fair schedule, the event can attract some of that circuit's regular vendors. It can also lure in some of the vendors from the Punk Rock Flea Market and from Occidental Park's monthly art bazaars.

And once Bell Street's been rebuilt into a "park boulevard," with less car space and more people space, Founders Days will get space for still more growth. (Though I'd like to see the Second and Bell intersection still closed off, and I'd like to see the Second Avenue bars and galleries still incorporated into the fair's site.)

Indeed, the future Bell Street can become a site for year-round (or at least dry-season-round) outdoor events and performances of all types.

And Founders Days can become the keystone event of such a seasonal series.

-Clark Humphrey

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