“Family” Comes To Fair Haven Festival

 Hoots, hollers and resounding applause were in order for the danceable and diasporic rhythms of Kevin Diaz’ Movimiento Cultural Afro-Continental. Leigh Busby Photo. 

Hoots, hollers and resounding applause were in order for the danceable and diasporic rhythms of Kevin Diaz’ Movimiento Cultural Afro-Continental. Leigh Busby Photo. 

Something was up on James Street. Instead of cars, rows of bright tents packed the asphalt and surrounding park, buzzing with activity. Live music drifted into the crowd, drumbeats floating from the stage to visitors below. One glance up, and attendees found themselves face-to-face with a rock wall, climbers ambling up its surface. Families wove in and out of the action, hand-in-hand and nibbling hot dogs and fried dough as they walked. 

Saturday afternoon marked the sixth annual Fair Haven Neighborhood Festival, moved this year to Criscuolo Park and James Street in the Mill River district of Fair Haven. A sort of kickoff to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas this June, the event brought in a few hundred attendees over four hours.

As neighborhood tours, bike demos, rock climbing, and song and dance unfolded, festival organizers focused on a new-old aspect of the celebration: it is no longer a “pop up,” as Arts & Ideas has called it in the past, but an established event in the community. To mark the shift, the group settled on a theme of “family,” drawing on the neighborhood’s history and the attendees who they hoped would come out for the day. A follow-up is planned for June 9 on the New Haven Green, where Fair Haven will join representatives of other neighborhood festivals.

 Attendees included Ice The Beef's Chaz Carmon, who made sure not to come alone. Leigh Busby Photo. 

Attendees included Ice The Beef's Chaz Carmon, who made sure not to come alone. Leigh Busby Photo. 

“We’re proud we moved the festival to feature the true epicenter of the neighborhood,” said co-organizer David Weinreb, a teacher at Fair Haven School, after the festival. “This is just a reminder that our community is full of talent, beauty, resources, expertise, and of course, cause for celebration.”

Those causes for celebration packed the street, attendees exuberant beneath Saturday’s climbing temperatures. At one booth, a volunteer from EcoWorks CT chatted with passers-by about creative reuse, showing off the organization’s mission as it enters its fourth year on State Street.

As she helped cut out designs, kids and adults made origami from old maps and newspapers, rag dolls from scraps of cloth, and dioramas in emptied tennis ball containers. As pint-sized Fair Haveners gathered to craft, the volunteer filled the diaroramas with recycled paper, plastic and donated toys.

Just a few paces away, families climbed into the New Haven Free Public Library’s (NHFPL) bookmobile, greeted by a small collection of books ready to be borrowed, and a chance to register for their own—and sometimes first—library cards. Inside, librarian Amanda DeRosa greeted attendees cheerfully, offering book suggestions and help getting started with how to borrow from one’s local library. 

 “It’s good to be around to convince people to read,” she said of the bookmobile’s presence at the festival. “And if you can sign up just a few people for library cards, then it’s worth it.” 

On the stage, the festival picked up, families gathering to watch as a rotating cast of performers sang songs, spun minimal costumes into big stories, and danced the afternoon away. From Alliance Children's Theatre’s (ACT) performance of “Bebop with Aesop” to musician Thabisa, artists captivated with forms of creative and musical storytelling.

 Leigh Busby Photo. 

Leigh Busby Photo. 

Taking the stage in the heat of the day, Kevin Diaz’ Movimiento Cultural Afro-Continental (pictured above) drew a small crowd, attendees of all ages looking on as skirts whooshed in the heat, carried by a propulsive drumbeat. 

There was one pop-up element—a pop-up bike lane from New Haven Bike Month, assembled with the neighborhood celebration in mind. Among free bike repair from the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop and Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op (BSBC), helmet fittings, and a bike giveaway, students and volunteers from Fair Haven School, New Haven Promise, and Squash Haven gathered to build the lane. 

As they worked, a new sort of Fair Haven family unfolded around them, and across the park. New friends, longtime Fair Haveners, and community organizers introduced themselves to each other, groups like Ice The Beef and 108 Monkeys making new connections.

 The pop-up bike lane takes shape. New Haven Bike Month Photo. 

The pop-up bike lane takes shape. New Haven Bike Month Photo. 

Kids headed into the park and lined up by the climbing wall, ready to take on the afternoon. Parents bounced around the street with them, unimpeded by cars. In purple shirts, organizers dotted the festival, making sure everything was running smoothly. And ultimately, it did. 

“With a new location and exciting performers, the festival felt like a new event,” said Co-Organizer Juancarlos Soto after the event. “It was exciting to see people enjoying with us food, local live music, bike activities, tours around Fair Haven and all of the many activities we had. The festival felt like a great success. I myself could not stop smiling through it."