I am supposed to be in the mountains this weekend with a bunch of Episcopalians. Following my first week in a brand-new job, however, I am self-aware enough, and introverted enough, to know that that was a Bad Idea. (Cabin 6: You’re welcome. I missed you. But trust me on this one.)
An unexpected free weekend is great, though, even if you’re tapped out and shell-shocked from your return to the workforce. Last night I joined Willow and Chris at the American Tobacco concert. (New venue: lame-ish. Crowd: I am happy to let you pet my sweet dawg. This does not obligate me to babysit your children for three hours. Beer: Not Great. However, it was donated and proceeds went to charity, so we were okay with that. Music: probably great. I don’t know. I was barraged with small children whose parents just up and left them in care of my dawg and didn’t hear much. I’ll go hear Kenny Roby again next week and get back to you.)
We left Durham a bit overstimulated, having had exactly no minutes of peace. I had Some Things To Say to some of the concertgoers around me. Such as, if we were here first and you see my dawg’s modest five-foot leash radius, and there are acres of free space around you, don’t you have some moxie putting your chair right next to mine anyway, wordlessly leaving your children with me for an hour, and then asking me to move my dawg out of reach of your pizza when you finally return with food? Which you have placed within his reach? When he is quietly lying on the ground exhausted from the overzealous attention of your children? Parent duo number two, when I removed my exhausted dawg from the scene to give him a break, did you seriously send your middle schooler WITH ME to walk him, to “give her some practice?” What is the matter with people?
So. That was the Friday frame of mind. I turned off the alarm clock, and Dawg and I slept and slept and slept. I woke up, appreciated the fact that it was Saturday, and rolled over and slept some more. When Dawg finally started making the “mrrrragh” noise which means We Are Getting Up Now, I was embarrassed even to look at the clock after all of the lazy sleeping in. I figured I’d slept half the day away.
It was 7:08 a.m. Apparently that is who I am now.
We went to Third Place, started a book whose first page I read twelve times, drank more coffee, and then I went to Artsplosure. Please review all of the above to reiterate my snarky frame of mind; and then forgive me when I say that a “splosure” of any kind is pretty much defined by quantity, and does not necessarily indicate quality. It struck me that not much of substance has changed about the festival since the first time I came to Artsplosure in, what, 1998? Very little of the art was different, fifteen years later. Artists, maybe, but not the art itself. At that point downtown was kind of a ghost town on weekends, and people ventured in for the occasional street festival, clutching their purses nervously and complaining about how hard it is to drive downtown. Fayetteville Street was still a pedestrian mall on which no businesses were open after 5 pm, and Moore Square was still anchored by the dilapidated Disabled Veterans’ Discount Shop on the corner. Downtown wasn’t dead, but neither was it lively, by anyone’s definition.
Since then downtown Raleigh has reinvented itself. Fayetteville Street is thriving, it would take you ages to list all of the restaurant choices, there’s retail springing up everywhere, and oodles, just oodles of people live, work, and play here. There’s a killer art scene, and it’s edgy and fun, and there’s something for everyone. Double that for music. We have circus training classes. We have fire dancers. We have funky bike racks. We have walkable streets. We have people, people who don’t just visit downtown and leave in a hurry, but people who populate these walkable streets every day.
Most of what goes on downtown has evolved to reflect all of that, I think. It’s a whole different landscape. I feel mean saying this, so maybe I shouldn’t: but why hasn’t Artsplosure evolved too? Why does it feel like it would be more at home somewhere in North Raleigh, or heaven forfend, Cary? Where were the food trucks? Where was the vibrant art scene we see over in the warehouse district on First Fridays, or the hip local artists you see out in front of Morning Times? Where was the SparkCon spirit of collaboration and innovation? Where was the art that wasn’t designed to match your beige sofa? Are the booths too expensive for emerging artists, or were they not the target demographic? I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way. In fairness, there were probably pockets of cool stuff tucked away that I missed, but it started raining, and I hadn’t seen it any of that yet, and I couldn’t afford any of the cool $60 earrings, and I went home. I stopped by Inplosure at the Pour House, but they weren’t quite set up, and it was too dark in there to see whether the thing I was hoping to buy was there, and then the rain picked up again and I had to walk home in a hurry.
Tate and I went back to Moore Square later for some music. By 7:15 pm all of the art was shut down around Moore Square. Seriously? By 7:15 we’ve packed it up, on a downtown Saturday night in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities? My dinner options, at 7:15 at the festival, were popcorn, shaved ice, corn dogs, or the giant booth featuring Fried Everything that you see at the State Fair. I call our attention, again, to the scores of food trucks we have drawing crowds of thousands all over the Triangle. Were they not invited? Or still not allowed due to some obscure rule? And I had a corn dog. We went to the beer tent and could choose from Budweiser, Bud Light, and three other watered-down beers. The only local beer was a witbier. I hate witbiers. You could swing a cat in Moore Square and hit Lonerider, Big Boss, Aviator, and Trophy. Why? Why then make me pay $5 for Budweiser?
I mentioned all of this to Tate, in addition to just getting all of the snark out at once and complaining about the entitled people who wouldn’t let my poor dawg rest last night or allow me have a conversation with my friends, and by then I had finished my first watered-down beer and corn dog. The BoDeans started.
I forgave everybody everything.
The show was great fun, and I had another watered-down beer and another hot dog, and enjoyed every bit of it, as Tate and I chatted and sang along and people-watched. There was a giant chalkboard installation of “before I die I want to….” statements, and those were really fun. One of the public pianos was sitting under an oak tree, and people were having a big time with that. The lady selling bonsai trees stayed late, and then I kind of really wanted to take one home. There was a solid crowd there, even when it started sprinkling, and it was fun to see a whole bunch of people who aren’t usually hanging around downtown, along with a whole bunch who are.
So, okay, Artsplosure seemed a little dated, this year, and most of it isn’t my thing. But that’s fair enough; maybe there’s an argument to be made for the tradition, and the consistency, and the excuse for people to come spend some quality time downtown on a May weekend every year. There’s music, and an effort at food, and little nuggets of interactive art, and I’m sure a lot of people went home with something they loved.
I might go back for a bonsai tree.