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Upper Madison Street Fair

September 18, 2014

By Vanessa Langdon

This Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. the block of Madison Avenue between South Allen and West Lawrence streets will be blocked off to all traffic for the annual Upper Madison Street Fair.

The fair features food, games, vendors, and musical acts. Anne Savage, 46, chair of the fair’s steering committee said, “you can think of it as a super block party.” The event is planned and carried out completely by volunteers. “Running a festival of this scale with no paid staff is very challenging,” said Savage.

Madison Theatre marquee advertising the Upper Madison Street Fair (Vanessa Langdon)

Madison Theatre marquee advertising the Upper Madison Street Fair (Vanessa Langdon)

“The big picture is we are trying to increase people’s understanding” about “the wonderful merchants the restaurants and business the sub goal is to promote the businesses because that’s why people chose to live in the Pine Hills,” Savage said.

There will be many additions to the street fair this year according to Savage, including some do it yourself art. Sarah Moore a local artist and business owner of Art in the Pines will be leading people in creating their own artwork during two sessions Sunday, at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The craft is $5 to cover materials. Organizers worked to make the fair “affordable even for families with multiple children, we worked really hard to make it affordable for everyone.”

In one instance, the steering committee found a vendor who will be offering face painting for $4. “We want everyone to get their face painted and have mommy not say ‘sorry that’s too much money’.”

One of the fair’s many corporate sponsors, the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library will be offering house caricatures for individuals who bring a photo of their home.

“Corporate sponsors are absolutely critical,” said Savage. The only additional financing the fair receives is from vendor fees. All vendors must be local artisans who pay a modest fee in order to participate in the fair.

There will also be a raffle, “it’s a big money maker with a whole bunch of different options and it’s a great raffle this year,” Savage said. The raffle includes about 50 prizes that have a cumulative value of $2,000.

All money raised at the fair goes to fund events held throughout the year including free movies in Ridgefield park, concerts on the Elks club lawn, banners signifying the streets in the neighborhood, landscaping and an $80,000 park planned for the area in front of the police station that will be built without city funds.

Councilwoman Leah Golby will also be in attendance on Sunday to provide demonstrations on how to use bike racks located on CDTA buses.

“A lot of people are interested in biking and want to start using the bus but are intimidated by the whole process of how to get the bike on the busses so I will be doing demonstrations,” said Golby.

The demonstrations will take place at  1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. but the bus will remain at the fair for people to further practice and for kids to play in. “There is nothing little kids like better than buses,” said Savage.

The layout has changed this year because of construction at Center Station, neighborhood police headquarters.

“We’re hoping that they’ll get the dirt back in the ground for Sunday but they’re fighting the weather and we understand that,” said Savage.

The planning for the fair begins early in the year, only weeks after the fair happens, “We actually start in October with an evaluation meeting on the prior year’s street fair,” said Savage. The meeting is used to discuss what they liked, what they didn’t like and start strategizing for the next year. The heavy duty planning does not begin until the next spring when the vendor and musical act applications go up on the street fairs website.

Pine Hills neighborhood association president, Virginia Hammer, credits Ric Chesser with the conception of the Upper Madison Street Fair, “It started out as a twinkle in the eye of Ric Chesser,” said Hammer.

Chesser said the festival became what it is today after evolving from the Taste of Madison event.

“A decade or so ago the city got some grant money and rehabbed the south side of Madison, to celebrate it I worked with a woman from the city to put on the Taste of Madison. The next year I did it but it was like pulling teeth and then I got the Pine Hills neighborhood association involved.

Now all decisions concerning musical acts are made by Chesser, director of the Steamer 10 Theatre. Chesser selects acts that he feels will appeal to a wide variety of fair goers and they “try to pull performers from the neighborhood,” said Chesser.

“One of my favorites is Swing Shift, who worked at factories in their youths but play 20′s and 30′s jazz. It took a year but I convinced them, they’ll open the festival at noon,” said Chesser of the eight piece band.

One of Chesser’s selections for this years fair is singer-songwriter Michael Jerling. He heard about the street fair through a chance run in with Chesser but Jerling is no newcomer to the Pine Hills area.

“I have many friends that live there, I used to be down there very often…I used to play at a place called Bogie’s,” said Jerling.

As a first time Upper Madison Street fair attendee Jerling is excited to “hear the other musicians. Since I’ve never been there before I don’t really know what it’s going to be, sounds like food and music and nothing wrong with any of those things.”

The only hesitation Jerling has about the event is the weather as he had a recent performance in Saratoga rained out but he remains optimistic, “I’ll be playing a small part and I hope it’ll be a beautiful afternoon,” said Jerling.

Jonathon Duda, 39, has a long history with the street fair. Duda began his involvement in the fair six years ago for the first year,

“I wanted to be involved in our neighborhood in some capacity…it’s hard with such a diverse population to have this community feel so I felt a duty of mine to create a little bit more of a sense of a community for all the different types of people living in this neighborhood,” said Duda.

He began working on the fair as a volunteer working on the beginning stages of the planning but this year he will be working as one of the entertainers. Duda runs the Let’s Drum Program and will be set up on Sunday at the fair,

“I am most looking forward to making a lot of noise and really what I get out of it is to provide this free source of entertainment for kids and adults who come up and try things out that they never tried before,” Duda said. “You go into music stores and you’re not allowed to touch things so this allows you to do so.”

Ptl. Joseph Acquaviva Jr., the officer assigned to neighborhood as part of the neighborhood engagement unit, has worked to root himself in the community.

“Last year I sat in on most of the committee meetings, this year I’m volunteering as one of the captains to get things done,” said Acquaviva.

He stressed the family friendly nature of the event stressing the ‘dry’ atmosphere; “they don’t serve beer so it’s more family oriented. If they served beer it would be just like any other fair in Albany.”

The fair is a way for the area to display its diversity and come together as a community. Tierra Farms, that now runs the Madison Theatre, put the Upper Madison Street Fair on the Madison marquee for the first time in the history of the fair, “Tierra Farms has been nothing but fantastic,”said Savage.

Hammer is also a big proponent of the street fair and it’s ability to showcase the area,

“Upper Madison is within the bounds of the Pine Hills neighborhood association therefore we are extremely supportive of the street fair. We actually are a member of the organization that plans the fair because we believe obviously the goal of the organization, to showcase everything that we have in this commercial area so by holding the fair right there in the middle of the commercial area we are bringing attention to the area,” said Hammer.

Savage is a mother of two young kids. “They are about as excited about the street fair as any two people could possibly be…they like the fried dough that’s what they are most excited about.” -30-

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