We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the “recent unpleasantness,” from last weekend, but what an incredible, fun-packed weekend it was! The Market Square Farmers’ Market is at its peak. The Lego Fan Expo in the Convention Center paired off with the sixth annual Tattoo Convention at the Holiday Inn to keep the World’s Fair area hopping.
The Sunset on Central series kicked off, German Fest anchored Broadway and the annual Latino Awards slipped into the Mill and Mine. Lots of great bands played, theatre productions carried forth and Corey Smith played the Bijou while the Gay Men’s Chorus celebrated on Jackson. And those were some of the things I didn’t get to.
Saturday morning was hopping downtown with some of the events listed above, but also with two very cool and quirky events, one urban and one ancient, each benefiting a worthy cause. The third annual Over the Edge event had local daredevils dropping over the edge of the twelve story Langley Building and rappelling to their awestruck (and terrified) friends below. Each participant raised a minimum of $1000 in pledges to go toward Restoration House which helps single-mother families who need housing and employment.
It’s all safe and good, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s twelve stories in the air. Bleachers, street hockey and wall climbing were located on Summer Place between the Langley Building and the Locust Street Garage. I’m not sure which is a more intimidating view – from the bottom or looking (up!) from the nine-story Locust Street Garage.
On the other end of downtown, the annual Dragon Boat Races benefit the Tennessee Clean Water Network as teams battle it out on the river for bragging rights for a year. The sport is an ancient Chinese sport and according to the website, “the eighth fastest growing sport in the world!” It’s all in good fun and the teams laugh as much as they row, but they do (more or less) take the competition seriously. Other Chinese arts (dance, martial arts and music) are on display between heats.
Which brings us to the headline event of the weekend: the fourth annual Asian Festival. It seemed an oddity the first year when about 3,000 people passed through Krutch Park. That was enough success to come back for a second round, which drew over 7,000 and rendered Krutch Park extension less than adequate. Last year the festival took the leap to the big stage, taking over Market Square. Despite miserable heat, the festival attracted an estimated 15,000 and was very crowded throughout the bigger footprint.
That prompted its expansion this year to include Union, Market and Clinch, in addition to Market Square and Krutch Park extension. The festival was driven from the beginning by Kumi Alderman who wanted to share her Japanese culture with others and thought other Asian groups might want to do the same. Along the way they also formed tighter connections between their communities and found that east Tennessee has a large appetite for the cross-cultural experience.
As the footprint has expanded, so have the offerings. Twelve food vendors last year became thirty food vendors this year and they were stretched to the max. More Asian countries have joined each year presenting both food and cultural displays and activities. Kumi estimated perhaps 30,000 people attended this year.
The entertainment has also grown. A parade of nations starts the day and that is followed by entertainment presented on multiple stages, including the main stage at the Bill Lyons Pavillion. All manner of Asian performance is presented, along with some which are western and eastern blends: This year I learned about K-Pop. The highlight of the entertainment this year was the Matsuriza Taiko from Disney World’s Epcot.
We missed the parade, but after a little browsing settled in at the stage to listen to and watch the various artists and await the Taiko performance. We were charmed by some of the young children performing and I got to see another side of Kumi as she performed with a group including my old friend Shigeko Uppuluri. Also joining the group for some fusion action were jazz musicians and vocalist, Will Boyd and Kelle Jolly. Kelle killed a version of “Sukiyaki,” a song that’s always been a guilty pleasure for me.
Urban girl was quite taken with the Taiko and stayed in the sun until they stopped. Part acrobatics and part acting, the performance was an amazing display of drumming prowess and showmanship. It’s a real coup that the festival was able to get such a high caliber of entertainment.
We rounded up egg rolls and rice with a range of chicken and took it home to eat. The lines at nearly 2 PM were very long and near impossible to navigate. It makes me wonder just how many people did attend if the food vendors were expanded to that degree and we still struggled for food that long after a normal lunch time.
After lunch Urban Girl and I took another foray into the mix, making some glue and sand art and getting henna tattoos on each hand. It was her treat to compensate for the rad umbrella Urban Boy had snagged for his treat. After looking through more booths, ringing the gong and posing for pictures along the way, we made our way past the Krutch Park stage and onto Market Square to end our outing.
We finished the day back in front of the Market Square stage enjoying a six year old instrumentalist, an eight year old doing a Chinese umbrella dance and the aforementioned K-Pop which went right past me, but apparently hit just the right note for the teenagers behind us.
It was another successful outing for the Asian Festival and it makes me excited, already, for next year. I’m sure it will only grow from here. It’s so important for our neighbors of different cultures to have an opportunity to share that as they live in our culture every day. I’m very pleased we have festivals that bring us together to enjoy our similarities while we celebrate our differences.