“Who wants to have my babies?” a college aged man yelled, while leaning out the 3rd floor window of a brownstone on Lark Street, waving around a red plastic cup. Two of his friends were also leaning out the window, heckling a small group of early 20-something girls on the street below them. “Come on upstairs,” the one in the middle yelled. The girls laughed and walked away, much to the boys’ chagrin.
That was just one of many spectacles you could have witnessed if you were one of the anticipated 80,000 people who attended the 29th Annual LarkFest on Saturday. Ten blocks were closed to traffic in the Lark St. neighborhood of Albany, as hundreds of vendors lined up, hoping to cash in on the turnout. Walking into the festival was a bit of sensory overload. The smells of sausage and smoke, popcorn and pulled pork, incense and marijuana all mingled in the air. The sun not only provided a 77*F day, but also served as a spotlight shining down on various stands and aluminum cartoon character balloons, perhaps helping to catch the eye of a Larkfest spectator with money to spend. Or, a toddler with an admiration for Dora the Explorer.
Many people seemed to decide the best course of action was to go with the flow, down one side of the street and back up the other, although the youngest and oldest attendants brought the hustle to a halt at times. Guitar chords filled the air, propelling you towards either the Washington or Madison Stages to check out the live music. Along the way, there were plenty of things to stop and check out.
Elda’s on Lark was selling 16 ounce Heineken cans for $4. Available outside their restaurant, near the corner of Spring St and the Washington Stage, the cute girls with short black shorts and tight Elda’s T-shirts didn’t have a problem attracting buyers.
For $15, down from the $40 charged on any other day, tarot card readings were offered by The Psychic Gallery, located at 221 Lark Street. According to their motto, they will, “walk you into happiness, love and success.” At Lark Fest, they were willing to walk you to that happiness for the same price you’d pay for a slice of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Machismo tent. Most people seemed to choose the calories as their source of happiness. In the Psychic Gallery tent sat a lonely looking, bored, beer drinking clairvoyant. The employees of the Cheesecake Machismo, 293 Hamilton Street, were bustling to keep up with all of their orders.
Although their office on Lark Street is now closed, Planned Parenthood still manned a table, handing out both flavored condoms and candy. The organization was also offering brochures on safe sex practices. The staff was chanting, “Don’t skip it – switch it,” – a new campaign encouraging people with no health insurance to take advantage of the free family planning services the office offers.
For something a little more G-rated, families could make their way to Incredible Larry’s show, outside of the Ben & Jerry’s shop. The comic juggler was able to cash in on the heat, as several families settled on the curbs to watch his show and finish a cone full of ice cream.
The talk of this year’s LarkFest was the Silent Disco hosted by Bomber’s Burritos. A silent disco is a party conducted through wireless headphones. The concept is that two different DJs mix and play songs on stage, sending the songs out on one of two channels. Audience members can tune into whichever channel they like, listening to the music through their headphones. The disco was held from 12 to 5 p.m. in a roped off, tented area of LarkFest, on the corner of Hudson Ave. Although still early in the day, the disco was, well, silent come 1:00 p.m., with only seven people participating.
After national act Moby headlined last year’s Larkfest, the lack of a musical budget this year had been a source of contention and disappointment among usual Larkfest attendees. Several were weary of the local acts that The Exit 97.7 had booked. These bands were playing for free. What do bands that don’t merit a paycheck have to offer? Chris Wienk, head of The Exit 97.7 and the person in charge of booking the acts, had faith in the music his station was going to provide. “The idea here, from our perspective, was to talk to up-and-coming artists who are hungering for a chance to play in front of a large audience like LarkFest.”
There were a couple noteworthy performances. The performance of Rich Ortiz, Lake George, brought to mind songs of Matt Nathanson or Gavin Degraw. Dressed in a uniform right out of Degraw’s closet– a newsboy cap, t-shirt and jeans, Ortiz played his acoustic guitar, percussion and harmonica – at times simultaneously- and attracted quite a crowd during his thirty-five minute performance. Voted “Best Acoustic Solo” in the Capital Region three years in a row in the Post Star Reader’s Poll, Ortiz’s pop-acoustic style is something to keep an eye on.
A late edition to the LarkFest line-up, The Charlie Watts Riots (who will be performing early next month with Ortiz) have been present on Albany’s music scene since 2007. Voted Best Pop Band in Metroland Magazine’s Best of 2010, the band can be described as Fountains of Wayne meets Simple Plan. The band took the stage in slightly dishelved matching suits, white shirts and skinny ties. In between filling their nearly hour long set, they had a comfortable stage presence and banter with the shy crowd of 60 something people who had formed, albeit at a noticeable distance from the stage. “This is a great crowd but everyone needs to take five steps forward. Even the people related to me. You have 364 days to be a wallflower. Not today. Today, you make my show,” guitarist Seth Powell joked. The crowd obliged.
LarkFest is a chance for the people of the Capital Region – young and old, local and transplants- to come together and celebrate what is known as “Albany’s Greenwich Village.” It is one of the few times a year where you can watch a mother bouncing her giggling baby along to the music of an acoustic guitar show and turn to see two cowboys in chaps – and not much else – making out in the middle of a street. You can see a grown man wearing jean shorts over khaki pants, swaying along in a drunken stupor and cheering like a school girl at a Justin Bieber concert, while listening to punk music. You can buy a sculpture made out of forks, sample Vegan snacks and take a picture with a member of the Albany All-Stars Roller Derby, all within ten steps of one another. LarkFest is a time to embrace Albany’s diversity. If only for the day, the drunken masses were as one.