By Karen Klinger
Sitting at his “Poet Populist” table at this year’s Cambridge River Festival, Peter Payack recalled that when the now venerable event began in the 1970s, it was a modest affair supported primarily by what he called a small “artists’ army.”
Back then, it would have been hard to imagine that the festival would grow into a celebration of the arts attracting upwards of 100,000 visitors annually, as well as scores of performers and craftspeople.
At the 29th edition of the river festival June 14, Payack watched as crowds enjoying near-perfect weather strolled past on a mile-long route along Memorial Drive. Among the free attractions were stages where visitors could listen to jazz or folk music, watch actors and comedians perform, get out on a dance floor or enjoy performances geared especially toward children and families.
Payack was carrying out his duties as the city’s official poet by asking passersby to write down their impressions of Cambridge in couplets. He plans to combine the rhyming contributions he collects from the community into a “City Poem” by and for Cantabrigians.
Nearby, some would-be poets were arranging letters and words on magnetic boards to create thoughts both inspirational (“If you are my summer, I am your spring”) and incomprehensible (“Those winds luscious, she flew through fingers like my frog garden”).
Across the way at the Family & Children stage, students from Boston’s Chun Ling Dance Academy were among the performers who entertained throngs of youngsters (and their accompanying oldsters). Wearing colorful costumes, they performed Chinese folk and classical dances.
Farther down Memorial Drive, there were martial arts demonstrations and displays by a variety of community organizations, including one offering face painting for kids and a colorful promotion of Cambridge Carnival 2008, a celebration of Afro-Caribbean culture taking place August 24 in Kendall Square.
Festival goers with a yen to express their own artistic skills could create chalk drawings on the pavement as part of “Paint for Peace,” a project the organizer, ArtStreet, described as bringing a “message of peace to communities affected by violence.”
At the dance stage, visitors could try out dancing styles ranging from hip-hop to African, international folk, Contra and the Lindy Bomb, all with the encouragement of host Alice Hunter, a Cambridge-based choreographer and instructor.
Less strenuous activities included glass blowing demonstrations by the Diablo Glass School of Boston, potter’s wheel spinning with instructors from the Harvard ceramics program and activities featuring visual artists from North Cambridge (NOCA), Cambridgeport (CAOS) and Essex Street Studios.
Among them was Maine artist Rain Desjardins and her “All Star Hoops,” nostalgia-inducing items for those who remember swinging their hips with hula hoops. With “hooping” enjoying new popularity, kids and adults alike eagerly tried out her decorative products.
The river festival is a creation of the Cambridge Arts Council, established in 1974 to ensure that the arts remain a vital part of life in the city. The council also issues permits to street performers, gives grants for artistic projects and operates the CAC gallery at the City Hall Annex. For more information, go to: http://www.cambridgeartscouncil.org/.