Schenectady

SummerNight packs Schenectady streets; crowd estimated at 20,000

Better than Ezra performs on the main stage at SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022.
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Better than Ezra performs on the main stage at SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022.

SCHENECTADY — Back after its pandemic hiatus, SummerNight clogged State Street with throngs of people Friday evening.

Thousands strolled the closed-off roadways, beverages in hand, kids at their sides, music in their ears.

Temperatures above 90 degrees and a brief late-afternoon rain shower might have deterred a few people initially but they packed in as the sun sank. At 9 p.m., county officials and event organizers estimated the crowd at 20,000.

COVID seemed a distant memory, and that was one of the recurring themes in planning for SummerNight 2022 — a return to normalcy.

“As an organization we’re just excited to welcome everybody back downtown,” said Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, which spent the week sprucing up the downtown streetscape and the last several weeks helping promote the county-sponsored event.

Downtown has been quiet at times in the last two years but it hasn’t been dormant, and SummerNight likely gave some out-of-towners their first look at the new businesses and construction there, Salengo said.

Close to 20,000 people fills State Street at SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022. (PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE)

Likewise, it’s the first time in three years some downtown merchants have seen the street packed with thousands of people, or the first time ever for the new business operators.

State Street was still wet at 5 p.m. from the brief rain, starting to fill by 6, and difficult to walk through in places by 7 p.m.

Sitdown restaurants were doing a brisk business, as were the food trucks and stands lining the curbs.

One of the truck operators was a downtown merchant a few years ago — Sarah Rhoades formerly operated her Sprinkleista bakery on Jay Street, then converted a truck into a mobile bakery, then had to park it during the pandemic. Friday night was one of her first return runs.

“My truck has been closed for two years, so I’m just starting to get going again,” she said. 

SummerNight felt like a pre-pandemic event, she added.

Across State Street, sand sculptor Phil Singer was wrapping up a Minions sculpture for Sunmark Credit Union, assisted by Chris Bent.

The Minions sand sculpture at SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022. (PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE)

It was a long, sweaty, dirty day. They started at 7:30 p.m. and were still going at it 11 hours later, carving out letters with plastic cutlery and blowing aside stray sand with straws clenched in their teeth.

It wasn’t screened sand.

“See the stuff we’ve had to pick out?” Bent said, pointing to a pile of wood debris and rocks that had been in their truckload of sand.

McCauley Cannizzo and Sarah Gregorian of the Electric City Barn were helping visitors decorate a chain link fence across from City Hall, in the Kids Zone set aside on Jay Street.

“It started in the beginning with flowers,” Cannizzo said, “now we’re filling in around it with skies, but we’re letting people do whatever they want.”

The strips of colorful fabric woven into the fence transform the appearance and very character of the diamond-patterned steel barrier, especially with evening sun backlighting it.

Tots barely able to walk and seniors in their 80s have participated, Cannizzo said.

Gregorian sees common themes in public art, her own artwork and the communal nature of SummerNight, “having that connection with my community and that shared experience of creativeness. It’s nice to have that common ground with people.”

Better than Ezra performs on the main stage at SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022. (PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE)

Along with all the planning that went into the fun aspects of SummerNight was planning for things that could go wrong, Mayor Gary McCarthy said — having enough ambulances on hand, hospital capacity available, cooling stations at the ready.

Most members of the Schenectady Police Department and Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office appeared to be on hand, and heavy trucks were parked crosswise blocking almost every street approach.

Without divulging details, McCarthy said a lot of precautions were taken to prevent a violent worst-case scenario. “We’re very comfortable with the preparation that goes in,” he said.

It was what might be defined as normal at a summer festival circa-2022: Hardly a face mask to be seen and barely a hundred feet between clusters of police officers.

And Mother Nature cooperated.

“The weather is near-perfect, probably a couple of degrees warmer than folks would like,” McCarthy said.

Dusk brought relief, for a while.

Heat lightning flashed across the sky as headliners Better Than Ezra performed the closing set of the night. The first few cold drops of rain fell as they played a medley that bounced between the Rolling Stones, The Sugarhill Gang and Naughty By Nature.

Afterward, the fireworks went off as scheduled, raindrops be damned.

To quote the veteran alt-rockers themselves:

“It was good.”

Fireworks explode over SummerNight in downtown Schenectady Friday, July 22, 2022. (PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE)

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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