Not much has changed in the 30 years the city’s annual LarkFEST has become an end-of-summer rite of passage. The booths, the bands and the young adults still line Lark Street.
But when Bob Decker used to come out for the popular street festival 30 years ago, he and his friends had a simple agreement: Meet up by the band stage and bring some beer.
“Nowadays, that’s no longer necessary,” said Decker, 58, of Guilderland. “Everyone can just text their friends now, but that was what we did back then.”
The generational shift is hardly surprising, but one thing has stayed the same: no one forgets the beer.
The smell of cheap beer and alcohol overpowered the aromas of food prepared Saturday by area vendors for New York’s largest one-day street festival. The usually irresistible scents of fried dough, pizza and grilled chicken were no match for the atmosphere of brew.
The large crowd was expected by event organizers and sponsors, who said people anticipate the festival with its more than 100 vendors, two live performance stages and diverse activities. About 80,000 people converged along the eight-block stretch of Lark Street between Washington and Madison avenues.
“Lark Street has become the scene in Albany, from what I understand,” said Decker, on a stoop as he ate pizza with his wife. “Back in the day, uptown was more of the place to go, and we would rarely go below that area into downtown. But now, this probably epitomizes the flow from uptown to downtown. There’s a lot going on downtown these days.”
Linda Decker joined her husband at the 30th annual street festival after a 10-year hiatus. A friend of hers had a booth this year with cuisine from a local Thai restaurant that she’s been meaning to try. The timing of LarkFEST was ideal for the Guilderland couple, too.
“It’s just a couple weeks after Labor Day, and the weather is still beautiful,” she said.
That’s how ChristopherPerrigo views it. She and a friend enjoyed some beer and people watching Saturday as one last hoorah to summer.
“It’s going to get chilly soon, and this is a nice way to end the summer,” said Perrigo, 23, of Coxsackie. “We’ve just been walking around and watching the people, just drinking and watching. It’s fun. If you’re on the main strip, it’s really great. People are laughing and smiling and having a good time.”
Along with taking in the sights, Perrigo unfortunately took in the “odd smells,” likely wafting from the beer-soaked streets and garbage cans overflowing with half-eaten pizza and empty Bud Light cans.
In a modest lot off Lark Street, festival goers swayed to and fro, tossing a beach ball over a crowd of bobbing heads, clad in thick black headphones.
Despite the presence of two DJs, a sound system and a dancing crowd, no music could be heard. Of course, that was the point of the LarkFEST Silent Disco, which organizers successfully arranged last year.
“If you want to have a dance party but keep it quiet, this is how it’s done,” said 19-year-old Andrew James, who came out from Poughkeepsie to visit a friend.
The concept of the silent disco is very cool, James said. But the $5 cover charge to get in was a bit too much for him. His friend, Conor Mallon, a University at Albany student, felt the same way last year, so he just jumped the gate, which kept lines of people out Saturday afternoon.
“Everybody comes in, gets headphones and is tuned in to the DJ’s stations,” Mallon said. “If you take off your headphones for a second, everyone’s dancing but there’s no sound. They’re innovators.”
Because of the success of LarkFEST’s silent disco last year, Saturday’s rave continued several hours after the festival concluded, said Jason Bonafide, spokesman for the city of Albany’s Special Events and Volunteer Services.
Despite a few tweaks, the 30th annual LarkFEST is still the same old LarkFEST, said Bonafide. The young crowd, the variety of activities and the large vendor turnout are yearly staples. Vendors offered products ranging from oriental trinkets and airbrushed T-shirts to handmade jewelry and bongos.
The event’s organizer, the Lark Street Business Improvement District, partnered with WEXT 97.7 FM again this year to bring regional talent to the live music stages. Performers on Saturday included Ben Karis Nix, Landlines, We are Jeneric, Cody Beebe, Motopony and Mike Doughty on the Madison Stage. On the main stage were Blotto, Alex Torres, Severe Severe, Faces on Film, Jason Spooner and Diego Garcio.
“One of the things I like about it the last few years is that it really focuses more now on local bands and regional acts,” said Bonafide.