Perhaps it was the stoked outdoor fire pit or the warm tones of his Epiphone, but people gathered tight around Alan Payette’s little rock ’n’ roll tent.
He and a few buddies jammed out the 12 bar blues and classic rock favorites on the street corner outside Payette’s Music Traders Sunday afternoon, lending a bassy soundtrack to Scotia’s Holiday on the Avenue.
“I can’t get enough of your love!” he sang out between guitar solos that would have put the aging members of Bad Company to shame.
Payette’s band was one of a few new additions to the event. Holiday on the Avenue skipped last year because of waning interest. Organizers planned some new attractions this time around and based on Sunday’s milling crowds, interest has returned.
“There was such an outcry last year,” said Drew Kinum, who helped organize the event. “That’s why we’re back.”
He pointed out some kid-friendly activities, such as pony rides, a gingerbread house competition and craft workshop, all of which seemed pretty popular.
A small disused storefront was jammed with children sitting cross-legged, enthralled by the Puppet People’s version of “A Christmas Carol.”
Danielle Roylance waited patiently in the back of the room for her children.
“Puppet shows can be sort of creepy,” she said, as an eerily expressive Scrooge glided across the miniature stage on marionette strings. “You have to be careful with really young kids.”
Hers are 8 and 10, the perfect age for puppets and street fair activities in general.
Organizers also made a concerted effort to have more live music. Out of earshot of Payette’s band sang several different choirs, including one from the local high school.
The new attractions led in part to a turnout Kinum called extremely good, but above all, he linked the event’s newfound success to one thing: the weather.
Holding a street fair in December is a calculated risk, and over the 15 years it has run, the date has backfired a few times.
“A few years ago we had gale-force winds ripping right down the street,” Kinum said, motioning down Mohawk Avenue. “Santa’s tent just took off with me holding onto it.”
He laughed, adding that Santa was now safely indoors. This year, O’Leary’s Pub owner Rick Panetta said the weather was perfect for business.
“It’s been good,” he said, folding another $20 bill onto the fat wad in his apron pocket.
He dished up cup after cup of hot mac-and-cheese, chili and chowder from pans on a battered old Coleman stove on the porch of his restaurant.
“This is food on the go,” he said, “so people can walk around and see everything.”
The moist, overcast afternoon was cold enough to form a long line outside O’Leary’s, but warm enough so people showed up.