Tens of thousands of people poured onto Lark Street on Saturday for LarkFest, Albany’s largest street party that comes around every September and this year is marking its 35th anniversary.
Lark Street was closed to traffic from Washington Avenue to Madison Avenue, and hundreds of vendors lined both sides of the street selling everything from kettle corn and empanadas to jewelry and original works of art.
The event is always a boon to businesses on the street, many of which rent space as vendors in addition to opening their brick and mortar doors. Elissa Halloran of Elissa Halloran Designs said LarkFest is good for getting new customers into her shop.
“It’s always good; there’s never been a bad year,” said Halloran, who has been on Lark Street for 16 years selling handmade jewelry and assemblages, as well as the work of other artisans.
Halloran said she’s seen the demographic of who comes to LarkFest shift over the years.
“It seems like they’re getting younger and younger,” said Halloran, nodding to the throngs of people flowing up and down the sidewalks and the street. “Or maybe I’m just getting older.”
And with the crowd, she said, there’s constantly people coming into the shop and asking to use the bathroom. “I probably get asked 20, 30 times a day,” she said, after turning yet another person away.
Mark Brogna, owner of Capital Wine at the corner of State and Lark streets, said business is always good at LarkFest, but thinks it should wind down earlier than its stated closing time of 6 p.m. to limit the amount of public drunkenness.
“I think it should end at 3 p.m.,” said Brogna, eyeing the many people walking by outside with cups of beer in their hands or suspiciously colored water bottles.
Longtime Center Square resident Bill Pettit, who works part time at Capital Wine, agreed and added that he’s seen many people imbibing who look to be less than 21 years of age.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it, in terms of underage drinking,” he said. “There’s going to be all manner of vomiting and hooliganism later.”
But, Pettit said, taken as a whole LarkFest is a great neighborhood event that brings the community together.
“The real story is everyone is coming out and enjoying themselves,” he said, adding that he feels quite safe on the street due to the significant police presence.
Dozens of Albany Police Department officers were stationed at various points along the street, and police had deployed a mobile command center, security tower and a surveillance tower. An ambulance was parked at the corner of Lark Street and Washington Avenue.
Police also seemed to have deployed several counter-terrorism measures to ward off any attacks that such a large crowd might attract.
Pettit pointed to manhole covers on Lark Street that had been spray-painted with a white line that trailed over the cover’s edge and onto the street. Pettit said police did that so if any of the covers were opened overnight and not put back very carefully police would know.
He also pointed to a large dump truck with a snowplow attached that was blocking State Street between Lark and Willett streets. The truck was there, he said, to block any kind of vehicular assault of the sort that killed scores of people in Nice, France, in July.
But the street on Saturday afternoon seemed devoid of any real disturbances. The crowd moved well, if a bit haphazardly, over and through and around each other as people scrambled to embrace friends, visit the many vendors or take in the live music from LarkFest’s three stages.
The Televisionaries, of Rochester, played the northeast side of Lark Street.
“It was awesome, better than expected,” said lead singer Trevor Lake, who described his band’s music as emulating that of the golden age of rock ’n’ roll — the 1950s. “The stage was cool, and there are a lot of hot chicks.”
The Televisionaries had just finished their set, and were blown away by the size of the crowd and their enthusiasm.
“This is the most people we ever played to,” said bassist Taylor Guerin. “We didn’t expect people to stick around and watch.”
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.