Thursday, October 03, 2013

ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Wonderful and delightful harvesting ... in 2013.

ON THE AVENUES: Wonderful and delightful harvesting ... in 2013.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

NABC’s 6th annual Fringe Fest provides an oasis of beer-driven sanity amid the bedlam. This column has been updated to reflect new, unchanged realities in New Albany. 

Properly rendered, civic festivals are just the sort of exercise to promote good times, unite the citizenry, help us bond through joy and alcohol (on second thought, that’s a redundancy), and maybe provide another yearly excuse to conduct a spate of deep street cleaning – preferably, both before and after the crowds come through.

When it comes to civic festivals, New Albany prefers ponderous bludgeoning over subtle stilettos. In rhetorical terms, so do I, and yet my feelings about Harvest Homecoming probably are more nuanced than they often appear to be.

I like it.

Except when I don’t.

For those just tuning in, Harvest Homecoming is New Albany’s annual 800-lb municipal gorilla, or stated more mildly, it is the granddaddy of all festivals in this slowly recovering, stubbornly hidebound city.

The annual arrival of the itinerant carnies precedes the opening weekend’s parade (this year, on October 5), and starting on the 10th, the heart of the historic business district downtown is handed over lock, stock and sewer pipe to Harvest Homecoming’s mysterious, Kremlinesque governing committee. Four solid days of throng-crowded booths ensue, manned by local indies and huckster mercenaries alike, dispensing foodstuffs, arts, crafts, politics and anti-abortion counseling, and completely disrupting any semblance of downtown commerce as finally functioning properly.

Increasingly, this yearly disruption constitutes the flash point.

For decades, there was little objection to Harvest Homecoming’s yearly invasion and occupation of downtown, because downtown was a ghost town. Now it isn’t, and dynamic revitalization has a predictable way of igniting a revolution of rising expectations among a new generation of downtown business owners, investors and clients. These are plain facts. However, as yet, there is no obvious solution to dynamism’s clash with conservatism, primarily because the low level of daily communication between various interested parties makes sparse dialogue between North and South Korea look like a beer hall sing-along in Munich.

Yes, there have been painstakingly slow and incremental concessions, and as Harvest Homecoming generationally reloads, the festival surely must go through a necessary process of reinvention. But from the standpoint of newer downtown businesses, the root equation remains largely unaltered: Harvest Homecoming’s longtime business model is dependent on the existence of a clean, moribund downtown slate that no longer exists, and if anything, will grow even less adaptive to the festival’s needs in the years to come.

My personal nuances are these: I don’t dislike the idea of Harvest Homecoming, only its current implementation. I believe it can be adapted to take full advantage of potential symmetry between it and an evolving downtown business district, without sacrificing its tradition, and to the benefit of all parties involved. I envision a downtown food and drink court on the current booth grid, one maximizing the uniqueness of our burgeoning dining scene, retaining space for booths while not blocking year-long purveyors. I foresee a celebration of what downtown New Albany is, and is becoming.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one stupid enough to dream aloud. For this, I'm sure to be punished.


We’ve considered another pressing question many times previously: Do we need a second major civic festival in New Albany?

Whatever its future disposition, Harvest Homecoming has the autumn outdoor imagery slot locked up tight, and in late April, two weeks of Kentucky Derby revelry usually consumes Southern Indiana residents and then spits them back out in mid-May, after the horse pimps have moved on to fresh drugging elsewhere.

A few years back, there was a springtime Da Vinci fest in downtown New Albany, which in retrospect may have been just slightly before its time. Da Vinci’s twist was a bicycle racing component; if it ever were to be resurrected, as with the recent New Albany Crit, I’d like to see beercycling events take place, too. Of course, a dozen or more weekends annually are booked with local and regional church picnics, concerts and specialized fetes. Finding an open date for our second major civic festival might be difficult, indeed.

(While none of the preceding can compete in scale and impact with the true heavyweight world fests – Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras, Running with the Bulls, or that lesser-known fete in Spain where they have tomato fights – the violence inherent in each of these, real or imagined, certainly qualifies them as worth copying for city council fundraising opportunities.)

With the chair’s permission, permit me to repeat my insistent civic festival proposal: As held on Election Day in November, it calls for the exaltation of meatloaf.

Not upper-case Meat Loaf, formerly Marvin Aday, who always wanted to sleep on it, but lower-case meat loaf: The myth, the legend and the great extender, tastily stretching limited household meats and means. Meat loaves of varying composition are rock solid staples in cultural, culinary repertoires the world over.

Great meat loaves? There’s a certain ring to that, and a growling of stomachs.

Does head cheese qualify as meat loaf?

I think so. Pig parts congealed in aspic and formed into a quivering block definitely merit a side competition for the more adventurous, because after all, aren’t we past the whole catsup glaze notion? Instead, our competition will encourage creativity. You can barbecue meat loaf, make it Cuban, or substitute Honey Cream doughnuts for filler.

Why Election Day for this festive “New Albany Loves Meat Loaf” gig? It’s an apt metaphor for a municipality (and county, and state) with budgets long since pared of lean and fat, where we’re down to cooking the bones for a bit of flavoring marrow.

Indiana’s former governor, current university head and future saint Mitch Daniels already had the 99% dining on scant meat loaf when he left office, and his successor Mike Pence is steady at the helm when it comes to ensuring the better cuts of cow stay at the “right” tables. The rest of us might as well learn a few meat loaf recipes sooner rather than later -- if not for own sustenance, then maybe for paying the municipal workers.

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