Westcott Street Cultural Fair blends music, politics and summer-like heat

Westcott Street Cultural Fair featured music, politics

Activists, artists and community members converged for the 28th annual gathering in the University Neighborhood.
Published: September 23, 2019 | Updated: October 2nd, 2019 at 7:16 pm
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Scott Herrman (center) poses for his artist friends Dan Shanahan (left) and Tim Oliver-Graw (right). They are all part of a human figure art organization in Syracuse.

On the final day of summer, temperatures reminisced on July, creeping toward 90 degrees at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair. The event — filled with food, beer, six separate stages, crafts and plenty of face paint — shut down the neighborhood’s streets from noon until 6:30 p.m.

Irish folk singers graced one stage, while the funk-inspired Sophistafunk capped a day marked by diversity with vibrant breakbeats while a crowd of dozens with various backgrounds grooved. Advocates explained the state’s I-81 plan, religious groups offered prayers and the civil liberties union passed out pamphlets educating people about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for free. The fried food and beers that changed hands were not.

The infusion of politics underscored a turbulent era for a city as diverse as Syracuse. “Black Lives Matter” signs hung across from a group with information on how to file a police complaint. However, the scene remained peaceful and jubilant, with those messages sent quietly on the sidewalks. An elderly woman driving onto the closed street marked the only evident disturbance.

Even if the many children in attendance noticed the messages, it was a blur behind the face paint and balloons. The adults who waited for them to receive their gifts often held plastic cups sweating from the heat that hung overhead. Even the latter stages of the day held on upwards of 80 degrees.

$8 cans of beverages exceeded many college budgets, so $2 empanadas from Westcott’s Las Delicias prevailed. The thousands who crossed the street throughout the afternoon depleted them of their plantains. Other vendors sold hamburgers, corn and gyros, and even some houses fired up their grills to make a quick buck. Children sold their glued crafts, while more artful stands featured necklaces and other handmade jewelry.

Not every booth drew a crowd, but everybody found a way to express themselves. From a t-shirt celebrating Australian heritage to dancing in the streets, some did it more subtly than others.

A baloon salesman stands in the street smoking.
A balloon salesman stands in the street smoking.
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One-year-old Riley enjoys affection from people at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair on Sunday.
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh
Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh carries his daughter on his shoulders as he marches in the parade at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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The crowd cheers as a band plays at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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Mary Austen getting an empanada from OJ Rodriguez at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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Syracuse company Makes Scents displays their specialty candles at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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The Westcott Street Cultural Fair is not just for humans.
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Decorative cheese plates made of bottles for sale at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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Charlie Kennard had more interest playing in the dirt than watching the Savannah Juvanis drumline at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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Chuck Pendos peeks out from his art stand.
Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
Jim Coon draws a caricature of a pair of kids at the Westcott Street Cultural Fair.
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A crowd of people sit down and listen to a band in early evening light.
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A crowd pools outside Alto Cinco waiting to be seated.
Avatar for Bobby Manning

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.