The World – Art, Food, Passion.
StART on the Street—described as the largest one-day arts and cultural festival in central Massachusetts—had all that and so much more, returning to town on Sunday.
It is usually held on the third Sunday in September and there hasn’t been a strict event since 2019, as it has been closed for a few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Tina Zlodi described the scene as “like getting up again,” as thousands of visitors flock to check out the food carts, craft stalls and assorted displays on Park Avenue that stretched between Highland and Pleasant Streets.
Wearing funky Ruth Bader Ginsburg earrings made after a late US Supreme Court associate justice while selling bottled water from a volunteer tent in the midst of all the action, Zlody shed tears as she spoke about her brother, Michael Zlody, who died nearly two years before COVID-19.
“This is the first (START) festival without him,” Zlodi said. “It’s an emotional day to look around here and see how happy people are.”
With a team of 12 volunteer coordinators, plus another 75 volunteers on the day of the event, Zlodi and her fellow Distinguished Directors—Nikki Erskine, Stacey Lord and Laura Marotta—managed the event like seasoned professionals.
Zlodi estimated the total price for the festival at around $25,000 to cover police details, bathroom facilities, permits and insurance. In addition, artists who performed live or were provided with setting materials were paid.
Jennifer O’Connell of Mulberry sat in the front row at a show a few meters from Zlody’s tent, as she listened to singer-songwriter Cara Brindisi perform “Sunflower in September.”
“I love it,” O’Connell said of the Brindisi song.
This isn’t the first time O’Connell has heard of it because Brindisi, who will compete on this season’s TV show “The Voice,” sang the tune for one of O’Connell’s loved ones.
“I sang it to my dad when he was sick in hospice care,” O’Connell said. “She also sang Crazy Jane and some old Johnny Cash songs.”
A new development for this year’s festival is START’s collaboration with Creative Hub Worcester in order to maintain the festivals’ reputation as a first-class event.
“It was a natural marriage to support each other,” Zlodi said.
Additionally, the number of handicraft vendors, usually around 350, has been reduced to 200 to provide the space needed to keep people safe during the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
Zlodi described a “lower air footprint” as the benefit of having more space between tents and booths.
Like all previous stART festivals, there were a variety of attractions.
The Worcester Museum of Art has displayed an interactive miniature Egyptian pyramid for young children to coincide with the museum’s current exhibition of the Jewels of the Nile.
“It’s great to get everyone together, to be outside and see the city,” said Audra Kaplan of Worcester, as she watched her 16-month-old son Danny crawl toward the pyramid.
Among the noises a notable screeching sound was and the source was John Maynard of Spencer, who was forging a single piece of steel for a handmade knife.
Maynard usually works in his Steel Sorcerer’s workshop in Spencer, but he was there on Sundays, in protective gear as he hammered away from the hot steel for onlookers.
“It’s very exciting after COVID to be in front of people who are so excited about my profession,” Maynard said.
Chris Balaji got some sweat on his forehead after he demonstrated the ancient art of fencing.
We’re going to do our job all day,” said Palagi of Historic Massachusetts, a community of historical European martial arts practitioners from central and western Massachusetts.
Some festival-goers enjoyed simple pleasures, such as Kim Harrist of Worcester, who watched her two young granddaughters, Ava Rose and Michaela Goteiner, have their hands adorned with artistic art by a henna artist.
“To go out with my grandchildren and be in the community, that’s all there is to it,” Harrist said.
Amari Greggs took a break from developing lesson plans as a student-teacher at Worcester State University to enjoy Orange Mango Italian Ice at Mrs. Moriconi’s food stall.
Greggs, who was a first timer, said she not only loved the Italian ice but was also outside, without worrying about the dangers of COVID-19.
“It’s good to be in society again and not hide from people,” she said.
Both Sean Connolly and Brian O’Donnell felt the same way they pitched their comedy tent, with comedians delivering their funniest material.
“The whole thing is so much fun,” Connolly said, making his debut in 2019 when he performed on the comedy show at U-Haul.
This year, he upgraded to a tent.
“It’s so much fun to be able to be here and be a part of the festival. It feels like we’re going back to normal,” Connolly said.
Back to normal
The return to normal for stART organizers includes the planned return of stART at the station in December.
That is if COVID-19 numbers do not rise this winter. If they do so around the time of the festival at Union Station, Zlodi said organizers will assess the situation.
But that’s after a few months down the road.
The theme of Sunday was all about fun and, as Zlodi called it, “awakening.”
“We as a community have lost a lot to COVID-19. There was anxiety and we were all isolated.
“It’s great to be hanging out again, enjoying the music, the food, the creativity and the arts.”
Contact Henry Schwan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram