Larking around Albany for the 34th LarkFEST

(Ben Lucas | Concordiensis) LarkFEST in Albany, above, attracts an estimated 80,000 people a year.

Last Saturday, the city of Albany hosted its 34th annual LarkFEST, where local musicians, artists, street performers and food vendors line up their stands (or guitar cases) on Lark Street to promote their business. The festival is free and open to the public for an afternoon.

There’s not much room to get lost at LarkFEST, as it is essentially a straight line, with two stages of live music performed on both ends and the main walkway split down the middle in two currents of foot traffic.

Upon entering, we found ourselves swept toward the further stage where a local band covered Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” At this point, I discovered my camera’s memory card was out of room, in a rather ill-timed oversight.

The first thing you’ll notice at LarkFEST is food, and lots of it. Grab a bratwurst at one stand or cross the street and build a crepe, or take a few more steps and scoop yourself a chicken lo mein. I settled on some Thai chicken.

Eating out of a Styrofoam box with a fork and knife proves difficult when constant shuffling is demanded of you. These sorts of issues are why they have curbs.

Unlike Tulipfest, Albany’s spring counterpart to LarkFEST, which sections off the food from the art, here the chefs and artists intermingle.

Paintings, tapestries, small toys, vaporizer juice and a stand that advertised “Award-Winning Slinky Bracelets” sat under an aroma of international cuisine. Some of the vendors got creative; one in particular sold records out of an old minibus.

I slunk out of the crowd and bought a painting from some Buddhists, the shade of their tent granting me a few minutes of relief from the unforgiving sun.

If you’re in a hurry to get to the end, the sidewalks provide the easiest passage, where panhandling banjo or bongo players set up “stands” of their own.

We passed a man strumming a guitar, his yellow Labrador nestled in his guitar case.

Someone approached us with a petition to free some rapper from prison, who had been wrongfully accused of instigating a fight at a nightclub. It was around two in the afternoon and he had gotten six or seven signatures.

The permanent shops on Lark Street are, for the most part, cappuccino shops and ice cream parlors that could enjoy the free exposure without having to go to the trouble of erecting a tent. At the end of the street, we descended into a retro video game store and perused titles dating back to the Atari 2600.

It was an anomaly of a business, with more cartridges than CDs . We were now just under the further stage, where the band performed Muse’s “Hysteria.”

Not everyone was pleased by the staggering, eighty-thousand large turnout.

Earlier, when we had perched on the stairs of a tuxedo-fitting business for a quick break, a man came out shaking his head, and complained that someone had ripped down his sign. “What sign?” we asked. “The one that says, ‘don’t sit here.’”

Musicianship, grilling and tchotchkes construction make up merely a small part of Albany’s artisans, and LarkFEST might just give them their biggest audience of the year.

The festival gives non-residents a taste of Albany’s diverse talent. We left content with bags of beef jerky, in search of Italian ice under the late summer heat.


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