Living Lilac. On the Road.

Living Lilac. On the Road.

Livia Green from Massachusetts, 5/3/16

9:06 in morning as Carl Gaedt sets the stage and Chris Beyer mixes Sarah Mclachlan’s Surfacing (1997) is when the Lilac Festival comes to life after another evening of partying under the stars:

band stand

Carl Gaedt, main stage at the Lilac Festival 9:06 a.m. 5/9/16

You come out at night
That’s when the energy comes
And the dark side’s light
And the vampires roam “Building a Mystery”

Carl has manned the main stage audio for decades, now, along with Chris, for Northeastern Productions. Carl loves the Festival, but misses early Saturday mornings before dogs were banned when pretty girls promenaded on Highland Drive and into the park with their adorable pets: And show you all the beauty you possess/If you’d only let yourself believe that “Adia”

mixer better

Chris Beyer, at the audio tent, Lilac Festival 5/9/16

For 15 years, Chris plied his audio talents on the road in the U.S., Canada, western Europe and Japan: 6 years with Bob Dylan and gigs with Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Elvis Costello. It was a great run, but finally Chris realized his place was back in Rochester being a single dad:  Life I’ve left behind me/from where I can’t return/and sweet/sweet surrender/is all that I have to give “Sweet Surrender”

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Rick. 5/3/16

Last Tuesday, Rick was one of the earliest vendors, setting up a Big Kahuna’s stand early in the morning. According to Corey Bryant, event planner for Springut Group, the Festival has more than 40 vendors, including for the children’s rides. The vendors are chosen by diversity of offering, but the menus don’t change much from year to year: bust your diet on all the beef-on-a-stick and trips to the beer tent your cheating heart desires.

From North Carolina,  Rick has traveled around New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts for years, perfecting the art of tightly filling a truck as if it were peanut butter in a jar.


The encampment, 5/9/16

prt a johns


That Tuesday morning, the Festival was beginning to take full shape. The fencing was up; bike racks in place; Carl’s stage almost done. The garbage barrels ready and the Port-a-John’s strategically place for maximum coverage. Rick said I should visit the encampment on South Avenue next to the Mary Cariola Center  — where about 90 vendor workers stay for ten days or more — to get the feel of life on the road.

group lilac

Daniel Dunham (front right) and others at the encampment, 5/6/16

About ten people were milling around a couple of the campers before dinner. Daniel Dunham said requirement # 1 for the job is liking people, and I could tell. The mini-tribe, who are like family to each other, think of themselves as a special breed. To be a festival nomad means loving change and variety — and especially the swarming and variegated mass of humanity you’ll encounter. (A thick skin helps too, said one woman, as well as applying everything you learned in kindergarten.) And like the pageantry of festivals: the parades, the live music, the color guards, the fireworks, the arts and crafts, the beauty contests if it’s the Laurel Festival in Pennsylvania, and lilacs if it’s Rochester.

w-joe briggs

Joe Briggs (right) feeding the paparazzi 5/6/16


Maria Cortez and Lazarus Molina from Florida. Lazarus’ mother Miriam is a true festival lifer. Miriam’s camper is her full time residence as she lives life on the road. 5/6/16

beef on a stick

(l-r) Mateo, Lazarus and Miriam at B. Original 5/7/16

Supervisor Joe Briggs is a Festival lifer who can’t recall exactly how many years he’s been on the road. Or probably how many hot dogs he’s generously offered to people wandering by the many encampments.  I asked Joe how he recruits worker; “I promise them the world.” Or at least, for those who won’t become lifers, an experience of a lifetime. Such as Livia Green (featured pic) from Massachusetts, an apprentice in Carl’s school of truck packing, already enjoying her first (festival) rodeo.

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Rick, 5/7/16

I learned from Dan that working at Festival is more than an experience: it’s a good job. Becoming jacks (and jills) of all trades, Dan and the others are gaining skills applicable to other fields. Setting up, maintaining and fixing stands and rides requires pretty advanced knowledge of electronics and welding. People pass on their skills to each other. In even one season, people can acquire a working level of mastery. In addition to technical skills, workers get a crash course in on-the-job logistics and customer service.

with eileen

At the SkyCoasters with Eileen, 5/7/16 [Photo: Jose]

Deborah, 5/7/16

Scott Virkus, 5/7/16

Amy Hudak

Interviewed by Amy Hudak, 5/5/16 [Photo: Jeff Rusak, News 8]

There’s not much down time at a Festival. But late in the evening, people eat and socialize and in the encampment; the mini-tribes mixing

Tired of their own food, people swap from the 40 plus vendor smorgasbord: that beef-on-a-stick from B. Original, curly fries from the Pit, gyros, Italian sausage, red hots, crepes, pulled pork, cotton candy for desert, etc, etc, etc.  And enjoyed with a beer or two — and the  occasional whiff of “lilac” in the air.  An honest day’s labor come to a close, life is pretty good under a spring starry night on South Avenue next to Mary Cariola.

channel 8

Where was Rachel? Amy was there. 5/7/16

And the rest of us enjoyed the Festival made possible by the city parks worker, the vendors and the audio guys.

On Saturday, those vendors barely had time for another quick photo op. And at Carl’s band stand, Jose even let me cut in for a dance with his girl Eileen. And looking Woodstock, Deborah made some summer of love moves to some 60s songs.  And Scott Virkus, working security, corroborated the story about the ball he hit in 1981 into the parking lot of School 6.  And Amy Hudak of News 8 landed an exclusive interview. And the guys at the Channel 8 tent said that other News 8 anchor woman, our our rival blogger dear Rachel B. (and presumably her henchmen), had not signed up for duty the first weekend. Slacker!

Vendors, I Will Remember You. (Sarah McLachlan)


Next stop Albany. On the road with the Trumprenuers

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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