Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ignite -Somerville's Fiery Food Festival

2014 Poster for Ignite: A Fire and Street Food Festival New England Fall Events
Last weekend New England Fall Events popped by Union Square in Somerville, MA to experience "Ignite" a special community gathering billed as a "fire and street food festival after dark".
The evening was slated to take place between 6:00pm-10:00pm on a Saturday night and, like most of this summer, the weather was just perfect. (Really, it seems that if ever there were a summer to plan an outdoor event or festival, this was the year that everyone hit the weather jackpot).

Festive crowds on a perfect night
in Union Square, Somerville, MA
We arrived at Union Square just after six but, as legend goes, Somerville's street parking always gets the last laugh, so we just drove around...and around...and around (look kids, Big Ben! Parliament!) looking for a place to park that wasn't designated permit-only.
After parking about a mile away, we enjoyed the nice weather as we walked back toward the festivities and everything was in full swing when we arrived.

We wandered through the crowds--oh yes, there were definitely crowds--with queue lines snaking through the plaza We took in the sights and delicious aromas from a variety of vendors but the Union Square Donuts line was in a category unto itself. Their queue was so long that one never truly knew where it started or ended. Still, festival-goers were rewarded for their patience when they came away cradling a comically large, fanciful donut, more of a pillow really--some were coconut encrusted, others adorned with fat chips of bacon. You could see trios of friends ripping away thick yeasty hunks of donut and grinning from ear to ear.

The food vendors were represented by local restaurants-- pizza, Indian, Brazilian BBQ, vegetarian, tapas, Mexican, and more. We were drawn to Casa B. whose menu looked to be right up our alley and the line seemed manageable to boot. We loaded up with a pastelillo de carne (meat turnover), a pair of spicy and sweet choripan (best described as a chorizo and guava-filled "pig in a blanket"), a crunchy pork belly slider, and an icy cold Colombian limeade. Although there were tables and chairs set up, we were content to follow the lead of others and have a seat on the curb to eat and people watch.

Boston Circus Guild delivering a fire
arts performance in the square.
There was entertainment during the entire time we were there. An area was set up near one end of the square where performers would sing, dance, or play in front of a Bengal tiger facade. There was an Bollywood-inspired, techno-beat performance earlier in the evening and I'd happily credit her here but I can't seem to track down who she was.

The other end of the plaza had a large section barricaded for the fire-portion of the evening. Around 7:30, the Boston Circus Guild began their show featuring entrancing fire-spinners, whirling staffs, fiery hula-hooping, and more. It was well choreographed
Fire spinning and fiery hula-hooping
and the performance drew an enormous crowd.
And by "enormous", I mean large in number and large in stature. Quite frankly, I don't ever recall seeing such a congregation of people over 6 foot 4 all in one place. I am, as we say around these parts, "very shawt" by comparison and really didn't stand much of a chance to see the performance. Picture me, along with my fellow shawties, standing six rows from the barricade watching all the action on the phones of people in front of us videotaping the performance. That was the only drag of the evening but I should have known to take my cue from the experienced festival goers who had been lining up at the barricades well in advance.

Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band - New England Fall Events
Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band was
a fantastic addition to the Ignite festivities this year.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the evening was Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band. It is no secret that I am a total sucker for a brass or marching band so seeing the ENSMB in their full performance glory was a real revelation. (It also scratched my proverbial marching band itch until Columbus Day Weekend when the HONK! Festival is where you'll find me dancing and second-lining.) The ENSMB really kicked everything up a notch with their sheer energy, enthusiasm, originality and tight musical sound. The crowds were drawn in right from the start and within no time they had us all nodding along, clapping our hands, and dancing. The music and the band members have a distinct personality and it was a true delight to come across them during our visit to Ignite. You can check ENSMB out yourself as they are often playing in and around New England but if HONK! is circled on your calendar too, you can find them in the lineup there as well. Take a moment to follow these uber-talented musicians on the Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band's Facebook Page.

Lastly, I can't resist giving a huge shout out to the Somerville Cultural Arts Council who is setting the bar high with regards to free, clever, original community programming and events. These are the folks who brought us the endearing PorchFest earlier this summer and they are doing really great work keeping the arts in their community strong and thriving.
In case you don't already know, Union Square is host to a number of neat festivals--on September 27th, we are eagerly awaiting our first visit the the What the Fluff Festival--we hope you'll join us!

Ignite Festival Tips:
Ignite Food Festival _ Somerville _New England Fall Events
The festival seemed to glow once
the sun set behind the buildings.
  • This is a free event but if you plan to partake in the delicious food, be sure to bring cash as plastic isn't accepted because it slows the line down.
  • Bring cash... and load up before you arrive. Make a point to hit up the ATM before you actually arrive at the festival because the line for the ATM at the bank located right there in the square looked to be a mile long. A 3-minute walk around the block will give you plentiful ATMs with no lines.
  • Consider picking one food vendor and stocking up there (or divide and conquer). The lines were long enough that if you wanted to sample everyone's food you could conceivably spend the entire festival in line. With such great entertainment, we'd hate to have you miss out on the rest of the fun.
Family Tips:
Ignite Somerville Kids crafts - New England Fall Events
Free kids' craft table--think
tinker toys with food
  • It's a fairly crowded festival but in terms of entertainment it is very kid-friendly. Strollers will have a hard time navigating the crowds but they'll come in handy when your little guy tuckers out (or if your kiddo is liable to wander off).
  • The kids we saw loved the music and, as kids often are, they were like the show within the show. Dozens of kids were dancing along or helping to carry the banner for the band while they played.
  • The festival had a free craft table set up (see photo) which allowed kids to create using marshmallows, toothpicks, and other foodstuffs. 
  • If you're smart, you'll pack your own snacks to keep your kids happy. Even the pizza was super long and that was probably the most kid-friendly food.  
  • Kids have the added advantage of being able to sit on your shoulders to see the fire performers.

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