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River Festival 2014

Updated on March 25, 2015
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Cambridge River Festival

On the beautifully sunny day of Saturday, June 7th, Massachusetts Avenue saw a different type of traffic.

A steadily building sea of people started to pour into the middle of Central Square as noon rolled by. Instead of cars backed up bumper to bumper, tents upon tents of craft items and art lined the middle of the street.

Everything from artist booths, to make your own candle stands, performers, musicians, cultural groups, and food vendors were in attendance. This was the start of the annual Cambridge River Festival.

Due to construction this year on the Charles, the festival's organizers at the Cambridge Arts Council decided to move the event off the Charles and into Central Square. Yet that didn't change anything. The crowds continued to grow, and by quarter past twelve, the festival was in full swing.

A Brief History

Established in 1974, The Cambridge Arts Council is one of the oldest arts council in the country. Created to support and fund local arts events for the community and visitors alike, the Arts Council held the very first annual River Festival in 1977.

Now in its 35th year, the aptly named River Festival traditionally took place along the Charles. Only having been cancelled once due to extreme weather in 2012, the festival's organizers decided to move the festival this year to make certain it could take place. And it did.

Free to the public, the festival sees about 200,000 attendees a year, this year looked to be no different.

A markerCentral Square, Cambridge MA -
Central Square, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
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The Festival took place on Mass Ave between Prospect Street to Sidney Street, where it continued down the road.

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The Suitcase Junket - from Northampton, MA at the Folk & Roots Stage off Sidney Street.
The Suitcase Junket - from Northampton, MA at the Folk & Roots Stage off Sidney Street. | Source

Main Features

Spanning the greater portion of Central Square, the River Festival featured a multitude of activities and entertainment.

Mass Ave was swarming with local artists and businesses; everything from unique scarves to handmade dinnerware. Each store had their own tent, filled with items to purchase.

Stages, five in total, were set up sporadically around the festival featuring performers and musicians. Anything from folk to jazz to even a little rock could be heard throughout the day. Dancers and actors interacted with the audiences and allowing brave on-lookers to join them on the platforms.

The festival was a hit.

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Festival Food

No festival is complete without a little food, and the River Festival was no different. Filling nearly half of Sidney Street were food vendors dolling out everything from ice cream and fried dough, to dumplings.

Multiple cultural groups were included, making Sidney Street more like a trip across the world than anything else. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, American and more. The aromas of each station mixed and melded into a cloud over the street.

Sidewalk Sam, a local artist, brought the river to River Fest.
Sidewalk Sam, a local artist, brought the river to River Fest. | Source

Sidewalk Sam

It was clear that the festival was temporarily taking place away from the Charles, but one man wouldn't let the river be forgotten.

Sidewalk Sam, a local chalk artist, has been hitting the streets now for 50 years to bring his art to the public. This year, the River Festival featured Sam's chalk-drawn Charles at the corner of Mass Ave and Sidney Street.

After having blue waves of chalk take over the street, Sidewalk Sam and his team gave chalk to any attendee who wanted to draw. From young kids to adults, everyone seemed to enjoy partaking in the making of a (needless to say less watery) Charles.

Sam made sure to bring the river to the people, and in a way most may not have expected.

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Y.T. of the Boston Hoop Troop.
Y.T. of the Boston Hoop Troop. | Source

Boston Hoop Troop

Forming in 2003, the Boston Hoop Troop is a place to go to for those who love to hoop. Since their inception, the Hoop Troop has become the leading New England hooping collective.

Now 11 years strong, the Boston Hoop Troop teaches classes at the local Dance Complex in Cambridge, MA, right off of Mass Ave. Everything from fitness classes, to beginners, to advanced skills are taught by core members of the group.

Three members of the group, Sarah, Lolli, and Y.T. hit the streets on Saturday to showcase their skills and spoke to anyone interested in what the group is all about.

Sarah of the Boston Hoop Troop.
Sarah of the Boston Hoop Troop. | Source
Lolli, one of the founding members in 2003, of the Boston Hoop Troop.
Lolli, one of the founding members in 2003, of the Boston Hoop Troop. | Source
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Central Square Theater

One of the many attractions at the River Festival was that of the Central Square Theater's puppets, performances, and music. The Central Square Theater is a unique co-op of two different theater troops, the Underground Railway Theater and the Nora Theater Company. The two troops, although established in 1978 and 1988 respectively, did not get together at the Central Square Theater until 2008.

Now in full swing, the company started off the festival with a small parade, making its way down Mass Ave with massive puppets and live music. Throughout the day, the theater put on performances outside its doorways while showcasing props and puppets used in their plays.

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So Much to Offer

The River Festival was a whirlwind of people; dancing, eating, singing, shopping, walking. Even martial arts studios came out to enjoy the day and join in on the festivities. One such studio was the C.W. Tae Kwon Do of Boston.

C.W. Tae Kwon Do of Boston showcasing their skills. Located at 285 Green Street, Cambridge, MA.
C.W. Tae Kwon Do of Boston showcasing their skills. Located at 285 Green Street, Cambridge, MA. | Source
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Japan Festival Boston

This year, the Japan Festival of Boston joined the River Festival. Centered right in the middle of Mass Ave, the Japanese Festival featured art booths, cultural and community groups, as well as food.

Whether it be for an anime fix at Team Rocket’s Pokémon Emporium or perhaps learning how to write your name in Japanese, this small but highly popular festival had it all. Community groups such as the Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Greater New England or Japanese Association of Greater Boston Women’s Group were in attendance as well, teaching and talking to individuals who passed by.

Artists from calligraphy, to studio fine arts, to ceramics all brought their talent to the Japanese festival, showcasing different aspects of the culture. Anime Boston hosted a table alongside the New England Anime Society. The New England JET Alumni Association was in full swing, telling their stories of being abroad.

Multiple women were dressed in kimonos of varying colors and patterns as they walked between booths. Some were dressed in cosplay, enjoying the opportunity to join in and partake in the fun. With good food and great company, it was hard not to.

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Origami

Believe it or not, but origami was actually reserved for special, often religious, ceremonies in ancient Japan. Paper had only just been recently invented in China in 105 A.D. and was considered a luxury item.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and origami is enjoyed recreationally by many who try to master the art of paper folding.

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Upcoming Festivals and Events

  • Dragon Boat Festival
    Boston, MA
    June 14-15th

    Enjoy Dragon Boat races on the 14th, with finals on the 15th, along with food, music, and crafts along the Charles near Harvard.

  • Waterfire
    Providence, RI
    Multiple Times - Next one on June 14th and June 28th

    The Lighting of over eighty bonfires along the city's main river during sunset; having started 20 years ago, this festival is an art piece, with music and food. The festival starts at sunset, when the bonfires are lit.

  • Boston Harborfest
    Multiple Locations
    July 2nd - 6th

    Spanning over the course of five days, Harborfest features tours, talks, and hands-on activities to celebrate the maritime heritage of the city of Boston. Reenactments, concerts, and more. Now celebrating its 33rd year.

  • Yarmouth Clam Festival
    Yarmouth, ME
    July 18th-20th

    Now in its 49th year, the Yarmouth Clam Festival features parades, fireworks, concerts, food, and more as the community comes together in this local event.

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