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1st Annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival: Hot times at Inaugural Community Event

7.29.2006: The inaugural Auburn Gresham 79th Street Renaissance Festival on July 29 was a tremendous success. Keeping with the adage of “turning a negative into a positive,” the all-day event filled the vacant lots on both sides of West 79th Street with more than seventy vendors and a ten-restaurant strong “Taste of 79th Street.”

Farmers Market

The beautiful fruit display was just right for a hot day.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra

Listen in as community leaders, business owners and residents young and old talk about Auburn Gresham and its future in this audio slideshow.

Led by the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. (GADC) along with business members of the 79th Street Special Servica Area #32, the festival used four city-owned lots and the Chicago Park District's Renaissance Park to promote Auburn Gresham as a great place to do business, live, work and play. There was a Kids' Corner, Vendor’s Corner, Taste of 79th St. and Farmer’s Market, plus live entertainment at Renaissance Park.

And what live entertainment it was. The stage was hot with the gospel sounds of the St. Sabina Choir followed by the Pleasant Green M.B. Church choir. As the hot and humid day continued, so did the sizzling performances of the Johnny Drummer and the Starlighters Blues Band (regulars at Lee’s Unleaded Blues Lounge on South Chicago Ave.). Johnny Drummer had folks dancin’ to his down home blues, followed by the smooth, rhythmic sounds of Latin jazzman Jose Cornier, whose performance conjured up Carlos Santana comparisons.

Live music

Live blues and jazz kept people moving to the beat.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra

To give the seniors in attendance a break from the heat, more than 150 senior citizens and volunteers were given free lunches in the air-conditioned Elder’s Village community room and GADC volunteers raffled off prizes donated by Walgreen’s. GADC purchased the food for the free, buffet-style lunch from several of the 79th Street restaurants to promote "doing business within our community."

In the Kids Corner, hundreds of children played on four air-supported apparatuses and jumping jack equipment. The children enjoyed pony rides, face painting by Deborah Gary, entertainment from Ms. Jane the Clown, balloons, a large Tee Ball game and their own DJ (Alexander Pratt of West 79th Street) and dance floor. When things got too hot, they cooled off under a large water sprinkler courtesy of the Chicago Fire Department.

Two local charter schools, Barbara Sizemore School and Perspectives Charter School (opening August 28th at the Calumet High School campus) shared information on their programs.

Business and food

In the Vendors Corner were retailers including two women’s shoe salons, Kham’Ryn B. Shoes here in Auburn Gresham, and Sassi Soles of Dolton, IL; social service providers like Catholic Charities, Neighborhood Housing Services and The Beloved Community, colleges and universities like Chicago State, Devry University, Olive Harvey, Westwood and Olivet Nazarene, city and state agencies, hospitals and a host of health related organizations. The Nation of Islam bookstore was a vendor as well, another example of the broad array of resources in Auburn Gresham.

Vendor's corner

Vendors included shoe salons and an aromatherapy booth.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra

As hundreds of festival goers visited the business and information vendors throughout the day, many more were ‘chowing down’ on the variety of food and drinks at the Taste of 79th St. If you wanted soul food, you were at the right place. If you wanted Creole Cajun food, you were at the right place. If you wanted African/Caribbean food, you found it right here. The Taste of 79th St. included two long-time, 79th Street restaurants, White Castle and Ribs & Soul Food Unlimited, as well as two recent additions to the 79th St. family, BJ’s Market and Bakery and Lagniappe Creole Cajun Joynt. Also on hand was a newly licensed, soon-to-be-opening bakery right near the festival site called A Perfect Peace Café and Bakery, Wanda Walton’s Delectable Catering and Stella’s Market & Catering.

The Farmers Market was extremely busy as festival goers clamored around the freshly cut watermelon slices, grapes, cherries and other fruits and vegetables. To help keep everyone cool, there was even a local eight-year-old who set up a lemonade stand with her mother. Ices, snow cones, smoothies, and cold lemonade could be seen getting sucked down all over the festival site.

Tumbling, dancing, drums

Back at the main stage, the Jesse White Tumblers kept people oooing and aahhing with their acrobatic stunts. As the members of this iconic Chicago group soured through the warm air, traffic on 79th Street came to a standstill as passers-by admired the performance along with the overflow crowd in the park surrounding the mat.

Jesse White Tumblers

The Jesse White Tumblers amazed the crowd with acrobatic feats.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra

Then the South Shore Drill Team continued the display of Chicago talent, once again causing traffic to halt on 79th Street as they performed their routines to the latest Hip Hop and R&B sounds, culminating with a grand finale choreographed to Jackson 5 songs.

As the sun dipped toward the horizon, the ancient sounds of African drums were heard as if to pay homage to the Sun God. Concluding the festival was the Alyo Children’s Dance troupe. This group of African dancers and drummers kept everyone’s heart pumping and hands clapping to the talents of the children performing. Lead by Mama Kimosha (formerly of Muntu African Dance Troupe), their performance included teaching African songs and the meanings of the beats of the drums all while keeping everyone engaged with audience participation.

Drill team

The South Shore Drill Team performed at Renaissance Park.

Photo: Aum Mu Ra

As Carlos Nelson, Executive Director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation thanked everyone for coming out to the festival, including the 70 vendors, restaurants, and entertainers, he especially thanked the 006th District Chicago Police and Wooten Security, which together kept everyone safe and informed while keeping traffic flowing down 79th Street and at the crosswalks.  Then, Auburn Gresham’s own CleanSlate crew went to work cleaning the site.

With an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 participants, this first Auburn Gresham 79th St. Renaissance Festival was truly a memorable experience, and as Mrs. Hart of the 7800 block of South Throop stated, “I have lived right here in the same house near 79th Street for 37 years, and we have never had anything like this!”

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