Harbor Festival Sets Stage for Summer


There is no single event that signals the start of summer on the Island. Something different moves each person to say the season is finally here: the ripening of strawberries and sweet peas, the first farmers' market or maybe the first true beach day. That something could also be the Oak Bluffs Harbor Festival. Falling the day after the official start of summer, the festival's timing qualifies it as another sign of the season.

Islanders, day-trippers and summer residents all found their way to the harbor Saturday morning for the 11th annual festival. When the wind blew the right way, the sounds of Rick Bausman and the Beetlebung Steel Band carried all the way to Ocean Park. But most of the time the air was still and the afternoon hot. The 80-degree temperatures didn't keep people away, however; it just kept them moving. To rest on a bench was to risk roasting. Festival-goers fared best with a cool drink in hand as they walked the strip of vendors that lined the harbor from Our Market to Nancy's Snack Bar.

At times the harborside stroll seemed a version of Let's Make a Deal. Do you go with the brightly patterned shirts and dresses for under $20, or is something better waiting down the way? How about this bargain, two baseball caps for $10? Or two pairs of sunglasses for $5?

Summer residents Peg and John Bondorew had the right strategy. They made their way from one end to the other, taking it all in before making any purchases. "We'll buy on the way back," Mrs. Bondorew said. "Right now we're on the way to see some friends."

"I've already seen a lot of my fishing buddies," Mr. Bondorew said. "It's nice seeing people for the first time."

He wasn't the only person to express that sentiment. Deb Lister of the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders Association shouted greetings left and right from her seat at the group's table. "I am having a ball; this is such a great day," she said. " I love seeing all the people who come out for this. It's like, ‘Hey, where've you been hiding, good to see you.' "

The association was selling raffle tickets for a 2002 Road King Classic, the drawing to be held in August. The bike gleamed black from the bed of a truck behind them. "They're going like hotcakes," Ms. Lister said. "It's good 'cause all the money raised goes back to Island charities. And, of course, one person is going to get a heck of a deal."

One man filling out a slip piped up: "I don't even know how to ride a Harley. But guess what? I'll learn."

"Well, you'd look really good on that bike," Ms. Lister said.

Other causes to support were the Oak Bluffs fire department, the Friends of the Oak Bluffs Library and Cattrap, which shelters stray cats and provides them with medical treatment. Among the more unusual offerings was Gladys Holland's handmade cloth dolls. A retired teacher, Ms. Holland took up crafting as a hobby six years ago. "Everybody today has been so friendly and complimentary. It's made me feel really good," she said from her lawn chair, where she enjoyed the shade of a yellow and white umbrella. "But I took a walk up and down myself, and there's really a lot of very interesting crafts being offered."

At the corner by Nancy's, stretching back toward Fishbones, something entirely different was going on. Adults and children were on hands and knees, chalking pictures in bright pinks and blues. This was Sidewalk Sam's domain. He furnished budding artists with thick sticks of chalk, which they used to draw everything from aquatic animals to international flags in support of World Cup soccer teams. Some sketched barely more than outlines and stick figures; others blended colors, mixing oranges, reds and yellows to create vibrant, fully-rendered scenes.

Sam has been doing this for 38 years, traveling the country as the self-proclaimed mascot of chalk festivals. "I'm kind of like a pied piper, or a Johnny Appleseed," he said.

"I love it when art quits being stuffy and becomes part of everyday life, when it pours onto the street and celebrates us in our daily lives. This kind of art brings people together."

He solicited everyone who passed, asking names, encouraging them to take a box of chalk and pick a square to draw in. He also took the time to engage his chalkers in conversation. "Tell me about yourself," he said to a schoolteacher from Boston, to a woman who had just adopted a new baby, to an 84-year-old grandmother. "I love learning all these life stories," he said. "It fills me with joy every time. These people are all so lovely. It makes me wish I could be a part of their families, going to their birthday parties, being a part of their everyday lives."

Seven-year-old Katrina Alden drew a masterpiece of a mermaid while her mother stood by to watch. "We're here for the week visiting grandparents," Anna Alden said. "We've been to the beach three or four days now, and we thought this would be something to check out for a nice change. My son actually plays the steel pan drums, so he wanted to hear the band. And we don't have any sidewalks back home, so I think she's enjoying this." She gestured to her daughter, who was studiously coloring the mermaid's tail an extremely bright pink.

"This is a great thing for the town and for the merchants," said Donald Ben David, who with Deb Lister had been manning the Harley Riders table. "You can't beat this weather. It's just a great festivity."