Like most Island cocktail parties, the Tisbury Street Fair was slow to start. An hour into the annual town celebration though, and it was standing room only.
Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish rocked through the evening. Youngsters danced in the middle of the street in front of the band. Many of the Island's nonprofit organizations sold T-shirts, raffle tickets and plenty of food on the sidewalks.
"This is one of the few places I have been where people look like themselves," said Peter Behr, director of disaster services for the local chapter of the American Red Cross. He meant it as a compliment. Mr. Behr's presence was not about offering disaster relief. This was big public relations effort to alert the spectators to an upcoming blood drive and the role this longstanding nonprofit plays in the community. People lined up to purchase first aid kits and grab brochures at the emergency response vehicle, parked at the Main street entrance to Centre street.
Cora Medeiros, queen of the festival, was seated near Compass Bank. The town's former selectman came up with the idea for a street festival 27 years ago. "Shirley Frisch was a county commissioner. She asked, ‘What can we do to celebrate the town's 300th birthday?' Well, I said, there was the Yarmouth Clam Festival. They only let nonprofit organizations use the park," Mrs. Medeiros said.
In that first year, 1976, Mrs. Medeiros said there were 25 booths on Main street. She said: "I'd say there are now 125 booths." In the 27 years they've held the fair, it has rained only twice. (Earlier in the day she said: "We were nervous about tonight.")
David Donald, a lemon squeezer, worked his right arm to the limit. He squeezed lemon and limes for the Christ United Methodist Church fund raising booth.
Wearing a Dracula hat, Jim Cage of Oak Bluffs filled balloons at a fast pace. "The most popular balloons are Sponge Bob and Nemo," said Mr. Cage. He could barely keep up with waiting customers. Even with help from colleagues, Mr. Cage's line kept getting longer and longer. Mr. Cage's efforts were demonstrated later in the evening when dozens of young people sauntered about holding a string connected to a balloon in one hand and a parent's hand in the other.
This was a first-year booth for Vineyard Lacrosse, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting lacrosse among the young. Three weeks ago Chris Rasmussen of West Tisbury thought it was a good idea to be represented in the fair and raise funds.
So her team of parents sold sweatshirts and T-shirts. Last year the organization raised $4,500 in other ways. This year with 100 kids in the program, up 20 from last year, they needed to set new fund-raising goals.
"This is one time Vineyard Haven looks like Oak Bluffs," said Nat Benjamin, the boat builder, walking up the street.
Lobster rolls were $9 at Cora Medeiros' family stand, up a dollar from the previous year. Mrs. Medeiros was apologetic. The price of lobster meat had jumped a lot in a year.
Chicken was a big favorite near the intersection of Union and Main streets. The Tankard sisters were in their 20th year of offering barbecued chicken. There was Pat Tankard, Shirley Robinson, Merle Beaulieu, Audria Tankard. For years they included ribs among their choices, but this was the year of the chicken.
"We sell out every year," said Pat Tankard. This year they bought seven cases of chicken for cooking. Each case had 66 pieces.
Paul Watts, a banker with Compass Bank, wore a large smile and a red-colored lobster hat at the Rotary Club of Martha's Vineyard booth. Mr. Watts was quick to call upon his friends to purchase a $5 ticket for the raffling of 50 pounds of lobsters. In years past the club had offered crab cakes, but this was a definite shift in thinking. An hour later, Mr. Watts was relieved by Rev. Dr. Gerald R. Fritz, pastor of the Federated Church in Edgartown. Reverend Fritz was congratulated for wearing the red lobster hat so well.
There was another reverend at the fair. Rev. Michael Nagle was flipping malasadas, Portuguese fried dough, for St. Augustine's Church in Vineyard Haven. This was his ninth year.
Reverend Nagle said the key to good malasadas is to have the oil temperature at 350 degrees. The key to being a good malasadas chef is to never allow oneself to get as hot as the malasadas.
Standing in front of Bowl and Board, Ron Tolin, a former co-owner of Brickman's, estimated the crowd at somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000.
Vineyarders could dress up like public safety officials by buying a variety of different T-shirts. Chris Habekost and Kelly Buckley sold Tisbury Police T-shirts.
Ken Davies, president of the Oak Bluffs Firemen's Civic Association, and his assistant, Asa Vought, manned a booth and sold firemen's T-shirts. Money raised from the sales would help to pay for the upcoming August fireworks in that town.
Volunteers of one organization in some cases worked for different nonprofit organizations.
James Rogers, a Tisbury fireman, was flipping cheeseburgers for the regional high school boys hockey team. Mr. Rogers was assisted at the gas-fired grill by Paul VanLandingham.
Diane Calitri of Edgartown described herself as a "Hockey Mom" and a "Hot Dog Runner." Her task was to get the hot dog in a roll to the next customer.
Tisbury firemen from Ladder Truck No. 651 sold popcorn and soda. Lieutenant Ken Maciel said last year the firemen from his truck gave $1,000 in school scholarships.
"Our most popular item is coffee cups. I don't understand it," said Don Eber, committee member of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. He said such cups have been around the derby for years with slow sales. "This is the year of the mug," he said. The derby booth also sold tickets for two raffles. One raffle was for a week in a house rental during the derby and the other raffle was for high-priced fishing reels.
As evening light dimmed, the crowd got young and then faded away.
By Wednesday morning, all the evidence of the Tisbury Street Fair was gone from Main street.