Downtown Kent holds 21st annual Heritage Festival

Attendees of the 21st annual Heritage Festival crowd North Water Street on Saturday, July 2, 2016. 

Cameron Gorman

During the summer, Kent is home to an assortment of community events. None, however, draw a larger crowd than the annual Heritage Festival.

For years, the festival has lined the streets—filled with up to around 20,000 people—for its live musical entertainment, vendors, and friendly atmosphere.

It attracts both Kent residents and those who travel from out of town, or even out of state—like Rhome, Texas, resident Victoria Gregg.

“We used to live here. My husband’s from Kent originally, so we came back to visit and meet some family,” Gregg said. ““It’s just a chance to … see the old place (and) see how it’s changed.”

Over the past few years, the development of the city’s downtown area has seen the beginnings of many new locations, and the end of old ones- but the town’s uniqueness continues to draw people back to celebrate its heritage.

One of the festival’s performing bands, The Moxie Collect, consists of performers who were all native to Kent at different points in their lives.

“When I was in school I would go every year to the Heritage Festival,” said singer and guitarist Mark Oprea.

The band, which includes Oprea, bassist Anthony Minerovic, drummer Eric Hartung, and keyboardist Joe Boyle, formed in Kent and debuted at the Kent Blues Fest last year.

“It sort of ties back into the whole community aspect of Kent,” Boyle said. “I think we formed like most bands: I met Mark at someone’s party and people were drunk and playing the piano, and just trading songs.”

In fact, some of their music and sound is tied back to their roots.

“I think that there is sort of a down-to-earth kind of quality to the music that gets played in Kent, no matter what the genre they call themselves,” Boyle said, “and I think we tapped into that as well.”

The Collect was featured on the North Water Street stage—one of three entertainment stages set up during the festival.

For the band, performing in Kent means performing close to home.

“People are friendly, and that’s partially because we have these sort of town festivals here, we can see each other, get all musical with each other,” said Boyle.

The band performed from throughout the afternoon, and drew a crowd of onlookers.

“I like hearing music from a person you can imagine talking to,” Boyle said, “Afterwards, it’s fun to mingle among the crowd and talk to the people who hopefully just enjoyed our performance.”

Gwin Hart-Snyder and Holden Goodrich, seniors at Theodore Roosevelt High Schoo, said that coming to the festival has been a tradition for them since they were little.

“It’s something I look forward to during the summer,” Hart-Snyder said. “(Kent is) a kid-friendly college town, which is something you can’t say about many of them.”

Goodrich, who donned a banana costume specially for the festival, attracted a number of other festival-goers interested in photos with him.

“Why wouldn’t you want to dress up like a banana, honestly,” he said. “It’s like the spirit of Kent.”

The spirit of Kent—the culture of it—is something that can be hard for long-time residents to pinpoint.

Those from outside, however, such as Pennsylvania-born street musician “Casey Banjo,” seem to be able to take a simpler approach to enjoying it.

Banjo has visited Kent before, but just happened to come through during the festival.

“I’ve been coming once, maybe twice a year for the past five or six years,” Banjo said. “(I play) anywhere I can, usually outside of bars or corners … and “I love (the city). Every time I come up here, I have a great time.”

Other visitors to Kent were the many craft and vendors, such as Matt Kline of Kline Honey Bee Farm.

The farm specializes in flower-specific and seasonal honey, as well as selling bees for others to start colonies. The business has been attending the festival for the past five years.

“The uniqueness about it is the amount of people here for a one day event,” Kline said. “It’s just a lot of customers and a lot of people that come through.

A uniqueness about Kent, Kline said, is the focus on locality.

“They really want to help with the local and organic,” he said. “Everything that the whole city’s geared toward and the people that live in it are very organic, and healthy, and natural.”

Marie McGlathery, of Paper Planet Wearables, attended the festivals as a vendor for the first time. She sells handmade jewelry made from recycled and rolled junk mail.

“I really like the Kent area, and I like that the college is here,” she said. “It’s a really artsy area, and so I thought that my work would do well here. People are very appreciative of artwork around here.”

From the arts to to the music, the festival helped to highlight Kent’s cultural scene.

But for those who have been residents of the town for a long time, what makes Kent special is something deeper than even its vibrant cultural scene.

“I think Kent has more of a sense of community than a lot of other places I’ve been,” said

Barbara Hood, a Kent for close to 30 years. “People help each other, you know? Everybody seems to care about each other more than other places I’ve been.”

Cameron Gorman is a general assignment reporter, contact her at [email protected].