Food, fun and fireworks

Heritage Fest transforms Kent’s downtown, draws community

A crowd watches as Kent State alumnus Todd Abell designs a glass butterfly at the 10th annual Kent Heritage Festival. Abell is a glass blower at Steinert Glass School and Gallery in Kent.

Credit: Beth Rankin

As day broke over Kent on Saturday, the downtown area underwent a transformation into a carnival of the senses.

The annual Heritage Festival brought sights, sounds and smells foreign to the area on other days of the year.

The slight breeze, sparse clouds and cooler-than-usual temperature invited people of all ages to search out niches amongst the smells of patchouli, gyros, elephant ears and scented candles.

Children with fists closed around tufts of cotton candy found excitement in the parks and recreation area, where they shot basketballs, played tennis on a miniature court and even attempted a junior version of the high jump.

Near the intersection of state Route 59 and Water Street, many took the opportunity to dabble with body art at Lisa’s Temporary Airbrush Tattoos.

Two smiling women dancing around with tambourines, maracas and streamers in front of the Kindermusik tent captivated some. The children were invited to choose from an array of instruments and join in the music-making with others their age.

Inflatable aliens and sharks preoccupied other children as they attempted to knock over plastic cups with corks from an air rifle.

Some, like Ravenna resident Lavelle Frost, 38, felt this year’s event had a greater appeal to young people. But the car show caught the attention of many adults.

The brick-paved Franklin and West College Avenues, known as part of “The Crawl” to Kent State students, became a parking lot for the remembrance of rare and collectible classic cars, bearing license plates that read “Historic Vehicle.”

Owners from all over Ohio came to display their contributions to the story of automobile history. Against the backdrop of Buffalo Wild Wings, one collector displayed his ’75 Chevy Pickup with its bed converted into a full living room, complete with carpet. A variety of cars lined up along the street, from a ’48 Crosley, whose small, boxy looks say nothing of the power under the hood, to a yellow ’74 Volkswagen Thing, a tribute to creativity.

For those more interested in music, the event provided four stages of live entertainment. Performances began at 10 a.m. and ran until the festival ended at midnight, breaking only for a brief interval during the 15 minutes of fireworks. The Gypsy Soul Belly Dancers ironically graced the Pufferbelly stage, while local legends, the American Steal Band, unleashed their sound from the Erie Street stage.

Heading north on Main Street, away from many of the food vendors, a host of jewelry, clothing and other unique vendors filled the street. Customers walked away with items to decorate their yards, their homes and even their bodies. Available merchandise ranged from rare and beautiful stones to working wooden locks to necklaces and candles.

However, entertainment and merchandise wasn’t all that was displayed at the festival.

Gretchen Fuerstenberg, 39, who sold candles from her Flickering Wicks tent, said she was surprised by all of the politics and propaganda at this year’s event. “I didn’t notice it in past years,” she said.

In between political balloons that said, “Keep Judge Barb Oswick,” others proclaimed the gospel of Century 21 and bore the NAPA logo, spectators may have caught sight of the horse-drawn wagon with a “County Commissioner Chuck Keiper” banner fluttering off the side.

Despite the politics surrounding the event, Fuerstenberg, an Elyria resident, still enjoyed the overall appeal of the event.

“You can’t ask for a better maintained festival,” she said.

Contact performing arts and entertainment reporter William L. Teckmyer III at [email protected].