Archive for April, 2014

Forty thousand people on the first day. That is more people wandering twenty downtown blocks than people who composed the population of the town in Ohio that I moved from to Jacksonville. All on the streets. A ton of street performers, artists, food vendors, innovative project creators, and just regular Joes walking around grabbing freebies.
I love freebies just like the regular Joes, and there was a massive overabundance of freebies.
The majority of the free stuff was just flyers for projects asking for a vote to get part of the winner’s purse or just to get funded. There were buttons, stickers, writing utensils, shirts, that kind of stuff.
We had a bit of a problem setting up the first day because my boss let me out of the truck at a stoplight to get to our area and then he decided to get stuck in gridlocked traffic for about an hour. Well, he didn’t consciously do it, but I wouldn’t put anything past him when it comes to relaxing.
I found our area without problem and stood there for some time, playing on my smart phone, taking pictures, and talking to the various friends that walked up or emerged from an overnight urban camping excursion in a large tipi, all the while hoping that the structure wasn’t made by the outdated & barbaric skinning of animals for the siding. I don’t think that it was, it looked very much so fabric & also humane except for the poor sleeping accommodations.
Eventually the boss showed up, agitated over his loss of time in gridlocked traffic and how that had set him back from his expected time of setting up and getting ready for the massive wave of people coming as soon as the festival started.
It was Wednesday, so a lot of people had to work or just had other things to do. It really didn’t get too crazy at all the first day, but it was somewhat busy.
We had hot sauce in three very different varieties. I learned very fast that the names didn’t describe the products very fast at all, and so I just used descriptors as much as I could. Considering that there was an unending line of people salivating for sauces that were hot the first day, I was quick to figure out the most concise words to let people know repeatedly what they were consuming. Signs didn’t really work, because a lot of people don’t read anymore(except for you, and I love you for it.) without the guidance of Facebook or Twitter, and even then, it is usually just prescriptive reading-where one just reads a couple of words of something and is a professional. I did that a lot and ended up on the losing end of debates or conversations, so have worked on it, but it is pretty tough not to do, seeing all of the information we process anymore.
At some point while I was telling people about the sauces, a young man came up to the booth and said that he liked our sauces. Then he tried to hand me a pamphlet for an art gallery project. Synapses shot through my mind and I came to the immediate realization that this was none other than Shaun Thurston, an artist that had worked on a project the year prior involving painting absolutely breathtaking murals throughout the city on sides of buildings. I had admired his work when I saw a few of his pieces at the first One Spark, and loved all of the work he had been putting up since. I didn’t hold back at all about how much of a fan I was and how much I wanted to see more and more art. He was really appreciative of my support and asked me if I could make the unveiling of his four-story work of art in the Museum of Contemporary Art later. I obviously could, and did. What a magnificent work, and what a nice & down to Earth artist.
The people kept coming & kept coming, and I, for some reason or another, kept informing people of what we had to offer, even when they didn’t listen. Even when they interrupted. I didn’t care, it was a great vibe to be outside all day again relaxing with everyone that was willing to give a little bit of their time.
I nearly lost my voice that first day, but that’s what happens when you are singing like a songbird for a fourteen hour work day.
In the beginning, we were under the impression that we could just leave all of our stuff there unattended overnight because the police would have a handle on night watch. That wasn’t the case, as my inquisitive boss found out in speaking with law enforcement in the area. We ended the day by awkwardly packing most everything up and walking about seven blocks with full hands, dodging crowds of drinkers & partiers to where he had parked. It’s funny how sore you can get doing that.
The second day was much easier, not having to worry about initial setup or trying to find out where to go. I started with some coffee at Lillies, a local coffee shop. I sat and read, taking breaks periodically to draw a quick self-portrait on the back of my lanyard. I figured that would keep people from trying to steal it, as if that was even a worry.
That was a nice, relaxing start to the day. The second day is always a bit easier to set up and be relaxed. Plus, I had a chili pepper costume to wear while handing out flyers.
I ended up running around most of the day in sandals and the costume, doing things that I had never seen a pepper do, and I think doing things that other people didn’t ever expect to see a pepper do either. Going through a library, dancing/moshing around stages with bands performing, and playing around with anything that I could find in the urban environment(climbing walls, running through restaurants, just having a blast and giving people reasons to laugh & smile). There were a few pictures taken, not really of me necessarily, but with me in them. Ask most people who know me & they will tell you that I’m pretty good at photobombing pictures or videos.
My friend Julie even joined in on the fun toward the end of the day, grabbing her own pepper costume(she had hers first by a couple of years, so I wasn’t the first pepper around) and running, dancing, & handing out flyers until we ran out.
The breakdown of the tent was the same, with my boss parking in the exact same spot blocks away. I think that workday was only twelve hours, but it’s not really work when you are a pepper running amok.
Friday was the next day and I was supposed to have my “A-game” on, everyone expecting the biggest turnout in history for the weekend. Thursday ended up with an estimated forty-five thousand people, surpassing Wednesday’s crowd by a little bit. We were all expecting that most people would take part of Friday off and start their weekend early. It ended up being pretty busy all day long, which wasn’t a bad thing. Especially since I was once more in the pepper costume. It was becoming my persona, and that showed in the news video segments shot at the park that I strategically placed myself in. I’m pretty sure one of the anchors had to shoot several takes because I was in the background either being attacked by, or petting an inflatable plastic lizard. Either way, I hope they had fun with it too.
I just ran around again, going to every corner of the festival, meeting new people and creators, learning about the different projects and how I could help other than just voting for them.
At about mid-day, I got some Dig Foods and munched away at a their delicious samosa. Being a pepper on a hot day can get to you & drain some energy. After that, I got some coffee to speed me up some more.
Later that night, I went over to Julie’s tent again & we got a group of mascots together to march around the festival. All in all, we had a cow, a pig, and a pepper. I think we were in at least a hundred group photos and made a lot of people’s night.
For breakdown, we got a little smarter and pulled the truck up to the end of the block. That took a while, because the boss needed to take the sky rail(a mass transit, short distance train) to his truck which was a couple of miles away. Because of the crowds at the end of the night waiting to ride, it took nearly an hour.
I think the crowd had surpassed expectation for the day.
On Saturday, we had to split up. Some of our group would be at the Riverside Arts Market and some of us would be at One Spark.
I volunteered with the Girls Gone Green early, helping set up a 4K race near downtown at 7AM. Being so close to downtown, I stopped helping around ten and found a close parking spot around One Spark.
We had some volunteers to help us, which we did throughout the week, but today was particularly helpful because the main workforce was split. There was even a friend of ours giving massages in return for votes. I jumped into the pepper suit & did my thing, handing flyers out and running around town with equal parts of exhaustion & exuberance. I caught another band called Chieforia that played a great set and had me get up in their pit and dance for a bit.
I was starting to run out of steam again, so I grabbed some lunch and coffee at Chamblin’s. The Thai tempeh wrap special was fantastic. I had someone’s kid hanging out with me because he admired the pepper outfit so much. It was almost like he hadn’t ever seen a pepper eat before.
After that, my energy levels went through the roof and I started running around again like a pepper with a coffee problem.
A little bit later, my friend Bret donned Julie’s pepper costume and we ran around trying to get pictures of everything with two peppers. Our friend Katie was running around with us as well, dressed as a Katie.
At one point, we tried to get onto one of the stages while nothing was going on and a guy ran up & took Bret’s sign. I tried to see if we could still take a picture without the sign on stage, and an older, larger security guard told us to get out of the area. They were a bit touchy for no reason. It was the Canvas Live stage, and I had not the slightest idea of what they were all about, but anyone that doesn’t like peppers obviously doesn’t like me, so I didn’t particularly care for them either.
We stayed in great spirits though, & found a big band project called Crescendo Amelia that was just a four piece that we saw, but was a full eighteen piece band for other performances. Our group danced for a bit while they played music & we all eventually set up a mini-parade down the street, ending at a busy, crowded intersection where we continued dancing in a lively manner. It reminded me of New Orleans so much, just everyone having a blast. No one was throwing up on the street that I saw though.
We all parted ways, and that was good timing, because breaking down our tent was next on the agenda so that we could catch the after party.
The after party was held at the Chamber’s parking lot right by the river. People were drinking everywhere and the band playing was awesome. They were called Beebs and Her Money Makers, a catchy ska-style band that was just a fun crowd-pleaser.
At some point toward the end of the show, the boss shoved a bunch of the flyers that he had brought in hopes to hand out at the party in one of my pockets & I pulled them out, putting them behind him while I wandered around, checking out the performance art near us. He apparently didn’t see that and left the stack on the curb, so hopefully the person cleaning up afterward voted a couple hundred times, but I highly doubt that.
We were right beside an area where some hula hoopers were at & one of the girls lit a few pegs on fire on her hula hoop and proceeded in being amazing with it. She was even teaching kids how to hula(is that what they call it for short?) as well. Later, I introduced myself and found out that her name was Effie & she was out of St. Augustine for the day. She wasn’t an artist for the festival, but I’m hoping she tries for next year. Beautiful performance artist & such a nice person.
The deejay was playing top-forty bass-heavy music for the rest of what we stayed for, but that was okay because the system that he was playing out of was awesomely insane. The speaker stacks were making the whole block shake, and while it wasn’t my type of music at all, I still liked the general vibe.
We finally found some of our friends and hung out with them for a bit before everyone dispersed for the downtown bars after the party.
On the walk back to the cars, our friends stopped to commend an acoustic musician that was still playing into the night(beautifully, might I add), but the boss kept walking, not noticing until the next block, so I kept pace not to leave them alone.
That was a long day, but Sunday was the last, easiest, and supposedly shortest day.
I did the same thing, almost getting into a routine with the pepper outfit. Immediately distancing myself from the booth with hundreds of flyers was the instruction, and I took that well. We still had thousands of those little glossy papers to hand out, and I don’t think that I could have done it fast enough to get rid of every last one. I certainly didn’t want them to become trash around the area, but I saw many on the ground, which was a giant shame. I picked up as many as I saw & threw them into the recycling bins placed throughout the area.
I grabbed another large coffee from Chamblin’s, sped through the streets again, and met up with some more friends from a site called DenverSpeax.com to dance, run around, and explore the festival. We even jumped up on the stage at the Jacksonville Landing and did some air band stuff for about two minutes.
We explored the exterior of a mock pirate ship outside of the festival on the river because no one wanted to pay to get on a mock ship. I would have payed to get on a real pirate ship, not a mock ship though.
As the festival came to a close, the tents started packing up in anticipation for the closing ceremonies and announcement of the winners. I was so happy to get everything packed up finally and be done with that for a few days.
The boss had some beers while I jumped around groups of friends that I had met in the past days of the festival, congratulating winners and relaxing in the pepper costume that had become my home away from home. I was essentially the designated driver, since anything over a couple of beers tends to bring my boss to the point of uh-oh, and he had a few, plus I was sober.
After the closing ceremony, a group of us went to a Mellow Mushroom restaurant & had a full meal, since we hadn’t had something like that for a week. That was our own personal closing ceremony.
In retrospect, the entire festival was obviously a resounding success. Over an estimated 260,000 people showed up to make this a reality and help others achieve dreams & ideas that they had. One Spark is actually going to be a festival in Berlin in September. It was on worldwide news and trended on social media. The actual checks weren’t enormous, but they were great amounts of money and I’m sure that investors will make up for that immensely. I absolutely love the beauty of this–that One Spark brought together so many people over the span of the week, that there really wasn’t anyone that I saw that was mean or having a bad time, that this sense of community and appreciation for the arts that people have visions for was put on that pedestal, no matter how small-scale, and touted as something achievable. A big check or recognition would be nice for all of the creators, but when in the moment, I think that a lot of the creators just had fun & wanted everyone else to as well.
It’s really amazing to see this all happening in real-time and be a part of it, no matter who wins, how it turns out, or how seemingly small my personal contribution is to it. I know I gave my all for these past few days, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I met so many awesome people and hope that these bonds stick for life. I’d love to see this kind of thing happen all of the time. I know that is quite far-fetched, because I’m pretty exhausted as I peck at these keys on my laptop, but if everyone played a role to make this an everyday happening, whether it be creator or curious bystander, I think that the world would be a better place for everyone.

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