Illustration by Kevin McFadin
Recently a friend's Facebook post included a shocking admission that one might think twice about posting publicly. She told the whole world that she had attended only one Carytown Watermelon Festival.
"Our experience: It was hot. It was crowded," she wrote. "There were a lot of pieces of watermelon. There were sidewalk sales. There was a lot of noise from people and musicians who were too close together. Everything was sticky. The end."
The odd thing was that friend after friend popped up in the thread to confess that they had never been or had been only once, and years ago. Soon the sacred cows were tipping all over the metropolitan area: Easter on Parade, the Folk Festival, the Christmas Parade ... My friend even said she felt that she was committing "RVA blasphemy" by admitting some of these things.
And I have to admit, this conversation tapped into a deep shame of my own about not being Richmondy enough, which often is proven by your street (festival) cred. Though I have lived here for 20 years, I too have attended far fewer of these events than a perfect Richmonder ought to. Not once have I been to the Christmas Parade, the Bizarre Bazaar, the Carytown New Year's Eve celebration, the Richmond Jazz Festival or the Monument Avenue 10K (as perky sidewalk cheerer, let alone participant). Some — like the Greek Festival, the Folk Festival and Strawberry Hill Races — I have braved just once, never to return.
Then there are those I have abandoned outright, having done my duty year after year, so sure am I that they never will change. I am certain that if you were to put me in cryogenic hibernation, thaw me out in the year 2313 and drop me onto Monument Avenue on Easter day, Jonathan Austin would still be climbing onto his giant unicycle by holding on to some unsuspecting dude's head a half block west of the Lee monument.
If, that same spring, you dropped me off at Arts in the Park, and this time blindfolded me and spun me around three times, I could still successfully purchase a set of Fan District pencil-sketch note cards.
Keep the blindfold on and then put me in a place where my clothes become a second skin, where I can feel myself slogging along shoulder to shoulder with other such unfortunate souls, all of us subjected to a tangled cacophony of musical strains, each indistinguishable from the next. You may be trying to trick me that I am in the third ring of hell, but I know very well I am at the Watermelon Festival.
We all know what brings people in droves to these events: music, food, drink, seeing and being seen. In short, fun. But something else keeps a whole other segment of people away in droves: parking nightmares, aversion to crowds, noise and porta-potties. In short, torture.
So I guess what it comes down to is measuring the fun-to-torture ratio of any event and deciding whether or not it is worth it to you. And if the event has the added torture element of being a Groundhog Day experience that remains frozen in time year after year, well, the decision becomes that much easier. As one commenter on my friend's Facebook post wrote, "I like the idea of festivals but not the reality of them."
Richmond's identity is very much wrapped up in a lot of these big events, so your Richmondness may very well hinge not only on the question, "Who was your mother?" but also "Will I see you at [fill in the event name]?"
Which reminds me: Richmond's newest place you have to be, of course, is the Washington Redskins training camp. Despite our best intentions, we never got there this past summer. So we are now well on our way to making a treasured family tradition of not going to that either.