Put Down Your German Sausage, Here Comes the Thong Man.
“Bullfrog Windsocks on the Green.” “Blue Bubblegum Ice Cream on the Green.” “Kind Hippie Mamas Dancing Like Whirling Dervishes on the Green.” Maybe even “Tri-Cities Hip-Hop on the Green.” These are just a handful of the infinite delights to be had next weekend, August 1-3, down in the lush confines of the North Idaho College campus during the 40th annual Art on the Green festival. I’m sure the NIC landscaping staff works extra hard to make sure that every bush, tree and patch of lawn stays as green as possible, but I can recall some very dry years when it might have been closer to the truth to advertise as “Art on the Crispy Yellow.” Certainly, like my suggestions above, that just doesn’t quite have the same catchy ring to it.
At the very first Art on the Green in 1968, the “green” wasn’t actually referring to grass at all, instead it was named after the brightly colored surface of the McKuen Field Tennis Courts where the event was being held. Those who remember attending say it was so hot that first year that they had problems keeping some of the paintings from literally melting in the heat of the pavement and direct sunlight. I think of this sometimes when I’m wandering through the shady tent that holds the entries for the Juried Art Show, about how some of the more generic landscapes and bunny rabbit paintings could be transformed into much cooler abstract art with just a few hours under the tutelage of the cruel summer sun.
Eventually, Art on the Green relocated to its present home where towering pine trees make for enough shade that even frozen lemonade and cones heaped with homemade ice cream have a chance of survival, at least until they’re greedily consumed by hungry festival-goers. It’s since become the most popular art festival in the Inland Northwest, and despite a recent editorial in another local paper, most Coeur d’Alene residents welcome folks from Spokane and everywhere else with open arms, especially the ones with lots extra cash to blow. And between Art on the Green, the Taste of the Coeur d’Alene’s food festival and the Downtown Street Fair, next weekend there are innumerable ways to blow it.
Looking for Huckleberry scented soap-on-a-rope? Found it. Tie-dyed diaper bags? Check. Broomstick handles with creepy hand-carved gnome faces? But of course. Displayed in hundreds of crowded booths are a ton and a half of unique glass and ceramic products, toys, musical instruments, clothing, jewelry, and home décor. Also, the popular “clothesline” area provides local artists with the space to sell not their laundry, but their original paintings, drawing and photographs at prices that casual festival goers can actually afford. What you won’t see are church bazaar items like crocheted toilet paper covers with baby doll faces, or anything made of potholders. The application board is notoriously finicky when it comes to who they accept for the festival, something I’ve witnessed myself after a relative of mine who makes gorgeous handmade dolls of exceptional quality was rejected and told bluntly “It’s Art on the Green, not Crap on the Green.”
Thankfully, for those who have been cruelly denied by Art on the Green there is the Downtown Street Fair, where anyone can pay a small fee for a square of cement and sell whatever they feel like. Compared to the relative predictability of the Art on the Green vendors, anything goes at the Street fair. In fact, several years ago, I was pretty shocked to come across a booth with a squinty-eyed young man with dreadlocks selling hand-blown glass “water pipes” in various sizes and shapes and I might have believed the signs posted everywhere suggesting “tobacco use only” had it not been for the Bob Marley music blaring loudly away.
Many downtown shops use the weekend as an excuse to clearance out unsold merchandise, something which back in simpler times we would refer to as a “sidewalk sale”. Expect to see lots of closeout prices on resort apparel, faux antiques and shabby chic pillows. Also, expect to see lots of loud, friendly people really getting into the festivities with their fourth “de-railer” out on the sidewalk on front of the Iron Horse. Actually, that many de-railers and you would likely end up literally on the sidewalk, face first, in front of the Iron Horse.
When hunger strikes, you could meander to the City Park, where along with more endless booths full of pinecone-infused candles and wild horse watercolors, the annual Taste of the Coeur d’Alenes is in full swing. Honestly, the name bothers me slightly since last time I checked there was only one Coeur d’Alene, and also because in recent years, many of the food vendors aren’t truly local but come in from various other towns. Another gripe about the name is that “taste” of the Coeur d’Alene’s implies that one could feasibly try a bit of everything, but in reality the vendors sell only large portions of their goods at $7-10 a go, so sampling isn’t really an option unless you’ve got mega-cash or a large group of eaters willing to share. I’d like to see them offer smaller portions for less to actually allow a “taste” of multiple food booths. In reality, I’d rather spend my money on the old reliable Sauerkraut German Sausages and buttery Corn-on-the-Cob down at Art on the Green.
The weekend is also packed with entertainment, from folksy guitarists playing for tips on the street corner to the wild Irish step dancing of “Crooked Kilt” on stage at Art on the Green. The musicians at the Street Fair often fit right in with the “anything goes” mood in the air. One of my favorites is the gold-lamé clad sixty-something lady who sets up her Casio Keyboard near the corner of 4th and Sherman and belts out her singular versions of 70’s hits. The food festival also features music on the City Park Bandshell and the line-up this year includes the rhythm and blues of Loose Cannon, the big-band swing of All That Jazz, and the glossy pop-funk of Post Falls’ Mojo.
As usual, there are two stages worth of internationally flavored goings-on at Art on the Green. Local favorites B-4 perform their brand of retro-Americana on the smaller South Stage along with the salsa of Mamblues, the sitar of Mishra, and the Celtic sounds of Consort Bon Accord. The main North stage will see performances from the Coeur d’Alene Symphony Orchestra, Opera Plus, Six Foot Swing, the French Cabaret of Rouge, and a headline appearance Friday night of Eclectic Approach, a feel-good hip-hop/funk act from the Tri-Cities who’ve received regular airplay on the Seattle radio dial. So, wear your new petrified driftwood necklace, dance until you’re a sweaty wreck, then run across the dyke road and jump in the river to cool off.
(photos by Tavallai)