Monday, July 23, 2012

Review of The Catacomb Party on Fulton Mall

Saturday featured an entire afternoon of free music, plenty of food options and a good amount of beer on the Fulton Mall. While the Fulton Mall is home to annual events like the Cinco de Mayo festival and such, this one was a little different. It wasn't centered around a holiday or festival, but just a local band releasing a CD and bringing along some of their friends.

I've been to various music-related events in Fresno, such as the Fuse Fest and really, as much free entertainment as I can find. The one theme I've found in common is that it doesn't matter how free something is, there's never a guarantee of a crowd.

This time was a little different. I don't know what strings the promoters pulled, but this event was well attended, and the "venue" (The Fulton Mall from Merced to Fresno streets) was the perfect size.


The fun began at 4pm, and while the crowd was small, it was honestly more than I expected.

I could run with this picture....
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But in reality, there were plenty just too scared to stand up close.
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This picture gives a better idea of the early crowd, and also some of the decoration.
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The furniture and "roof" were a really great touch. The "venue" was unique, in that this is the one and only place in the entire city where an outdoor event like this can be hosted and feel like it's sort of indoors. The buildings provide the walls, and the trees and shadows provide a comfortable roof. The amenities of a pedestrian mall really make the space feel more intimate, and the Fulton Mall is quite possible the one and only street in the entire city with a solid street-wall - no gaps caused by the city's zeal to knock down anything vacant and replace it with parking.


The "back" end of the street was home to the food and drinks. Food was provided by three food trucks and two existing restaurants. Beer was provided by Fresno Brewing Company (the coffeeshop/bar on the mall) and also a beer garden tent. Something I hadn't seen before was that the beer could be consumed anywhere.....not sure if that was by design or just lax enforcement of codes. The lack of a "beer cage" did make things more flexible for patrons.

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There was a bit of strong sun early on, but the buildings and trees provided great shade. The "canyon" effect of the road provide for natural breeze, which was helped by the industrial fans brought in by the promoters.

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The music was non-stop.

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The many features of the mall provided for comfortable seating and activity areas. The playground, while in poor condition, was popular among the many small children (at least after the photo was taken).

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There were some other form of entertainment, like this acrobatic show

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And also a bike valet

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The Fulton Mall is famous for the fountains, but it looks like this week more were dry than empty. They provided great seating, but perhaps would have been better enjoyed in their working state. I recall this one working recently, right?

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So much shade

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Between acts, we decided to take a walk to other parts of the mall, and it was quite the contrast. Fresno street, with its traffic and stop light created quite the barrier between the loud and popular music area....and everything else. While the three open restaurants by the music were doing good business, absolutely everything south of Fresno St was closed by 6pm.

At least one fountain was open for business.

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Not in the best condition, but it made even a desolate mall seem more alive.

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Few people were around

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But at least they had a pleasant walk to the music. If the mayor gets her way and returns traffic to the mall, the one working fountain would have to be removed, as there's no way to fit two lanes of traffic around it.

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.....meanwhile, one block north....

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I told you it was crowded.

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Overall, a great success.

Could something like this bring crowds to the mall every week? Of course not, but it does help dispel the myth that even with things to do, people would avoid the mall due to parking, crime, the homeless, etc etc.

Speaking of, I didn't see a single police officer the entire time we were there. Not one. And yet it felt safer than an afternoon at Fashion Fair. And naturally, parking was free and plentiful, as it almost always is downtown....both for bikes and cars. And the homeless? They were there, enjoying the music from afar.


Could anyone imagine a single other street in Fresno capable of hosting an event like this so successfully? I can't. And if the mayor has her way, and the trees, fountains and playgrounds are replaced with asphalt and parking meters, this same street wouldn't be able to continue having events like this.





Bonus:
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8 comments:

  1. Hi James,

    Interesting article. A few things to note: The fountains are maintained by the cash-strapped Fresno PARCS department. Many fountains are either working normally or are in the middle of maintenance which involves emptying them for cleaning. Very often, garbage gets into the fountain which clogs and damages the pumps requiring an expensive repair. The fountains near Fulton and Fresno need a total overhaul--into the 100's of thousands of dollars which the City can't afford right now.

    I'm not sure why you noted that the playground near Fresno Brewing Co. was in poor condition. My children play on it regularly and I haven't noticed that there are problems with it. Sometimes older kids (teens and such) will play on it and damage/graffiti it, but it's really in pretty good condition considering its location.

    The concert event was fairly well planned. Permits were obtained to allow some freedom for beverage consumption and the crowd responded and behaved well. Did you notice that there were few, if any, police officers? Pretty impressive. We could be setting a new standard for this sort of event. We'll see.

    Fulton Mall is a great place for this kind of thing, especially if commerce is increased in the District and businesses can flourish. The stigma of Downtown is slowly deteriorating as people see the amazing place that exists here.

    Thanks for your article.

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    1. About the playground, the equipment had graffiti, a horse was missing, and the sand needed some refilling (and washing).

      I didn't notice a single Fresno PD officer, just one "security" guy and only briefly. I'm still surprised at the freedom of the beverage consumption, impressed, but surprised.

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  2. James, I'm glad that you enjoyed the event. It was a great success. There is one conculsion that you draw that doesn't quite hold up to scrutiny. Many great events are held in downtowns on closed streets. You can close a street for events and then open them back up for normal business traffic. Best of both worlds. San Luis Obispo's Thursday Famers' Market, Hanford's Thursday Night Market Place, and Clovis' Friday night Farmers' market are all good examples of closing streets for crowds and opeing for the rest of the week. http://www.google.com/imgres?um=1&hl=en&sa=N&rls=com.microsoft:en-us&biw=1600&bih=698&tbm=isch&tbnid=3fAWOwIw1ise0M:&imgrefurl=http://www.ci.hanford.ca.us/depts/cd/ed/community_profile.asp&docid=uPH2Rt9Gh1sXqM&imgurl=http://www.ci.hanford.ca.us/images/tnmp_4.png&w=621&h=354&ei=HDIQUN35K8jmigKngAE&zoom=1 for a look at Hanford.

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    1. Craig, thanks for stopping by. While streets can certainly be closed, they require at minimum 20 feet of unobstructed asphalt....meaning no trees, no playgrounds, no fountains etc. All things that enhanced this venue. I visit the Clovis farmers market frequently, and its no where near as pleasant since theres so much open/empty.

      Also, closing a street requires spending money every time it's needed.

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  3. Hey that's me! In the blue College Pharmacy shirt!

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  4. Thank you James for this. What a wonderful event! I was there for a few hours when it started & back for the last three. I couldn't agree more that the Historical setting of the Fulton Mall transformed that scene into a near magical place. It felt like a film premier after party on a back lot at the studios. Capturing that same vibe after a street has been put in will be a costly venture each time an event occurs. It's expensive to fake magic.

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  5. Hey James!

    This is John Esquivel with Religious Appeal, the promoter behind the event.

    This is a great blog post. I don't believe anyone else has written about the festival from this perspective. Kate and the rest of the Downtown Partnership helped us receive all of the permits - which surprisingly allowed for a very large beer garden. We had the legal number of security guards walking around to regulate for this size of an event. I was pretty shocked by how easy it was to get all of that done.

    I did talk to a few police officers that rode by on bike at the beginning and the middle of the festival. They were aware of the event and the permits that were obtained for the event. They stuck around for a bit, told me to have a good time and then rode off! Again, I was very surprised.

    Hopefully we can do something like this again.

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    1. Thanks for organizing such a great event (and stopping by this blog). Fresno needs more like it. Glad to hear the permits and stuff were easy. People complain that there's too much red-tape in Fresno, but I haven't seen it as a problem.

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