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Volunteers kick off fun in the city with Main Street Music & Art Festival

What started with dinner, drinks and a dream on a winter night has turned into a much-anticipated festival aimed at attracting a new class of people to the city.

The Main Street Music & Art Festival kicks off at noon Saturday, just four months after organizers hatched the plan while musing about ways to improve their city.

"We were sitting around the table and saying, 'Well, how can Lewiston pull it off, and why can't we?' " said Rick Crogan, the festival's executive director. "And that was our challenge to each other."

Crogan and a slew of volunteers, community activists and concerned residents answered that call, securing more than 72 artists and 12 bands for the two-day event, which runs until 9 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Main Street between Niagara and Michigan avenues will be closed to traffic. Painters, sculptors, photographers, independent jewelers and other artisans will set up shop down the street from the bands, whose stage will be located at Main Street and Cleveland Avenue.

"This is going to be our Allentown," Crogan said. "We want people to come out and have fun. This is Niagara Falls' big festival. It is the kickoff to summer."

The festival will coincide with Niagara Homecoming, which features a benefit gala, career fair, an all-years Niagara Falls High School reunion and a concert. The event is aimed at drawing back those who have left the city.

Crogan, a Falls native who has lived in Venezuela, Atlanta and Florida, returned to Niagara Falls in 2006 because of what he calls the city's great opportunity. As president of the Main Street Business & Professional Association, he's recognized that vision in others.

Crogan believes the festival will attract a "creative class" of concerned residents devoted to making homes and streets into livable, walkable neighborhoods.

The festival will feature Main Street storefronts -- vacant since the flight of many city residents to suburban communities years ago -- that will temporarily be filled with art galleries and a home store. The idea is to show visitors how appealing a business on the strip can be, with hopes of attracting them to the sites permanently.

"Not only does it make Main Street more attractive and easier to market, I think it can be an important morale booster to everyone," said Mayor Paul A. Dyster.

Festival music chairman Ron LaSalle agreed, adding that he moved back to the area after buying the home he always admired at a discount rate.

"Depressed areas come back by people organizing and getting together," LaSalle said. "There's so much potential here in the Falls, from the architecture to the lack of business, actually. The beautiful, empty spaces that can be turned into pretty much anything you want."

Three best-in-show ribbons will be awarded to the top professional, amateur and student art works.

Concerts will take place at Main Street and Cleveland Avenue. Here's the lineup:

Saturday afternoon: 1:30, the Brass Monkeys; 3, the Furies; 4:30, Marcangelo Perricelli; 6, Frank Grizanti Band; 7:30, Pirate Dreams.

Sunday afternoon: Noon, Mike and Tom Duo; 1, High Horse; 2, Lakeside Blues Band; 3:15, Mikaniko; 4:30, Passion Works; 5:45, Junk Yard Dogs; 7, Free Henry.


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