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Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts has local flair

The Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts once again showed why it’s the city’s most laid-back, locally flavored, culturally diverse and family-friendly event of the summer.

The signs were all around Saturday:

Buffalo and regional artists and craftsmen displayed their wares that ranged from paintings, drawings and photography to jewelry, pottery and metalwork.

Local food purveyors, including food trucks, satisfied meat-eaters with pulled pork and sausages while vegetarians got their pick of samosas and stir-fries.

Musicians and dancers of many styles kept the three stages busy.

Strolling the five blocks, from West Ferry Street to St. James Place, were large numbers of 20- and 30-somethings, parents and children, whose attendance at Kids Fest kept it a continuous beehive of activity; and lots of older adults enjoying the art and the outdoors.

The weather, warm and slightly overcast most of the day, contributed to what organizers said was a strong turnout for the 15th anniversary of the festival, with the sun occasionally poking out from the clouds to add a dose of sunshine.

“It’s beautiful festival weather. This is perfect – not too hot, not too cold, no sign of rain, and you can wear your sunglasses, so hey, something for everyone,” said Katherine Pessecow, who helped coordinate the 150 volunteers who signed up to help the two-day festival that continues today.

The turnout appeared to be bigger on its first day than last year, Pessecow said.

“It’s a steady, steady flow. We’re happy with the turnout so far,” she said.

The festival was expanded one block this year to compensate for the loss of land that formerly offered the main food station.

Many of the food stands, like Mineo and Sapio Italian Sausage, appeared to attract a large flow of hungry customers.

“Our popular one is our classic sausage, the royal sausage stuffed with capicolla and provolone cheese,” said Tony Ocasio, while manning the grill.

At Fat Bob’s Smokehouse, it was the pulled pork and mac ’n’ cheese – sometimes together – ringing up the cash register, said Kelsey Morgensen, the restaurant’s “mac slinger.”

Kettle corn, a perennial favorite at the festival, attracted long lines in the early afternoon. Among those waiting was Jamie Sklar, a third-year medical student at the University at Buffalo. She was with her father, Joel, and sister Jessie, both from Long Island.

“People are so much more friendly, the area is so much more artsy, and the houses are colorful. This is a wonderful place to be,” Jamie Sklar said.

Lucy and Jamie Stead, of Reading, England, about 30 miles west of London, also liked what was all around them.

“We love the festival, and it’s a great city,” Lucy Stead said.

“It’s warm. The last time we came it was very very cold, so we’re absolutely loving it this time,” Jamie Stead said.

“The people are very friendly and hospitable. It’s great,” Lucy Stead added.

Drea Taylor, a visitor from outside Washington, D.C., appreciated all of the activities for children. Her daughter, Daphne, 2, sported Hello Kitty face paint.

“They did an excellent job with my daughter’s face painting, and we’re really excited to see all the different arts and crafts that are here, and the entertainment, too. Usually, it’s just one tiny booth, and this is a whole big section,” Taylor said.

Several artists were quick to point out how much they liked the Elmwood Avenue festival’s vibe and the quality of work exhibited.

“This art festival is a little different, in that it’s more of an urban hipster-type setting, with many elements a lot of art shows just don’t have. I love this festival,” said Bob Gregg, a City of Tonawanda artist whose whimsical drawings of city landmarks were garnering attention. Business, he said, had been good.

Karen Matchette, a Buffalo artist who works in pen and ink, displayed brush drawings of well-dressed women on postal wrap, along with detailed house portraits.

“I’m after commissions, and I pride my success on how many names and numbers I get,” Matchette said. “I love this festival. Honestly, the work that is here is awesome from the artist’s point of view.”

David Manny of Snyder said he appreciated the festival more than the larger Allentown Arts Festival because almost every artist was from Western New York.

“It’s very communal. It’s more of a community show,” the artist said.

Manny’s photographs and drawings included regional landmarks such as Ralph Wilson Stadium, Transit Drive-In, Parkside Candy and Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

Nearby, musician Zak Ward sang from a tent outside the 7-Eleven.

A number of organizations set up tents hoping to engage passers-by in issues they felt passionately about. Among them was a plan to extend the rail line.

“We would very much like see the rapid rail extended from downtown Buffalo out to the airport, and to Transit Road with a park and ride. The people who are coming to the tent seem to be thrilled with the idea, and we can’t keep the petitions filled fast enough,” said Bunny Maline, a board member with Citizens for Regional Transit.

Pessecow said the event wouldn’t have been possible without the volunteers who set up the tents, dispensed information and helped kids with arts and crafts.

“Every single person in here is so committed, and honestly, if it wasn’t for them and their dedication, we would not be so successful,” Pessecow said.

The festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Musical Marching Parade, a festival highlight, will begin lining up at the M&T Bank lot on Elmwood at Breckenridge at 4 p.m.