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Annual Multnomah Days Parade and Street Fair draws big crowds, but still maintains a small-town feel

CONNECTION FILE PHOTO - Organizers estimate that around 5,000 people are in attendance each year at the Multnomah Days parade and street fair, held this year Aug. 19-20.During the summer, when school's out, work schedules are lighter and the sun is seemingly always shining, it can be hard to distinguish one day from the next. Yet, there are certain transitions, marker points if you will, that punctuate and shape those fleeting three months of the year.

The solstice is the longest day, offering the chance to relish in the budding warmth and marvel at how long the sunlight touches our windowpanes. It's a day to officially kick off the summer.

Independence day is a barbecue showcase; our base tans have crisped, and we're right in the thick of summer. But what of August? Back-to-school specials? Stinging summer heat?

Well, in Multnomah Village at least, August means Multnomah Days, when more than 5,000 people flock to the area around Capitol Highway for what many community members say feels like a neighborhood block party.

Throughout the day on Saturday, Aug. 19, visitors head to the heart of the business district in Multnomah Village to watch a parade, wander through a street fair, munch on delectable food options or catch a live show.

The tagline for the parade, which kicks off the Multnomah Days festivities in the morning, sets the tone for the rest of the day: "It's the biggest little parade in Portland."

"That's what the parade is all about," said Jason Lensch, the president of the Multnomah Village Business Association, the organization behind Multnomah Days. "It's all about recognizing community and bringing community together."

Anyone who hasn't been to the festival before may be surprised to see the quiet neighborhood shopping district transform, starting with the parade — a vibrant procession of marching bands, local organizations, high school athletes, a plethora of pooches and showers of candy tossed in all directions.

When the fanfare of the parade subsides, the street fair comes alive. Spread over six blocks of Capitol HIghway, more than 120 vendors pack the Village with custom-made goods, unique food items, information and more.

"Each year we are excited to see all the diverse, talented and creative people who come to sell or promote their unique products," Lensch said.

Neighbors helping neighbors

Multnomah Days is jam-packed with fun activities, but it also makes room for some charitable giving.

For instance, each year the Lucky Lab Public house sponsors a "Doggie Wash" fundraiser for DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Northwest Portland. If you're dog's fur is mussed up after a morning of strolling through the crowds or from participating in the esteemed Pooch Parade, you can head to the Pub (7675 S.W. Capitol Highway) and get your dog squeaky clean for a suggested donation of just $10.

Or, if your own 'do is in need of a fresh trim, you can head to Annastasia Salon's Cut-a-Thon, which takes place on the corner of Southwest 34th Avenue and Capitol Highway after the parade. This year, the salon will also have nail technician students on hand — under the supervision of instructors, of course — to offer $10 natural nail manicures.

Proceeds from the fundraiser at Annastasia's will support Neighborhood House's Emergency Food Box program, which provides boxes containing enough food for a day's breakfast, lunch and dinner to families in need on-demand. The organization says that over the past eight years, the Cut-a-Thon has raised more than $16,000, or the equivalent of more than 64,000 pounds of food.

And speaking of Neighborhood House: For the second year in a row, the organization will have a Diaper Bank set up so that Multnomah Days attendees can drop off packages of diapers to support families with infants and toddlers.

"Once again, we are responding to the fact that many families — an estimated 30 percent — cannot afford enough diapers to provide their infants/children with a healthy number of changes every day," said Mari Yerger, development director for the nonprofit. "Neighborhood House provides diapers to low-income families through our Emergency Food Box program. We rely on donations to do this."

Yerger said the organization is asking for kids sizes 4 and 5, as they are the two most frequently used diaper sizes. In addition this year, Neighborhood House will accept adult diapers because both infant and adult diapers cannot be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps.

Lots of music

Soon after announcing his new music production company in the Village, Norvin Johnson of dB Nation set his sights on ramping up the live music offerings at Multnomah Days. He and his team, which includes assistant producer Jay Sasseen, are in their second year of taking up the charge of booking bands and setting up the stage venue for the festival.

Performances now will be separated into two sections: a morning of intimate acoustic performances, and an afternoon of lively regional band performances. Though the bands on the Main Stage of the Multnomah Arts Center (7688 S.W. Capitol Highway) will play for less time than last year, this year seven acts will perform instead of three. And Tallulah's Daddy will offer kid-friendly music to kick off the day.

Lensch noted that one of the things the planning committee struggles with is drawing audiences "off the beaten path" to the Main Stage at the MAC, which flanks the far east end of the main activities.

"My pitch has always been that it's going to take time," he said. "When you change or add something, people will have to just learn that's happening and they'll kind of just make that into their plans of the street fair."

Lensch has been heartened by Johnson's enthusiasm and the successful expansion of the live music offerings in the past. Around three years ago, Lensch spearheaded the addition of a community stage to complement the Main Stage, which gave community members a chance to perform. The West End stage, at Southwest 36th Avenue and Southwest Capitol Highway, has become a permanent fixture of Multnomah Days.

"That's been a lot of fun, because we've had local high school bands and local dance groups and young singers and performers, and it's all free," Lensch said. "These are people that don't do it for a living or make money, but just want an opportunity to show off their talents in a public venue."

Contact Connection reporter Hannah Rank at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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