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St. Johns Bizarre shows off quirks, charm
St. Johns is like its own little town within a city, bringing its own separate quirks and charm to Portland's overall fabric.
And organizers of the St. Johns Bizarre call the free-to-all, annual street fair "like a neighborhood block party right in the center of 'town.' "
It might be a rarity for some Portlanders who don't live near the city's northernmost neighborhood to get all the way up there without a specific purpose. But those who make the trek for the 11th annual St. Johns Bizarre will be treated to 119 booths of local arts and crafts, a beer garden, live music, performers and the like, as the neighborhood kicks off the city's street festival season this weekend.
The St. Johns Bizarre takes place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 13, on North Philadelphia Avenue. It occurs alongside the annual St. Johns parade, in its 55th year, which begins at noon, followed by the closure of a six-block area of the St. Johns business district.
In addition to the booths, the festival features the Plaza Stage with a lineup of artists, including The Thermals as headliners, Y La Bamba, Dude York and others.
"We try to top ourselves every year with the music, and we're feeling confident that this year we've succeeded," says Ian Youngstrom, co-chairman of the St. Johns Bizarre.
"We've got the Thermals headlining, who we've been huge fans of ... they're scrappy and rough around the edges and are a perfect fit for St. Johns."
The fair is laid out in the heart of the neighborhood, with the beer garden in the middle of the street, featuring the neighborhood's own brewing company, Occidental Brewing, and Oregon Mead and Cider Co.
The event is an opportunity to shine a light not only on St. Johns but on its businesses as well, organizers say. The neighborhood is brimming with independent shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, and some shop owners cite the St. Johns Bizarre as one of their best days of the year, as they hold special sales and events of their own throughout the day. Organizers expect about 5,000 people will attend the festival.
"We understand that to have a thriving neighborhood, you must have a healthy business district," Youngstrom says. "So this is our attempt to bring people here to explore our shops and see what we have to offer."
The event is aptly called a "bizarre" — not a "bazaar," as a play on words. Youngstrom says it encapsulates the uniqueness of their community.
"We are a pretty tolerant and diverse bunch coming from all walks of life," he says. "I think there is a general respect for that diversity and an understanding that it's what makes this neighborhood special and it's worth protecting."
Shamus Lynsky, the event's sponsorship coordinator, echoed that the neighborhood is something different — especially to see that massive, iconic green bridge in the background. The "bizarre" is an opportunity for a taste.
"It truly is unique," he said. "Also, having the picturesque St. Johns Bridge as a backdrop doesn't hurt."