PAWTUCKET — Phil Frodio makes no bones about it. He’s here to do some serious eating, and for a 77-year-old foodie like Frodio, there was no better place to be Friday night than the Blackstone River Party and Taste of the Valley in and around Slater Mill on Roosevelt Avenue.
“I’m probably going to go home sick tonight,” Frodio says over his second bowl of pasta and sausage.
“Everything is delicious,” chimes in Frodio’s companion, Liz, who is sipping from a bowl of Portuguese fish soup. “This is our third year coming to this event and everything is so good. We look forward to it every year.”
The outdoor open-air Blackstone River Party and Taste of the Valley is the kickoff event for the 2013 Pawtucket Arts Festival and the Slater Mill area — at least for one night — was the gastronomic center of the universe as thousands turned out to sample dishes from dozens of local restaurants that offered everything from tasty Vietnamese eggrolls to spicy Indian chicken curry to traditional English shepherd’s pie.
Meanwhile, under a tent across the street, the Slippery Sneakers Zydeco Band, the Louisiana Zydeco Band, and Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic had people of all ages stomping their feet and dancing.
For an admission fee of just $10, attendees got a chance to sample all the food they wanted as long as they were willing to stand in the long lines that stretched from most of the booths.
One of the busiest booths of the night was Pho Horn’s, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant on Ann Mary Street, which was dishing out their famous crispy spring rolls and fresh summer rolls.
“Everyone loves the fresh summer rolls,” says Tee Le, whose husband, Teven Tran, has been running Pho Horn’s — Pawtucket’s only Vietnamese eatery — for the past five years.
At a booth next door, Lydia Santos, general manager of Murphy’s Law Irish Pub, was handing out small cups of curry and fries. Yes, you heard it right — handcut homemade French fries smothered with spicy Indian curry.
“It’s awesome,” says Santos. “People love it!”
Other popular items at the Murphys Law booth were the Guinness beef stew, corned beef and cabbage, and shepherd’s pie.
“It’s so good,” 75-year-old Pawtucket resident Maria Schultz says. “I like to try all the spicy food.”
Restaurants like Rasoi, Taqueria Zupita, My Daddy’s Pizza, Fountain Street Grill, Local Hero Deli and Doherty’s East Avenue Cafe were also doing brisk business as people waited patiently in line to sample their menus.
Pawtucket resident Randy Elliott was making up for lost time.
“I’ve only been living in the city for one year. I had heard about it last year, but for some reason, wasn’t able to go, so bad on me,” he said. “This year, I made it a point to come down and I’m so glad I did. So far, I had a pulled pork sandwich and some spicy soup and they were both very good.”
If Friday’s enthusiastic response to the Blackstone River Party and Taste of the Valley was any indication, people are more than ready for the rest of the Pawtucket Arts Festival, a citywide month-long showcase of visual and performing arts, interactive workshops, music, theater and dance performances taking place in downtown Pawtucket and Slater Park through Sept. 29.
“In 15 years of organizing the Pawtucket Arts Festival, I promise this will be the one festival you won’t want to miss,” said John Baxter, chairman of the festival committee.
“Everything is ready. And we’re expecting fantastic weather during the first weekend. There should be a great turnout, not just from our community but throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.”
Baxter also noted how the majority of festival events can be enjoyed free of charge and that those that do charge an admission have kept it at an affordable $10. “It’s exciting. There is so much activity going on in that downtown area,” he said.
In addition to keeping the festival’s cost down for patrons, Baxter said it has been the mission of the organizers to showcase local talent as much as possible.
“There is so much great talent here, not just in Pawtucket but throughout the state...in the arts, music, culinary areas,” said Baxter. “We want to promote that. I equate it with the world traveler who hasn’t toured his or her own country. We don’t even realize what we have in the way of excellent, homegrown artists and performers.”
Today is jam-packed with events, starting with the 14th annual Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival. The competitive races and accompanying cultural festival, featuring Chinese music and dancing, crafts, and food, take place at Festival Pier off School Street from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (rain date Sunday). Admission is free.
Over at the Armory Arts Center, 172 Exchange St., the Arts Marketplace will feature a dazzling array of fine art and handcrafted items by over 50 professional artists from throughout New England. This exhibition and sale, which continues on Sunday, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be music, steamroller printmaking demonstrations by the Ink Monkeys, and food truck vendors parked outside.
Running concurrently with the Arts Marketplace both today and Sunday is the XOS Exchange Street Open Studios. It’s a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of some 60 artists at work as they open the doors to their studios at 10 Exchange Court, 163 Exchange Court, 59 Blackstone Ave., and 65 Blackstone Ave.
Stationed in the middle of all of these cultural events is the city’s first food trucks festival, “Food Trucks on the Blackstone,” sponsored by the Rotary Club of Pawtucket. Vendors offering a wide variety of gastronomical delights will be lined up along Roosevelt Avenue, as well as near the Armory on Exchange Street, throughout today and Sunday. A beverage tent offering beer, wine, soft drinks and water, will also be available on Roosevelt Avenue.
Also taking place today is the new In-Ovation Festival at Slater Mill.
Musicians, artists and performers who have found exciting new ways to present traditional art forms will be showcased from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The diverse lineup includes the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio, the Maui Nighthawks, the Eastern Medicine Singers and many more. Admission is free.
Across the city, the Forget-Me-Not Gallery, located in an elegant 19th-century house at 67 Park Place, hosts its own Unforgettable September Music Festival from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The art gallery, which supports the mission of the Samaritans of Rhode Island, will feature Molly’s Adventure and Guests. Admission is free, but seating is limited so reservations are suggested by calling (401)-721-5220.
Tonight also features an evening performance of “Pirates of Penzance” by the Woloohojian Family. Opera Providence brings the show, billed as a comic opera in two acts, to the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center theater from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. General admission is $10, or $25 for VIP admission, which includes a pre-show reception.
Capping off tonight’s fun is First Lights: the Pawtucket River Bridge Lighting, which is taking place at Taft Street and Roosevelt Avenue Extension from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. A huge block party featuring a DJ, more food trucks and refreshments, including beer from Doherty’s, will be available to celebrate the inaugural lighting of the new Interstate 95 highway bridge. A colorful light show is promised when the sun goes down, at approximately 7 p.m.
On Sunday, Slater Mill will bring back its annual Labor and Ethnic Heritage Festival on its grounds by the Blackstone River from noon to 5 p.m. This is one of Rhode Island’s longest-running folk music and heritage arts festivals and is a fan favorite. Performers include members of Magnolia, the Greg Abate Quartet, Zimmerman, and more. Admission is free.
Later in the week, on Wednesday, the cultural vibe continues as the award-winning Gamm Theatre offers a free performance of two one-act plays, “A Number” and “Far Away,” by British playwright Caryl Churchill. Showtime is 8 p.m. Ticket vouchers are available in person at the Gamm Theatre box office, 172 Exchange St., starting Monday (box office open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Limit two tickets per guest.
For more information, visit www.pawtucketartsfestival.org .
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