Feasts, festivals and fun: Summer on the South Coast

Feasts, festivals and fun: Summer on the South Coast

Got culture?

The South Coast as a whole certainly does and as the summer approaches, that becomes increasingly evident, as the season of feasts and festivals and parades and block parties takes hold. With all the art and fashion shows, musical and theatrical performances, poetry slams and readings, good food and drink, culture manifests itself.

Of course, culture comes from community and the more diverse the community, the greater the opportunity for cross pollination and collaboration. The creative community includes classically trained painters, sculptors, musicians, actors and writers as well the self-taught, the intuitive and the determined.

The creative community is Black, white, Indigenous, Portuguese, old Yankee, French Canadian, Cape Verdean, Azorean, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Guatemalan, Filipino, Honduran, Salvadoran, straight, LGBTQ, old, middle-aged and young. 

The intermingling of all these groups forms a social tapestry that feeds creativity itself. And that is never clearer than it is in the summer.

Everything, everywhere, everyone. But not all at once. And it’s a good thing.

What follows is hardly a comprehensive guide to the cultural events and activities of the summer. Think of it as a curated sampler menu, some considered suggestions. There always exists the possibility that something won’t happen or be postponed because of a cancellation or due to inclement weather.

And there is the possibility that something else might be thrown into the mix. (I’ve heard a “hopin’ it’s true” rumor of an oyster festival!)

Prior to this writing, 3rd EyE Unlimited, an organization committed to “engaging, activating, uniting and empowering young leaders to transform their communities” had already presented the first of a series of programs exploring and celebrating the “5 Pillars of Hip-Hop.” On May 9, the subject was Deejaying

It will be followed by Graffiti (June 13 at Wing’s Court), Emceeing (July 11 at Abolition Row Park), Breakin’ (Aug. 8 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum) and Knowledge (Sept. 12 at the Rotch-Jones-Duff House.)

In addition, 3rd EyE will be hosting the annual 3rd Eye Open Hip Hop Festival, a free event, on Aug. 17 from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. at Wing’s Court and Custom House Park, featuring a DJ showcase, rap battle, live painting and a community wall. (Visit 3rdeyeunlimited.org for details.)

In a musical vein of a different sort, a “Motown Dance Party,” featuring Wali Ali, a session guitarist who has played with Rick James, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips and many others, will perform as part of the Zeiterion’s Stage Door Live series at the Kilburn Mill Event Center on June 6 at 7:30 pm.

Performer at the PRIDE Block Party, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Queer Arts Council

On Saturday June 1, the LGBTQ+ Network presents South Coast Pride at Buttonwood Park from noon to 5 p.m. It is a family-friendly event featuring a stage show that includes music and drag, food trucks, vendors and kids’ art activities.

Jazz on Juneteenth. Credit” Poster courtesy of Eric Paradise and the Steeple Playhouse

On Saturday, June 8, the New Bedford Historical Society is presenting “Jazz on Juneteenth / Freedom Day,” and a performance by The Ricky Ford Langston Hughes Suite with the Makanda Project, along with the poets Askia Toure and Everett Hoagland. It will be held at the Steeple Playhouse, 149 William St., from 7-9 p.m.

On Thursday, June 13, AHA! and the Queer Arts Council of New Bedford, offer up the family-friendly 5th annual Pride 2024 Block Party, which will be held at the Steeple Playhouse grounds starting at 5 p.m. There will be puppetry and circus arts, featuring the New England Black Circus, and a gourmet sorbet vendor. Inside the theater, there will be drag, poetry, live music and a DJ dance party from 8-10 p.m.

A few doors west is Gallery X, which will be open for AHA! Night. The June exhibition is “All My Kinfolk / Queer Ancestors and Chosen Family.” It will be followed in July by “Cultural Mosaic: A Celebration of Diversity,” and in August, in celebration of the gallery’s 35th anniversary, “Public Xhibition,” an annual show which up until last year had been called “A Public Hanging.”

The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park has a series of events over the course of the summer, including walking tours on subjects including the Underground Railroad, women on whaleships, and “In the Footsteps of Douglass and Melville.”

On June 1, the Park will feature Artist-in Residence Rebecca McGee Tuck running an immersive workshop on the art of weaving with rope and nautical debris. On July 9 and August 8, Artist-in-Residence Manny Escobar will offer insights into the role that Cape Verdeans played in shaping jazz, through music, imagery and storytelling. (Visit nps.gov/nebe or New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park on Facebook for details.)

The Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute, a.k.a. DATMA, is a museum without walls and it is celebrating a sixth season of public art and events collectively titled “Transform: Reduce, Revive, Reimagine.” 

There will be an ongoing photography exhibition focused on “The Art of Technology: Exploring Transformative Innovations of the SouthCoast” on view at Tonnessen Park and the the entrance to the Seastreak Ferry building in downtown New Bedford as well as a number of workshops and public conversations all open and free to the public. (Visit datma.org for details.)

But the highlight of DATMA’s sixth season will certainly be “Plastic Rooster” by Bordalo II, a famed Lisbon street artist renowned for his large-scale colorful sculptures utilizing discarded materials, such as old car parts, scrap metal, plastic waste and the like that are morphed into stunning three-dimensional animal portraits. The site-specific “Plastic Rooster” will be approximately 12 feet long, 9 feet wide and 15 feet tall and it will be visible and free to the public on the green space of the New Bedford YMCA on through to 2029.

Beginning on Friday, June 28, and continuing every Friday until September 6, Explore New Bedford’s Summer Sound Series will transpire on either Purchase Street or Lower Union Street, filling the early evening air with jazz, blues, reggae, funk and other musical genres. Performers include the Felix Brown Band, Johnny Hoy and Bluefish, Sugarbabies and Pearly Baker. (Visit explorenewbedford.org for the full list and other details.)

In other music news, The Southcoast Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece big band, will perform the first Monday of each month from 8-10 p.m. at the Bayside Restaurant, 128 Sconticut Neck Road, Fairhaven; the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford will present its 4th annual Jazz Service on June 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and the Buzzards Bay Musicfest returns to Marion from July 10-July 14 in the Fireman Performing Arts Center at Hoyt Hall on the campus of Tabor Academy. All events at the Musicfest are free admission. (Visit buzzardsbaymusicfest for details.)

Performers in Wings Court during the 2023 Roots & Branches Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Angeley and the Roots & Branches Festival

On Saturday, June 20, the NB Roots & Branches Festival makes its sophomore appearance at a number of venues downtown, including the Pour Farm Tavern, Cafe Arpeggio, Destination Soups, AprilEvans Beauty Lounge and the foyer of the Bristol Building as well as outdoor stages. Spearheaded by musician Jeff Angeley, Roots & Branches is not a followup to the long running, beloved and now departed New Bedford Folk Festival.

Dancers at the Roots & Branches Festival, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Angeley

Instead, it quite purposely branches not only into indie folk but also jazz, Cape Verdean and Portuguese dance music, shape note singing, Irish ditties, bluegrass jams, Caribbean drumming, Quebecois ensembles and something he describes as “weird old Americana.” The performers include rising local songwriter Molly O’Leary, folk mainstays Aoife Clancy and Eddie Dillon, a string quartet from the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, Hot Club Cheese Roll, and avant-folk musician Carl Simmons.

The culminating event of the NB Roots & Branches Festival will be “Moving Canvas Moving Forward,” a series of moving panoramas created by local visual artists in the tradition of the historical piece “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World,” which is housed at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The panoramas will be shown in the manner they are designed to be seen: in motion. And they will be presented live with simultaneous musical performances that are directly tied to the individual pieces. (Visit nbrootsandbranches for details.)

Reggae on West Beach, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of Fitzcarmel Lamarre

Reggae at West Beach, presented by Chakira Gonsalves, is a three-part live summer series featuring deejays spinning the reggae styles of rocksteady, roots, rubadub, ska and dancehall. This year’s scheduled deejays include DJ Sleepy, DJ Nomad, DJ Frankie Ryhmin and Soca King DJ Matik. The event runs on the last Sundays of June, July and August from 3-7 p.m. on the West Beach pavilion overlooking Clark’s Cove. Food trucks and other vendors will be on the site. (Visit Reggae on West Beach on Facebook for details.)

The Seaport Art Walk was founded in 2013 by sculptor Jessica Bregoli, becoming New Bedford’s first large format outdoor public art installation. Each summer, sculpture, murals and other art are placed alongside the working waterfront and the Seaport Cultural District.

This year, the exhibition formally “opens” on July 11, and will remain up well into October. Past exhibitors have included Jacob Ginga (a.k.a. Maker Jake), Eric Lintala, Heather Cronin-Bachstein and Andrew Hamilton Reiss, Brooke Mullins Doherty and Keith Francis. Most famously (or infamously) was Donna Dodson, who exhibited her “Seagull Cinderella” at the corner of Route 18 and Elm Street in both 2016 and 2023. Both times, there were folks who were outraged.

Sculptor Donna Dodson with her “Cinderella Seagull” at the 2023 Seaport Art Walk. Credit: Courtesy of the artist

“Seagull Cinderella” made national news but she certainly had her fans. I mean really … what’s not to like about a silly cartoonish buxom bird? It became the most famous sculpture in the city since Bela Lyon Pratt’s “Whaleman’s Statue” was unveiled in 1913.

The South Coast Artists Open Studio Tour is an automobile-dependent opportunity to visit artist studios in the coastal and pastoral communities of Dartmouth and Westport, and Tiverton and Little Compton, Rhode Island. It happens on the third weekends of July and August and features painters, sculptors, photographers, ceramicists, woodworkers and more. (Visit southcoastartists.org for details.) 

Of course, the South Coast Artists Open Studio Tour should not be confused with the Art Drive, which is an automobile-dependent opportunity to visit artist studios on the coastal and pastoral communities of Dartmouth and Westport — but not Tiverton and Little Compton. It happens Friday through Sunday, Aug. 2, 3 and 4, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and features painters, sculptors, photographers, ceramicists, woodworkers and more. (Visit the-art-drive for details.)

The crowds at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament. Credit: Feast of the Blessed Sacrament website

In a city where 55% of the population claim to have Portuguese forebears, it is easy to see why the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament or Festa do Santíssimo Sacramento (alternatively called the Madeiran Feast or simply, the Portuguese Feast) is so anticipated, loved and greeted with revelry.

Founded in 1914 by four men of Madeiran descent and run by the Club Madeirense S.S. Sacramento, it is the largest festival of Portuguese culture in the world and the largest ethnic festival in New England. There is no denying the deeply held religious convictions of many of the attendees of the Feast, but many visitors are there for the carnival rides and the arcade games.

Or they are there for the musical entertainment, which includes the Portuguese singer Nelia, and BandFaith, a New Bedford-based group of seven.

But the reality is most are there for the food: carne d’espeto, bacalhau, linguica, favas, cacoila, cabra, coelho, malassadas, cold cerveja and sweet Madeira wine. The Feast runs from Thursday evening, Aug. 1 until Sunday, Aug. 4. (Visit feastoftheblessedsacarment for details.)

Another ethnic festival arrives on Aug. 23 at Riverside Park. The family-friendly Festival Tipico Guatemalteco de New Bedford (the New Bedford Guatemalan Feast) is a celebration of Central-American culture as experienced through food, art, music and dance. Performances by Guatemalan artists will include El Baile de Toritos (the Dance of the Bull) and the Convite, a traditional well-rehearsed couples dance, involving traditional costumes and full masquerade.

The parade is the culmination of Cape Verdean Recognition Week. Credit: David W. Oliveira / The New Bedford Light

What else is going on this summer? “The Wider World & Scrimshaw” and “Breach: Logbook 24 / Scrimshaw,” a one-woman exhibition by Courtney M.Leonard, a multimedia artist and a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, both at the New Bedford Whaling Museum; AHA! Events including “Kids Rule!” in July and “Summer in the Seaport” in August; Mattapoisett Harbor Days; Cape Verdean Recognition Week; a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” taking place during the Harlem Renaissance at the Rotch Jones Duff House; a soiree at the Zoo and the Whaling City Festival at Buttonwood Park; upcoming exhibitions at the New Bedford Art Museum, the Dartmouth Cultural Center, the Narrows Center for the Arts, the Marion Arts Center and more, more, more. 

Check the New Bedford Light’s Culture Calendar frequently.

Got culture? Yeah, we got a bit. The world is our oyster.

And with that, I’m wondering what’s going on with that oyster festival…

Email Don Wilkinson at [email protected].

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