by DB Fromm
Last Sunday, Chestnut Hill was abuzz with activity for the Home and Garden Stroll, a version of the annual Home and Garden Festival adapted for the pandemic. Inspired by January’s Chestnut Hill on Ice event, the Avenue was open to traffic and the number of vendors was truncated, from roughly 150 to 60. Vendors, music and activities were hosted off-street, in designated parking lots and plazas.
With happenings linked by the Avenue, foot traffic flowed up and down between the Mermaid Inn and Fountain Plaza. A handy map on the Business Association website guided attendees and set the mood for exploration. Where past festivals closed the Avenue to traffic, obscuring the brick-and-mortar with a never-ending phalanx of tents, Hill businesses benefited from the visibility and walk-ins. This included those off the Avenue, like Evergreen Cheese, Style Camp and Chestnut Hill Brewing. Many restaurants already had outdoor seating set up, and some erected additional setups for takeaway food and beverage sales. El Poquito sold margaritas with a selection of fruit purees from a tented table outside their patio.
The day benefitted from sunny, warm weather and a joyous atmosphere. Many of those present came from outside Chestnut Hill and were palpably enthusiastic to be socializing and collectively active after a cloistered year. Vaccines, and a better understanding of risks outdoors, allowed for genuine relaxation. Music, food and drink, and the variety of displays stimulated all senses.
The music was particularly cathartic. Breezy soul and funk from Variable Elements, a 10-piece cover band and Chestnut Hill festival regular, compelled many to stop and enjoy the set from the sidewalk or behind them on the Fountain Plaza lawn. The Mermaid set up a dance floor ringed with tables on the adjoining driveway of Lehmann’s Garage, and Zydeco-a-Go-Go kept it full with authentic New Orleans sounds, complete with accordion and washboard. Even the stiffest of joints loosened up. Mermaid regulars The Dukes of Destiny followed with Chicago blues. Led by John Colgan-Davis’ vocals and ripping harmonica, the energy did not abate.
Between these bookends, Zach and Jimmy Wallace of the Wallace Brothers, a country music band, set up on the corner outside Roller’s at Flying Fish with their talented pedal steel player, Khoa Pham. Amplified with an extension cord strung through a second story window (courtesy Paul Roller) their smooth sounds wafted down to the ice cream line at Bredenbecks and up to diners on the porch at the Chestnut Hill Hotel. The band is new to the city via Kutztown, with Zach settling here in Chestnut Hill and the others in South Philly.
The Stroll was family friendly too, with activities at a Kid and Family Zone at Jenks Elementary, complete with a train ride, the open door at Zipf’s Candies, and the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild see-through live honeycomb display at the Evergreen lot.
All of this made for a particularly welcoming event and a smashing start to the summer. The new festival model, a pandemic innovation, may be here to stay.