Everything Jersey City Festival Returns to the Heights Saturday

Thousands of folks from Jersey City and beyond are expected to descend on Central Avenue in the Heights this Saturday for the fourth annual Everything Jersey City Festival, a free daylong celebration featuring bands, vendors, artists, retail deals, rides and performers.

Festival organizers at the Central Avenue Special Improvement District (CASID) hope to best last year’s turnout of about 23,000 (and are clearly praying for good weather, since the event is rain or shine). The free daylong event features four stages along a half-mile stretch of Central Avenue that is filled with more than 200 artists, artisans, crafters, nonprofits and food vendors, as well as sidewalk sales from many avenue businesses and other special entertainment areas.

“CASID is proud to share an annual day full of positive experiences and lasting memories with the residents and community members of the Heights, Jersey City and Hudson County,” CASID president and festival committee chairman Michael Yun says. “We have worked very hard and taken great care to create an event that epitomizes what we love about Jersey City and we look forward to sharing that with our neighbors, friends and families.”

The kid-friendly festival includes pony rides, a petting zoo, a rock-climbing wall and other cool stuff for youngsters, as well as live performances and demonstrations from the Hope Center for Performing Arts, NJCU’s Actors Shakespeare Company and Family Fitness Martial Arts.

This year’s music lineup looks to be the most diverse yet, with plenty of homegrown talent filling most of the bill.

WKTU host and Heights resident Judy Torres once again headlines the festival (5 pm on the Congress Street stage); she’s joined by local faves The Black Hollies (4:40 pm on the Hutton Street stage) and Stephie Coplan and The Pedestrians (noon on the Congress Street stage), as well as local performers Catch Wild, BuzzUniverse, and CHOICE. In a very Heights-centric twist, Ed Solomon of Hauptman Floor Covering on Central Avenue will also perform with his rock band Go Falcon!. These local acts will be joined by out-of-town performers like Leah Le Grace, Ray Rodriguez y Swing Sabroso, Woodfish and Rumba Con Son (a full band schedule can be found here).

There’s also a new green tinge to the festival this year, with several groups coming together to create a pop-up park smack dab in the middle of everything.

“Street festivals are fun, but there is little to no open space,” Washington Park Association (WPA) president Mory Thomas explains. So the WPA, along with the Riverview Neighborhood Association, the Jersey City Parks Coalition and St. Anne’s Church and school, will create that space as a welcome respite from the hustle-and-bustle of the festival.

“We will be bringing in sod, trees, understory symbiotic plant guilds and a park bench, inviting people in to lay on the grass and relax in our green zone,” Thomas says. “Our partners in running our Permaculture Learning Garden in Washington Park, Green Collar Futures, will also be offering demos on glass making and be on hand to talk about principles of permaculture,” the ecological principle of creating sustainable living. The groups will also have sunflower seeds for kids to take home and plant.

“The goal is to highlight how refreshing, inviting and vital our precious open spaces are in this dense urban environment. We want to protect these spaces from over-development,” Thomas says. “Us urbanites need to learn once again to interact with our environment so that it can nourish us and protect us for years to come.”

If the pop-up park isn’t enough open space for you, the Reservoir Preservation Alliance will be offering tours of the nearby reservoir, which is just a few blocks away from all the action on Central Avenue.

The festival is one of the largest projects undertaken each year by the CASID, and it comes at a time when funding for the CASID and other SIDs around Jersey City is in jeopardy, due to state cuts to the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program. The CASID, like other groups in Jersey City, has pushed hard to preserve the UEZ program; last year a petition drive to “Save UEZ Funding” was a prominent component of the main festival sponsors’ meet-and-greet tent.

But all the urban lobbying hasn’t done much good yet. In February, the governor announced his intention to shutter the program, after a state-commissioned report found the “outmoded” and “ineffective” program “deliver[s] a limited economic impact” to local economies, and produces “a negative return on state investment.”

The CASID’s president says the festival’s growth and success is just one of the many examples that proves that wrong.

“The Urban Enterprise Zone program is a partnership between the public and private sector,” Michael Yun says. “The Everything Jersey City Festival is an exemplary example of what these partnerships make possible.”

Photo of 2009’s festival by Irene Borngraeber

THE DETAILS

Fourth Annual Everything Jersey City Festival; Saturday, May 21 from 11 am to 6 pm along Central Avenue in the Heights (between Hutton and Congress Streets). As a sponsor of the event, JCI will be there in the main sponsors tent — drop by and say hi. The event is free, and it will go on, rain or shine.

Jon Whiten

co-founded the Jersey City Independent. He is currently the Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective.