by Kirby Lindsay
During sidewalk chats over impending changes, as the Fremont Chamber of Commerce takes over management of the Fremont Street Fair from Solid Ground (previously known as Fremont Public Association,) one name came up frequently – Al Parisi.
Solid Ground raised funds through the Fair from 1974 – 2009, and Parisi managed the festival for them, in-house, from 1991 – 2003. For ten years prior, Parisi had experienced the Fair (and many other events) as a vendor in his family’s food booth.
What He Brought
“I feel that when I was there,” Parisi recently stated, “the Fair was a total success.” He takes credit for transforming the funky local neighborhood gathering into a regionally acknowledged festival that won numerous awards. He also organized the only demographics survey, so far, and proved that visitors traveled great distances to attend the Fair, and the Fremont Arts Council Solstice Parade.
Parisi does not boast. He only tried to answer my questions, as Fremonsters describe the ‘old days’ of the Fair and its ‘feel.’ The atmosphere Parisi created. “When I came on there was one music stage,” he explained, “after 12 years I built it up to five stages, and three beer gardens.”
The Fair grew, but “we strive,” he said, “to have a good mix of vendors, without just selling real estate.” He described ‘programming’ vendors, to create a balance between individual crafters, authentic imports and informational booths that contribute to a fun, engaging experience. The same held for food, and music. He got the Presidents of the United States and Death Cab for Cutie before they were widely known. He held nighttime concerts that attracted national acts. “It’s all about being creative,” he explained.
“I had a great crew,” Parisi insisted, repeatedly. His team brought their own contacts, and strategies, to the event. Parisi mentioned year ‘round planning to attract the vendors, performers and food ideal for the Fremont Fair. Also, “the Parade has helped the Fair immensely,” he said, “everything plays off of each other.” Certainly Parisi, one year, took an unprecedented step. Traditionally, the Fair took place on Father’s Day weekend. When the Solstice (June 21) once landed the following weekend, Parisi moved his entire event back a week to accommodate.
After The End
“I was there for 12 years,” Parisi said, “something had to be going right.” When asked for anecdotes about the Fair, he demurred, “part of what I do is I’m in the back scenes,” focused on creating fun, and memories, for the participants. He ran the Fair this way until 2003, when Solid Ground leadership decided to change the direction of their production of the festival. “There are different ways to look at the success of an event,” he acknowledged.
Today Parisi still works as a ‘Festival Expert,’ just not in Fremont. He consults, creates, collaborates and orchestrates on a number of events region-wide. For the City of Seattle he has organized Summer Streets. He has also consulted on the Arab Festival, the Washington Brewers Festival and Tall Ships, and launched a series of on-line legal seminars. “I know how events work,” he explained, “It’s all people. It’s all working with people, and I like people.”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.