Thoughts on the Downtown Salisbury Festival 2019

It used to be one of three events I looked forward to; the trio of spring harbingers which came and went each April: opening night for the Shorebirds, Pork in the Park, and the Salisbury Festival to wrap up the month. Regarding the latter two, I made it to most of those over the last decade of their runs, missing a few because of prior engagements but generally having a good time. Pork in the Park came to an inglorious end a couple years ago when the county decided to focus its efforts on other events.

By that same token, after its 2015 rendition the Salisbury Festival went on hiatus, or in the description of the new incarnation, the concept was “retired.” In its place last year, moved back on the calendar to a new early June timeframe, was the newly-rechristened Downtown Salisbury Festival. Unfortunately, the 2018 event was marred by the same rainy weather which seemed to dog us every weekend last year.

While I attended last year’s event on Saturday, with the vendors strung along a couple blocks of East Main Street, this year our one opportunity to show up was Friday night. And thanks to construction along East Main Street as well as the completion last summer of the riverside amphitheater, the venue was set up a lot differently.

Instead of their traditional placement in Lot 10 or closer to the library, this time the rides were placed across the river from the amphitheater. To me that made things more festive.

The food court pretty much stayed where it has always been, and the selection wasn’t too bad. (We decided on dinner at a different venue, though. *Read to the end for a mini restaurant review.)

Some of the selections in the food court. It used to be just booths and tents – for many years the Wicomico County Republican Club was a staple there selling hamburgers and hotdogs right off the grill – but now it’s a fair number of food trucks, too.
More of the food court. It was a cloudy but not overly hot Friday night, so I thought the crowd was a little on the modest side.

I would have thought there would be a few more people down there, although the threat of rain may have dampened things a tad bit.

But because I was there on Friday night, all of the action was centered around the riverwalk. It made for a nice overall photo from the pedestrian bridge.

Looking eastward from the pedestrian bridge toward the amphitheater. This was the crowd as The Permilla Project was wrapping up.

In years past, I remember going to the old Salisbury Festival a couple of times on a Friday night and this was where the musical stage was set for that particular party. Now that’s become the main stage as opposed to using the steps of the Government Office Building or the makeshift space in the Plaza. So I gotta hand it to the city: the amphitheater is truly a nice venue to watch this size of show. There were probably 200-300 people there – maybe more – but it didn’t seem overly crowded at all. It probably could have (and should have given the talent level of the performers) held twice or thrice that many just fine.

So the question I have for anyone who read this and remembers last year: were there the same number and quality of vendors on Saturday? I missed it this year because of a previous engagement, but I thought it was misleading that the maps showed vendors but didn’t point out they were only there on Saturday (and maybe Sunday, although that was pretty much a washout.) In that respect, though, they really haven’t departed from the Salisbury Festival tradition – all they have done is moved the venue out of the Plaza and over to the riverfront. I suppose this works well for making it different from Third Friday.

Still I think the June date is a bit problematic. I’m not sure what the target market is for this event, but at least this year they picked a weekend that wasn’t crowded by high school graduations. On the other hand, we are also into beach time as well as vacations for the family. While the weather wasn’t as cooperative, I think as a regional event this always worked better in late April. If the idea is a little bit lower-key event, then June is okay.

The DSF wasn’t hurting for sponsors, at least. But there are a number of charitable and government entities here as opposed to local businesses. That’s why I wish I knew what vendor turnout was like.

I’m not done with the posts on this, though. Most of the reason I stuck around was to bring back a series dormant for too long. Here’s a hint.

Headlining Friday night was the Paul Reed Smith band. This weekend will feature a brand new edition of Weekend of Local Rock. Yeah, it’s been awhile!

Once they get through with remaking downtown perhaps this festival will get back to its peak, just like the Salisbury Festival did in the mid-aughts. (They had some great local bands there, to be sure.) I know a lot of the air gets sucked out of the lower-tier events because the city of Salisbury is concentrating on the National Folk Festival and its post-2020 successor but this is one worth fighting for if they can make a few tweaks.

*Oh, and by the way: I almost hate to say this because we literally pretty much had the run of the place by the time we left, but if you want to try something good, the new Salisbury Pit n’ Pub was excellent. It’s right by the old Monkey Barrel (site of several renditions of WLR) across from SU. We actually ate at the 28th Street OC location on a church couples’ retreat over last winter so we were glad to see one opened here. It definitely made me miss Pork in the Park.

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