Category Archives: Downtown

Labor Day Blues

Memorial Day has a parade. The 4th of July means fireworks.

Now, Labor Day boasts its own Westport tradition.

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival opened a weekend run today downtown.

With 3 separate events — great music at the Levitt Pavilion; a barbecue competition in the Imperial Avenue parking lot, and kids activities/food trucks/vendors in the library lot — there is something for everyone.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in the hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff joined the hotly contested barbecue competition.

A number of Westporters — and many more from throughout the region — strolled easily around the grounds. The footbridge connecting the Imperial Avenue and library parking lots got more use than maybe ever. Kayakers drifted up the river to see what was up.

The music was awesome. And the smell of barbecue ribs, chicken and steak was everywhere.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

This dude had a great time listening to some blues.

(For information on bands, tickets and more, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. The festival runs through 9:30 tonight. On Sunday the music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Lucy Roth waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

Lucy Roth (left) waits as a balloon man creates a unique design.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

A WPKN fan listens to music at the Levitt.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe was at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

Westport 1st selectman Jim Marpe enjoyed the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival, with his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha.

 

Blues, Views & BBQ Rocks Downtown

The 7th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival rocks Westport this weekend. Get ready for a kick-ass lineup of blues, rock, brass and funk music — plus fantastic food, and tons o’ stuff for the kids.

The Spin Doctors and Rick Derringer headline the stage acts. How did they — and many other Big Names — come to town? Westporter Crispin Cioe played a huge role.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Crispin Cioe gets ready to wail.

Soon after he and his family moved here 13 years ago, Crispin met Bob Le Rose, The owner of Bobby Q’s and leader in the Downtown Merchants Association, Bob wanted to start a blues festival. Crispin — a longtime musician/ bandleader/ producer/songwriter — knew plenty of bands and agents.

Each year, the pair spends months discussing possible musical acts. They probably eat very well too.

When they hit on the idea of having the Spin Doctors star in Saturday’s show, Bob worried that the festival might stray too far from its blues-based foundation.

Crispin performed and hung out with the band in the 1990s. He knew they were “rootsy/funky/bluesy” — especially live — and that they’d gotten their start at the Wetlands club in Manhattan (a spawning ground for the jam band scene).

Listening to the band’s recent recorded work, they saw movement toward exactly the kind of music featured at Blues, Views & BBQ.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Likewise, several years ago Crispin and Bob were searching for a way to feature well-known musicians who grew up here, and still live in the area. “Guitar god” Charlie Karp — a Westport native who played with Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles — helped assemble the Westport Heritage Blues Band, a special treat.

This year’s treats include Raw Oyster Cult, a New Orleans supergroup; the high-voltage, horn-drenched street band Big Sam’s Funky Nation; perennial favorite and guitar star Anders Osborne; blues slide guitarist Ms. Rory Block, and the formidable Popa Chubby.

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Crispin will play tenor sax with his old pal Bill Kirchen, guitarist and principal songwriter for Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The friends go back to the University of Michigan, where Commander Cody was formed.

Lately, Crispin has been working with legendary local band Cracked Ice, vocal great Darlene Love and producer Steven Van Zandt. But on Sunday (August 31) he’ll be at Blues, Views & BBQ, playing alto sax with Rick Derringer on the classic instrumental “Frankenstein.”

If you like great music, excellent barbecue and plenty of fun in your own hometown, you’ll be there too.

(For advance tickets and more information on the festival — which takes place at the Levitt Pavilion and the grounds of the Westport Library — click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River: The Sequel

A recent “06880” post on the Saugatuck River sand and silt buildup drew many comments. Longtime Westporter Dick Fincher reached deep in his memory bank, and added these thoughts:

The river channel, from the bay to the Post Road bridge, was last dredged by the Corps of Engineers in 1969. That is a firm date, because we had just moved here. We were living in a rented house at 165 Riverside Avenue, right on the river.

In theory the Corps is supposed to keep the channel dredged on a regular basis. But in fact it has not, since the river is not considered an essential waterway for commerce and/or extensive pleasure boat traffic.

I believe the Saugatuck dredging had 2 forks, about 300 yards south of the Post Road bridge. One went straight up the channel. The other bore over to the quay more or less in front of the library, then alongside it to the bridge.

This no doubt was because in the old, old days the commercial channel actually went right up to the backs of the buildings on the east side of Parker Harding, before it became a parking lot.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river's currents substantially.

Until the mid-1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores. Construction of the Parker Harding parking lot changed the river’s currents substantially.

Despite not being dredged, for many years — probably into the early 1990s or thereabouts – the lower portion had a good channel (almost to the Bridge Street bridge) because Gault got regular barge deliveries to their dock. Barges with 8-foot draft scraped the channel clean every time they came in or went out.

I would venture that the shallowness your contributor saw in the upper river (unless he just happened to see it at extremely low tide) is exacerbated by the fact that the lower river is also silting. There are spots even in the lower channel that at low tide are barely passable in the middle of the channel, right by Stony Point.

I know the folks at Earthplace take regular readings on the river’s health. Perhaps they can shed some light on this.

Dick’s insights reminded me of a romanticized version of the Saugatuck River’s traffic. A number of years ago, when commercial brokers were trying to market the gruesome glass building on Gorham Island, they ran a big ad in the real estate section of the Sunday New York Times. It featured a drawing of the building — and right next to it, way upriver of the Post Road bridge, was an enormous schooner. As if.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

The Saugatuck River at low tide. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Max’s Art Supplies Lives On — For One Day

When Max’s Art Supplies announced it was closing, Amy Kaplan shared the sadness of many. The Westport artist mourned not only the end of a special place, but the loss of a community.

Though Max’s is closing August 30, it will reopen on Friday, September 5 — for one night only.

Amy is organizing a special pop-up art show in the Post Road venue. Owner Shirley Mellor and longtime associate Nina Royce have given their blessings. Supporters include the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, John Hartwell and the Westport Democratic Town Committee, Rockwell Art and Framing, and Parkway Liquor.

From 6-9 p.m. that evening, a juried exhibit will feature some of the area’s most talented artists. The event is free, and open to the public.

Max's Art Supplies will open soon after it closes -- for a special, one-night only event.

Max’s Art Supplies will open soon after it closes — for a special, one-night only event.

“Max’s has been a pillar of the local art community,” Amy says. “I can’t think of a more fitting sendoff for Max’s than this show. It gives artists a chance to show and sell their work, and also reminisce about the role Max’s has played in their lives and development as artists.”

10% of the commission of any sales at the show will go to Max’s.

To help organize the show, submit works, or donate food and beverages, email amykaplanartwork@gmail.com, or call 203-247-3910.

Max’s Time To Go

After reading yesterday’s “06880” post about the final days of Max’s Art Supplies, local artist Miggs Burroughs hustled down to the store he’s loved for so many years.

He wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock, rescued once from another Westport store and long a symbol of the famed art store.

He was just a minute late. Sherri Wolfgang — a close friend — had already bought it. She told Miggs she’d wanted it since she was 8 years old, and bought her first sketch pad at Max’s.

“At least I got to take this historic photo with Shirley Mellor, Rita Ross Englebardt, Jay Cimbak, Nina Royce and Sherri, who was in tears the whole time,” Miggs says. “It was very emotional moment for everyone.”

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak.

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak. (Photo/MIggs Burroughs)

 

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

Main Street Mystery

For several months, I’ve seen a car parked half on the sidewalk, half on Main Street, opposite Washington Avenue.

Main Street collage

At first I thought it was random. Now I’m certain it’s deliberate.

I can’t figure out why. There are driveways behind every home and office on that stretch of road, headed from Crossroads Hardware into downtown.

And no one else parks like that anywhere near there. So whoever does this must realize it’s wrong.

I know, there’s not much traffic on that sidewalk.

But there sure is on Main Street.

“06880” covers a lot of bad, entitled parking in Westport. Yet those are one-offs. This happens every day.

Does anyone know why?

Kemper Gunn: 3-0 And Done

This morning, the board of selectmen approved a lease for the Kemper Gunn house. The vote was unanimous: 3-0.

Soon it will move across Elm Street, to the Baldwin parking lot. The Y will already have left, and the renovation/reconstruction/renaissance of Church Lane will begin.

Bedford Square will become a reality. Kemper Gunn will be leased to non-chain outlets.

Downtown will never look or be the same.

In a very good way.

An artist's rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it  is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

 

Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer Headline Best-Ever Blues, Views & BBQ Fest

When it comes to blues music, Westport is not exactly Chicago or Memphis.

And when you’re talking barbecue, Kansas City and Atlanta come to mind far quicker than this place.

But over the past 6 years — thanks to the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association has done a phenomenal job putting our town on the music and culinary maps.

The 7th annual event — set for Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31 on Labor Day weekend — will make all previous ones look like county fairs.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Blues, rock, brass and funk fans will be blown away by the lineup. The WDMA has signed Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer and a host of other big names — Bill Kirchen, Pop Chubby, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Raw Oyster Cult and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, to name a few — and rented the new Levitt Pavilion for 2 days of fantastic entertainment.

There’s 9 hours of music each day, for the very cool pre-pay price of $50 Saturday and $25 Sunday ($60 and $30 respectively, at the door). A 2-day pass is just $70 — and kids under 12 are free, with a paying adult.

(For Westporters only — and only through August 17 — the Saturday all-access pass is $40. The regular pre-sale price is $50; on-site, it’s $60.)

Meanwhile, the “Family Fun Fest” — in the library and Imperial Avenue parking lots — features plenty of food (including Bobby Q’s, but also from Blue Lemon, Meltmobile, Rolling Cones and others, plus of course a worthy selection of beverages); the always popular BBQ competition; rib- and pie-eating contests; cooking demonstrations; music (including School of Rock kids); bouncy stuff, and all that jazz.

And the price for that has been cut, from $25 last year to just $10. Kids 12 and under go free.

The Packin' Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The Packin’ Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The WDMA does a great job — often without proper credit — promoting free community events, like the Fine Arts Festival, Halloween Parade and Art About Town. They donate to other non-profits, and with projects like Tunnel Vision they beautify downtown.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is the WDMA’s signature event. In just 2 weeks, Westport will be smokin’.

(For advance tickets and more information, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

iFloat’s David Beats Goliath

For a year and a half, David Conneely had Westport floating on air.

Okay, water.

His iFloat therapy center above Oscar’s provided a unique way for thousands of men and women to relieve stress and rejuvenate bodies.

But — starting a year ago — even floating quietly in the dark, suspended in a warm solution of Epsom salt, could not relieve David’s stress.

Ten weeks of construction at a women’s store downstairs caused iFloat to close often. Then — after sheet rock ceiling was removed — the store’s music, telephones, even sounds of conversation and laughter shattered the tranquil time that iFloat clients cherished.

One of the iFloat relaxation tanks.

One of the iFloat relaxation tanks.

David tried to work with the store. But months of phone calls, emails and meetings produced no remedy. The store was not legally liable to solve the problem, so David could not sue. Besides, he’s not that type of guy.

David spent plenty of time and money consulting with contractors. No one could help.

He spent more time and money searching for a new site. He did not want to leave Westport, but he’d already lost six figures of income.

In May David spoke with landlord Lee Papageorge about leaving.

iFloat logo

As they worked on a mutually beneficial exit strategy, David’s father died. David spent time in Boston with family, including his brother Martin.

Martin — who owns Conneely Contracting in nearby Arlington — had been one of their father’s primary caregivers. He also had 4 girls, so he’d been unable to help David.

Finally, though, he had time to come to Westport.

Martin assessed the situation. “I can fix this,” he said.

He ripped out a wall and the float tanks. He elevated them — no easy task — and uncoupled the entire float room from the floor and walls. He installed vibration isolators — shipped overnight from California — along with sound-isolating glue and soundboards. Then Milton added new woodwork.

He did not charge his brother a dime.

It all worked perfectly. iFloat is back.

David Conneelly, in iFloat's warm and welcoming lobby.

David Conneelly, in iFloat’s warm and welcoming lobby.

True to his nature — and that of his low-key business — David is not shouting the news. But he is thrilled to offer floats again, proud of the support of his family, and honored by the staunch support of customers like Jamie Walsh, Grayson Braun, Betsy Wacker and Bill Donaldson.

“They kept me motivated and involved,” David says.

At last, David can relax.

Along with thousands of satisfied, gratefully floating customers.

(Click here for hours of operation and more information.)