The story begins 1996 when the Chamber Board looked at the sustainability of the Concourse de Elegance. Our annual car show was held each August at Acalanes High School. It was an event that was beloved by the community and gearheads from the area. But it never brought people to our downtown. Scott Hampton, owner of Clocks, etc. was our chamber president at the time and suggested a festival to show off our beautiful downtown. We partnered with Eckerstrom Productions who brought their experience to our project, which helped us succeed in growing the event. And 23 years later Chelley and Eckerstrom Productions are still working with us to provide the hundreds of outstanding artists from near and far.
Within a couple of years, the event grew big enough to move from Golden Gate Way to Mt. Diablo Blvd. In our 6th year, we were faced with some tough decisions on whether -or- not to hold the event. It was scheduled 5 days after 9/11. The city and the chamber received a multiple calls from the public. Some suggested we cancel. Others urged us to stay on schedule. We ultimately took a chance and prepared for the weekend. 10:00am on Saturday rolled around and no one came. It was a ghost town for the first 4 hours.
Then something incredible happened. People started showing up by the hundreds. We had never had this kind of crowd before. After five days of grieving and grappling with what had happened to our America, people just needed a break from the non-stop news reports and the awful images. You see, a party emerged. Friends, Neighbors, Family, and visitors all came together.
They enjoyed strolling the streets, looking at the art, sipping a glass of wine and enjoying the music. At closing time, 7:00pm, no one would go home. The next day was the same. It was as if we all got a “hall pass” for the weekend. We turned our attention back to a place that would bring us a little personal comfort and bring us together.
At the time, I was a board member of the chamber and I had already chaired the event a couple of times. Four years later I left my career in hospitality and took a chance at running the chamber. Knowing the Art & Wine Festival was vital to the financial health of our non-profit, I dug into the expenses of previous festivals and tried to find the “low lying fruit” to maximize our efforts. You see, the festival provides the Chamber with about 50% of our annual budget. In addition we will often give back over $40K in donations to LPIE and other local non-profits.
Here is where it led us…
That weekend after 9/11 helped write the values we built this event on. When you gather thousands of people together, there is a chance to make a difference. Festivals bring people with very different stories together. Vendors, artists, volunteers, musicians, children, police, fire fighters, local merchants are all sharing in the same experience. We have a volunteer committee that works all year to make each Art & Wine a little better than last year. We want to bring you an authentic and original show. And it takes hundreds of volunteers to pull it off.
The safety of our guests is simply the most important part of the weekend we plan for. The world we live in has changed and we have been challenged to make the necessary changes without taking the fun out of the equation. Working with our Police Department, and the County Consolidated Fire District, Environmental Health, Lamorinda CERT and other agencies, we always plan for the worst but try to deliver the BEST show.
We learned early on that having really good music was essential to the experience. For many, music transforms us. It is the connectedness to the music and to each other, sharing that “in the moment” awareness that has kept me going back to live music all the time. Music is comforting. We pick the BEST bands around. Wait till you see this year’s line-up.
Arts & Crafts
Oh, and the Art! The art that is displayed at our festival sings to different people in different ways. It can inspire us. It can amuse us. It can also be a fun way to shop for the holidays. Maybe it’s the jewelry booth my wife always come back to year after year. The really talented artists are invited back, and there are always new surprises to explore.
This year we have added a maker’s market for kids, Young Maker's Expo. This is being organized by a local Boy Scout who is working on his Eagle Scout project. The “kidpreneurs” will learn to operate a small business & practice merchandising.
Our committee is committed to operating a Zero Waste Event. We work closely with the City, Republic Services and our volunteers to lead the county in waste diversion. Last year our diversion rate was 88% (leaving only 12% of our waste going to landfill). This year our goal is 94% and we think we can get it even higher. On Friday night before the festival we build our little city and when you wake up on Monday morning, it looks like the festival never happened. Our mantra “Leave No Trace.” Come enjoy the festival, take the memories and maybe some art home with you and leave only your footprints.
This event is a huge inconvenience for some of our merchants and citizens. We do everything we can to make the weekend as simple as we can. We plan all year.
Connecting our attendees to the Art, Music, Food, Wine & Beer and fun is the goal. But it is the VIBE, the spirit and the laughter that makes it so special for me. I am a product of my childhood. I am a hippie at heart. It brings me great joy and satisfaction to gather the tribes and help our guests escape for a weekend. On behalf of our hard- working committee, I hope you will join us this year. We promise a great time!
Jay Lifson, Executive Director, Lafayette Chamber of Commerce