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Midsommarfest Has 'Taken on a Life of Its Own' in Andersonville

 Midsommarfest 2012.
Midsommarfest 2012.
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Andersonville Chamber of Commerce

ANDERSONVILLE — Andersonville's Midsommarfest has grown over the years from a petite festival to a three-day event that more than 50,000 people were expected to attend this weekend, filling Clark Street from Foster to Catalpa avenues.

From June 7-9, festival-goers can enjoy food and drinks from local bars and eateries, such as Hamburger Mary's and Rezas Restaurant, and see music on five stages, including performances from the Joans, 16 Candles, Sidewalk Chalk, Pyro Fighters and the Swedish American Children's Choir.

An array of local artisans and mom and pop shops will also be selling their wares. Alamo shoes is sponsoring a "Family Fun Area" with face painting, a climbing wall and other kid-friendly activities.

The event has grown by leaps and bounds from what it was two decades ago, organizers said. Then, the festival was a small two-block event that was "more of a sidewalk sale" that drew about 6,000 people, according to StarEvents CEO John Barry, whose company has helped manage the festival for 20 years.

"Midsommarfest has taken on a life of its own. Nobody 20 years ago would have predicted its longevity," Barry said of the 48-year-old event, which now spans six blocks on Clark.

Barry said his company was called in by the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce years ago to improve the festival and make it a bigger earner for the chamber.

The chamber now touts it as its biggest fundraising vehicle and has added programs in recent years such as the Andersonville Farmers Market and Andersonville Arts Weekend, because of the festival's success, officials said.

"The two and a half days of the festival are how we raise the money to do pretty much all the programming and events and everything that we do for the rest of the year," said chamber assistant director Jason Cox, who added that the chamber is sharing a portion of beer sale proceeds with local nonprofits and school groups.

Midsommarfest is a nod to the annual Swedish tradition of celebrating the summer solstice.

While organizers admit the festival has shifted toward the mainstream, like the neighborhood itself, Midsommarfest manages to cling to its Swedish roots. The Swedish American Museum is sponsoring a stage at Clark and Foster where there will be traditional Swedish music and dance, and the museum is also offering free admission during the festival.

Even though some neighbors complain about street closures and congestion, Hamburger Mary's co-owner Brandon Wright said Midsommarfest "puts Andersonville in a great light." He said the fest "kicks off the summer" as one of the first big events of the season.

He acknowledged that congestion can be a problem and that some people might miss the festival's low-key past. But he called the growth "an unfortunate consequence of a neighborhood becoming more popular.

"Being a sleepy, quaint little neighborhood is great for the first people who discover it — but as any neighborhood becomes more popular you have to accept the consequences of that, that there will be more people interested in coming, and the fest is going to get bigger," Wright said. "But on the flip side, businesses are going to thrive because they can support themselves with more people coming to the neighborhood. ... The positives far outweigh the negatives."

Mike Heathfield, a 12-year Andersonville resident, called Midsommarfest, "a great thing for the neighborhood" and said people should "go and live in the suburbs" if they want to escape the congestion.

"I think it's fine, I think that's the whole point, that people come here and enjoy themselves. If you live here, then that's what you should expect," he said.

One of the ways the Andersonville Development Corp. hopes to reduce congestion this year is by encouraging visitors to ride bikes to the events and take advantage of a new bike valet program.

For more information about Midsommarfest, including performance schedules, click here.