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Thousands visit Palo Alto World Music festival

'World Music Day' Sunday evening draws a world of music and crowds to downtown Palo Alto

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Thousands of people flooded downtown Palo Alto Sunday evening to hear dozens of bands and individual musicians bring the world of music to street corners and public plazas.

The event was the first "World Music Day" and the throngs -- no one has a precise count or even a good guess at how many showed up -- strolled up and down University Avenue and side streets.

Some danced to livelier music, while others listened to the disparate offerings of the virtually impromptu event.

The range of music was vast, from harmony quartets and groups to harp-and-flute music, Celtic singers, Latin pop rock and blues, folk, Greek, Chinese, Irish, Scottish, hip-hop and even Tasmanian tunes. Balkan, Klezmer, "ragpop," classical, jazz and "postmodern noise and avant-garde music" all drew clusters of listeners in the balmy, perfect-temperature 5 to 8 p.m. evening.

Strollers and sometimes bemused motorists threaded their way from street to street while the music played. People stopped to chat with friends and acquaintances, and asked each other how they liked the event. Restaurants, many with doors open wide to let in the music and customers, were jammed.

There were no sound stages on the street corners, and the bands were unpaid, except for contributions dropped in instrument cases, hats or containers. Most were acoustical or used their own small amplifiers. They were positioned strategically so the groups' music did not conflict with the playing of other groups.

One attendee told volunteer Jack Hamilton, who was taking a survey, that she thought it would be great if University could be closed for next year's repeat -- a widespread assumption.

The event was the brainchild of Claude Ezran, a member of the city's Human Relations Commission and a former candidate for Palo Alto Board of Education, who said this type of event originated in France in 1982 and has spread throughout Europe.

Ezran, exuberant after the success of the event, said he first saw it work in London, and thought it would be a natural for Palo Alto.

As for closing University to auto traffic next year, Ezran said that would need to be looked at and businesses would need to be consulted. At a post-event gathering at Ezran's home on Louis Road, several musicians said closure would be nice but the event seemed to work fine without it.

An earlier "Promenade" event in which University was closed for a full day to allow for construction of stages and sound set-ups, generated strong protests and made city officials gunshy of additional closures.

But the no-stages nature of the World Music Day would mean rerouting through traffic to Hamilton or Lytton avenues for only a few hours, supporters of the idea said.

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2 people like this
Posted by Doris Williams
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm

It was a wonderful opportunity for local musicians to create and demonstrate a real musical, inclusive community! After performing my Celtic bit I saw other friends I knew that were busking away who hadn't been scheduled officially! I did some Greek dancing and impromptu jazz jamming with my friend Ken and Thomas! Thanks to Christy Martin who had called me and convinced me of this wonderful oppotunity!

Like this comment
Posted by Alex Porter
a resident of University South
on Jul 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm

I had been looking all over for events like this, and could not find a schedule of street festivals on university avenue. Take my advice and publish it somewhere on the web...

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 22, 2010 at 8:34 am

"several musicians said closure would be nice but the event seemed to work fine without it"... Well, perhaps that's because they weren't the ones having to spill into the street with their children in order to listen to a group or get around them. The street definitely should have been closed to traffic to make the event safer and more easily negotiable. All similar events I've attended across the US and in Europe have been closed to traffic. Not sure why this would be a problem for University Ave. merchants on a Sunday afternoon/evening... We frequented several eateries there on Sunday, which we would not have done otherwise. Perhaps California Ave. might be a better location in the future; I'm sure those businesses would appreciate the extra revenue.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm

A wonderful event, but University should definitely be closed for it. I made the mistake of driving down just one block and there were kids and parents standing in the road, oblivious to the fact that cars were driving down it. I can't imagine closing the street from 3-7 on a Sunday would negatively impact businesses.

California Ave is another great idea, perhaps they could alternate years!

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