I am sometimes critical of Albany, New York. I have lived here for 37 years but in some ways, it has never felt like home. Maybe there is something about not being born in a place, not having spent your childhood there making memories, not associating your family of birth with it, that means you never quite feel connected. Of course, the place where I grew up, Canarsie of the 1960s and ‘70s, doesn’t exist anymore. The people I knew, the stores, even the landscape has changed. That may be why they say you can never go home again. What is home after all? That may be a topic for another blog post.
Anyway, my point is that for all that I might joke about ‘smAll-bany,’ there are a number of wonderful things about it. Saturday was one of those days that reminded me what is charming. Mother’s Day weekend is when the Tulip Festival is held each year. It is a chance for Washington Park to show off – the city gardner(s) do a wonderful job of planning a vibrant display of tulips of every variety and color. Below is just a sample:
There are also booths of crafts and food. There is music. All of it is free – well not the items sold at the booths obviously, but there is no entrance fee. The festival lasts two days. This year I noticed that one of the bands performing was Guster. We, as a family, enjoyed Guster back when the kids were teenagers. They play melodic tunes with fun beats and lovely harmonies, and we listened to them frequently when we were on one of our many long car rides. We saw them as a family at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center back in the early 2000s. I told Gary they were playing as part of Tulip Festival, and we agreed we’d try to go. They were going on at 4:30 on the mainstage at the park on Saturday according to the schedule printed in the newspaper.
Saturday afternoon Gary was weeding the garden, I was immersed in a book. At 3:45 Gary came in to get changed. We got in the car at 4:00 to head toward the park thinking we might not make it to the performance, but we had nothing to lose. It usually takes 10-12 minutes to get to the park. We hit traffic and had trouble finding a spot, but we found one on the street. It was a bit of a walk to the site. With all of that we arrived on the lawn at 4:35, just as the emcee said, “Please welcome to the stage…Guster!” There was a large crowd, but there was space – especially where we happened to come in – off to the side.
Where else can you do that? Leave your house a half hour before a performance at a large public festival and get there on time. In what city or small city is that possible? As we took our spot amid the crowd, Gary and I smiled at each other. “Isn’t Albany great?” I asked. Gary nodded emphatically.
The sun was shining brilliantly, the air was warm and there was a refreshing breeze. It looked like confetti was falling from the sky in celebration – it was some kind of small leafy substance coming from the trees. Though the ground rules said no marijuana, concert-goers paid no heed. Smoke wafted through the air and the police who were on duty on the periphery seemed unperturbed. Everyone appeared to be in a good mood – especially the guy in an orange t-shirt dancing dreamily with a broad smile on his face. Guster was great – they were in fine voice. The music brought back terrific, happy memories. The crowd enjoyed it. They played for just under 90 minutes. When it was over, we walked back to our car and drove home.
Earlier in the day we met my niece and her family at a local farmer’s market for breakfast. There too things were easy. We parked. We got a table. There were plenty of people, especially young ones, but it wasn’t packed. There were few if any lines at the booths. A group of musicians were playing what I might call American roots music – I’m not sure if that’s the right label, but it was all delightful. In the New York metropolitan area, attending a farmer’s market like this would never be that stress-free.
I imagine for folks who grew up in more rural areas my day might have felt different. They might not have been willing to venture out to the festival in the first place! Perhaps looking for street parking in the city of Albany and seeing the crowds of people in the park might have created anxiety. To be fair, the street we parked on has seen better days – the surrounding buildings were rundown. Gary and I were okay with it. It is all a matter of perspective, I suppose.
Anyone who knows me knows that I still love New York City. I look forward to spending more time there. It’s good, though, to stop and smell the roses (or tulips) where I am. There is a lot to like about living and raising a family in the Capital District.