Cultures collide and celebrate in annual festival
At left, members of the West African drumming troupe Akwaaba Ensemble teach a group of children and adults some beats at the annual Heritage Festival held in downtown Newmarket on Saturday. At right, Newmarket's Ryan Thomson and his son, Brennish, perform in front of a pizzeria. (Barbara Taormina/Union Leader Correspondent)
Newmarket’s Ryan Thomson and his son, Brennish, perform in front of a local pizzeria at Saturday’s annual festival. (Barbara Taormina/Union Leader Correspondent)
Rollinsford designer Kathy Spellacy shows Claire Mooney, 6, of Hampton, how to hook a rug during Saturday’s Heritage Festival in Newmarket. (Barbara Taormina/Union Leader Correspondent)
On one side of the street, a fiddling duo accepted an invitation to jam with a strolling group of musicians who were playing polkas. On the river side of the street, local artisans demonstrated crafts, the fire department showed off its new truck and groups of visitors went into the massive mill buildings for tours highlighting the town's industrial history.
And every now and then, a line of armored swordsmen and medieval wenches made their way along the crowded sidewalk.
For the past 15 years, Newmarket has been showcasing its history and community with a multicultural celebration of arts, food and entertainment at the town's annual Heritage Festival. The event, which has performers, exhibits and activities spread throughout downtown, is similar to a First Night New Year's Eve celebration, without the bone-cracking cold.
“The festival has its roots in the diversity of the immigrants who worked in the mills,” said event director Suki Casanave. Newmarket's massive textile mills drew waves of Irish, Polish, German and French-Canadian workers throughout 19th century and early 20th century.
One of the goals of the festival has been to keep residents and visitors in touch with the contributions of those groups and to share some of the culture and traditions of the town's new immigrant groups.
“The local Indian and Laotian communities have been growing, and we are lucky to have them,” said Casanave.
The festival also highlights traditional New Hampshire arts. There were performances from West African drummers, flamenco dancers, Creole musicians and marimba players. It offers a chance for people to explore the town's historic mill buildings, which are being transformed into a new town hub of shops, galleries and apartments.
And it's also a lot of fun for the residents who volunteer to work at the festival with many visitors from surrounding communities.
Newmarket resident Srivatsan Chetlur spent the early part of the day ladling out batches of chicken curry and other Indian specialties to hungry visitors attracted by the spicy aromas. Many waiting in line were members of Newmarket's Indian community, who said they know the recipes but no longer have the time to invest in cooking traditional dishes.
“Are you kidding?” asked one woman. “I grew up here, I'm more American than you.”
Under the artisan tent, Jersey City native Garry Kalajian, who now runs the Ararat Forge in Bedford, was banging out red-hot pieces of iron on an anvil with the help of Nathan Sullivan, 12, of Durham. A few feet away, Ron Raiselis, a cooper at Portsmouth Strawberry Banke Museum, demonstrated the art of wooden barrel and bucket making. And those weren't just demonstrations of lost historical crafts.
“The bears at Clark's Trading Post are climbing around in barrels that I made because machine-made barrels aren't big enough,” said Raiselis.
On the other side of the tent, Manchester resident Theophilus Nii Martley, a native of Ghana and founder of the Akwaaba Ensemble, gave a group of adults and kids a lesson and African drumming.
In between there was dancing, juggling, Chinese brush painting, rug hooking, dulcimer making, wood working, spinning, singing and dozens of other performers and craftsmen demonstrating traditional arts and skills.
“The festival has grown to celebrate a diversity of culture,” said Casanave. “It's become a melting pot.”
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