WOL Jazz 2011: A tale of three vendors – the good, the bad, the corporate

Editor’s note: Erica David is a West Oak Lane resident who has been exploring the mom and pop shops of our area for her new blog Mom&Popaholic, which will start on NewsWorks in July. Below, is a taste of Erica’s work as she muses over her recent visit to the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival.

The West Oak Lane Jazz Festival only comes once a year, and word has it that next year’s festival will look a lot different from this one with the focus shifting to paid events spread out across the city. But I can’t even go there yet. I’m too busy with the recent past to even think about the distant future. For me the 2011 fest was a tale of three vendors: the good, the bad and the corporate.

The Good

“Excuse me, Miss, we were just admiring your coconut.”

In the movies its usually talk like this that earns some wisenheimer a resounding slap across the face. But when I heard this line directed at me on Saturday in the crowded crush of Ogontz Avenue it was meant literally, guilelessly and managed to be completely devoid of innuendo because, you see, I was actually holding a coconut.

The inside of the coconut was hollowed out to make room for a plastic cup full of fruity beverage. The outside had the face of a panda carved into it. The whole thing was indeed worthy of admiration, the kind of drink that you’d imagine holding while wasting away in Margaritaville.

I was holding this particular coconut because I have a deep, abiding love for novelty foodstuffs and on that front WOL Jazz 2011 didn’t disappoint. There was Coco Bongo’s, the drink vendor behind the elaborate coconut cup, and then there were those generous souls at the chicken-on-a-stick stand who traveled all the way from Alabama to sell me a giant fried chicken skewer. Together these two rated a big check plus for outsized festival food.

The Bad

After finishing my chicken-on-a-stick I had one hand free again (the other still holding the coconut) and suddenly a church fan was unceremoniously thrust into it. Church fans are pretty simple affairs—usually glossy printed cardstock with thin, wooden tongue depressor handles. Generally they’re found in African-American churches and printed with scenes from the Bible on one side and ads for funeral homes on the other.

This particular church fan was emblazoned with the golden arches and an ad for a gospel tour courtesy of corporate sponsor McDonald’s. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for corporate sponsors, especially when their contributions make events free to the public, but there was something vaguely insidious about McDonald’s handing out church fans. It reeked of marketing strategy, as if the fan itself were a shortcut to currying favor in the black community. So, McDonald’s, I’m not lovin’ it.

The Corporate

And speaking of fans, the folks at Dyson were on hand demonstrating their latest product, a bladeless fan called the Dyson Air Multiplier. The name leaves a little something to be desired, but the technology behind it makes up for that. Air is forced up through the pedestal base into a circular ring that diffuses it along the rim of its circumference without the need for blades.

I learned all this by talking to a Dyson rep on site instead of reading it on the back of a church fan. I also learned that the same forced air technology was being used to keep the Dyson tent aloft. That tent flirted with me, its puffy, inflatable walls promised a Moon Bounce and I was bummed to discover that it was nothing more than a science fair tease.

My tender feelings aside, I give Dyson credit for a corporate tent that managed to bring a little Franklin Institute flair to the dull necessity of sponsor booths. I do not give them credit for taking the blades out of the fan, however. When I leaned into the Air Multiplier and let loose with an open-mouthed “ahhhhh” I was severely disappointed. Turns out no blades means no vibrato, which if you ask me is the quintessential fan noise. The better to hear the festival acts, perhaps, but the seven year-old in me totally threw a tantrum.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal