In the fall of 2008, a group of downtown merchants and business activists conceived the idea of closing off Main Street from Pleasant and Duncan to Washington streets for a “block party,” and wondered if anyone would come.
Now, those Downtown Block Parties have become a summer staple of Gloucester’s central business community. The first of 2012 kicks off the fifth season Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m., with the woman many credit with giving them fresh new energy once again leading the way.
That is Valerie Marcley, and reached by phone on Thursday, she was — true to her hands-on reputation— “busy hand-painting promo posters bound for the 128 rotary.”
This will be Marcley’s second summer producing the season’s three free block parties, and according to her, practice has made everything just about perfect, and certainly a whole lot easier this time around.
Last summer, when the veteran producer from Boston’s music, concert and radio circuit was recruited by Latitude 43 and Alchemy restaurateur Mark McDonough as block party coordinator, she had exactly three weeks to pull it together, and scored high marks, not just for her management skills, but for bringing fresh thinking and boundless energy to the table.
“The best thing I did,” McDonough said at the time, “was to hire Valerie (Marcley). She really pulled it all together.”
This year, Marcley had the luxury of a longer lead time — “way longer,” she says, and that’s made all the difference.
“We started working back in February, and by a month or so ago, we had all five stages for all three parties totally booked out with music talent,” she said.
Although Marcley has stayed true to the original spirit and model of the block parties, her professional music background shows in a newly enhanced emphasis on multiple music venues.
Five separate stages brought top local and regional music talent to Gloucester’s Main Street. They were, Marcley says, a huge hit, and “really raised the crowd’s energy level and kept things moving.”
This Saturday night’s revolving line-up of talents, which will play to crowds of al fresco diners outside Main Street’s 10 participating restaurants, includes Allen Estes and his son Dylan at 8 p.m. outside on the Sargent House stage, following a 7 p.m. performance by the Cape Ann Dance Troupe, Linda Amero singing with her jazz trio outside the Franklin Cafe, and 18-year-old Rockport native Nate Schaffer making his debut on guitar and piano in front of Mystery Train.
Behind the Dog Bar, last year’s hugely popular outdoor music cafe, Joe Mack will headline, delivering what Marcley refers to as “his fabulous blues,” starting at 9 p.m.
“Kids Town,” newly organized and expanded by Marcley last year, will this year be back with a jam-packed roster of fun activities, under the aegis of the “newly annointed King of Kids Town” Cape Ann YMCA’s Rick Doucette, who, together with his wife, will be sculpting balloons and painting faces.
Marcley says she’s “expecting new street performers” — buskers, magicians and minstrels— to play to an estimated crowd of 3,000, weather permitting, and the forecast, she adds — clear and in the low 70s— is perfect for this Saturday night.
New this year, next to the Marc Anthony shoe shop, will be a “man on the street video game” hosted by ovathebridge.com, questioning passerbys about their knowledge of Gloucester. And up and down Main Street, new tables let Gloucester’s nonprofits interface with its residents.
Also new will be the shops that have opened on Main Street over the past year, including the Cape Ann Olive Oil Company and the recently opened cheese and chocolate emporium, The Cave. Altogether, 22 retail businesses participate in the block parties, says Marcley, and they work hand-in-hand, with the 10 participating restaurants and scores of volunteers to make the events, which run till 11 p.m.
There is, says Marcley, “a lot of collaboration,” and, thanks to GimmeSound’s Peter and Vicky VanNess, there’s also a new website: glostablockparty.com.
The VanNesses, who are sponsors and original founders of the block parties, “had taken a bit of an hiatus from playing an active role in the parties,” says Marcley, “and it’s good to have them back.”
Joann Mackenzie can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3457, or email@example.com.
Outdoor Dining Restaurants: The Dog Bar - 65 Main St. 978 281-6565 The Franklin - 118 Main St. 978-283-7888 Jalapenos - 86 Main St. 978-283-8228 La Trattoria of the West End - 64 Main St. 978-281-0790 Ohana - 151 Main St. 978 283-3200 Passports - 110 Main St, 978-281-3680 Sugar Magnolias - 112 Main St. 978 281-5310 Topside - 50 Rogers St. 978-281-1399 On the stages: Sovereign Stage, Sovereign Bank 6 p.m. -- The Dynamic Duo -- Show, classics and some Italian tunes. Guest appearance by 9-year-old Gloucester student Kam Diaz. 7 p.m. -- Bones and Roses Circus Sideshow -- Varied side show feats and acrobatic yoga. 8 p.m. -- Not That Blonde, with Jim D'Augistine; acoustic group. 9 p.m. -- The Good Harbor Band --Classic rock and originals -- be ready to dance! Sargent Stage, Sargent House 6 p.m. -- Livin' In Luck -- Soft rock from the '70s to the present. 7 p.m. -- Cape Ann Dance Troupe -- Dance group with creative choreography. 8 p.m. -- Allen and Dylan Estes -- Singer-songwriter Allen Estes joined by his son, performing country, rock, blues and original tunes. 9 p.m. -- Day Job -- Dance music from the '60s to today. Mystery Train Stage -- Outside Mystery Train 6 p.m. -- James Goodeye -- Acoustic guitar, alternative roots Americana. 7 p.m. -- Deb Hardy and Kerry Mullen -- Cutting edge acoustic folk rock. 8 p.m. -- Solomon Murungu -- Traditional music from Zimbabwe played on the melodic Mbira. 9 p.m. -- Nate Shaffer -- Acoustic guitarist and singer playing originals and covers. Emerging young talent from Cape Ann. At the Franklin Cafe Linda Amero Quartet -- Jazz interpretations by extraordinary chanteuse Linda and her trio. At the Dog Bar 9 p.m. back stage -- Joe Mack, blues master. Volunteers needed Block party organizers are calling all volunteers. Committee organizer Valerie Marcley has shifts and tasks open for everyone who wants to be part of the fun, and help the organizers keep things, well, organized -- including a role for a stage manager, street manager, a 5 p.m. street set-up person, along with people to staff an info table, sell raffle tickets, introduce acts, help the stage technical director, hang signs, help restore the street after the party, and to hang advance promo posters throughout Cape Ann. To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.