Despite overcast skies and storms in the forecast, the ninth annual Johnson-Witkemper Insurance Biggest Block Party Ever went on as scheduled, featuring food and drink from area restaurants, regional bands and children’s activities.
Attendees headed downtown early to beat the rain, hoping to enjoy two hours of clear — but humid weather.
A severe thunderstorm was forecast to arrive in Bartholomew County just a few hours after the gates opened on the Block Party at 6 p.m.
The evening’s turnout was “slow,” said Columbus Area Arts Council executive director Karen Shrode, possibly due to the ominous weather forecasts and radar reports out of Indianapolis.
The Block Party is the Arts Council’s largest fundraiser of the year. Last year’s event raised $38,000.
“I think it’s probably a little slow because people are thinking that it might rain,” Shrode said. “Those who are out here are doing a great job at supporting the arts, and we appreciate it. I wish it had been low humidity and 75 degrees, but you can’t have everything. It’s still a big event, and we’re so pleased that our sponsors came out and supported it.”
Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Fourth Street between Jackson and Franklin streets, and Washington Street between Third and Fifth streets were closed off to vehicles.
The street closings allowed volunteers and vendors to set up stages and tents, which peppered Washington and 4th Street.
Before the gates opened, Arts Council regional services director and volunteer coordinator Jeff Kuehl directed his 100 volunteers to their stations. Some manned the gates and others served as observers to make sure there were no rule violations.
“It’s an opportunity for people to come down,” he said. “They get to participate in a public event.”
Tricia Helton, who came downtown with her friends, was looking for “girl time” before the impending storm.
“We plan to get everything done before the rain comes,” she said.
Band Soda Shack broke the silence with a sound check just minutes after 6 p.m.; riffs from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” floated over the growing group of people who came down for the festivities.
The evening’s musical lineup was:
On the Dunlap stage:
Bawn in the Mash
On the Bud Light stage:
Danny Thompson Deluxe
On the Johnson-Witkemper Insurance Stage:
Ruby & Joe
“We’re just praying that the weather headed this way veers to the left,” said Steve Leach, owner of The Garage Pub and Grill and one of the event vendors, as he cast an eye over the crowd at about 6:45 p.m. “We already have action plans.”
Food was served up by Bistro 310, Jordy McTaggart’s, Tre Bicchieri and Smith’s Row. Restaurants’ special menus included Korean Tacos and pizzelles, nachos, burgers; independent vendors sold festival foods such as cotton candy and snow cones. 4th Street Pub and Grill owner Kurt Schwarze coordinated the beer tents, which served Bud Light, Shock Top, Stella Artois, and 312 as well as wine and Budweiser’s Razberitas and Lime-a-Ritas.
Kids activities, including a rock climbing wall operated by Hoosier Heights and a bounce house, face paintings and balloon animals by Easterling Entertainment, kept young ones busy in the early hours.
Hunter Smith, who was attending with his mother, Jennifer Meyer, got a brown-and-green balloon animal in the shape of a dog. Smith, who lives in Taylorsville, was waiting for the bounce house to open.
“We mainly came down here for him,” Meyer said. The Block Party was a chance to get in some last minute summer fun, she said. “He’s got to go back to school so early.”
Sprinkled amongst the booths were boutique shops, selling wares and offering activities.
Jaime Mustaine, owner of the newly-opened Tri-State Artisans, manned a booth for the artisan gallery. For $10, visitors to the Block Party could paint a blank canvas.
“The Biggest Block Party supports the Arts Council — and we’re an artisan shop. That’s what we’re all about,” she said. “It gives us a chance to meet people and let them know what we do.”
“Number one, it raises money for the Arts Council,” Leach said. “This is their biggest fundraiser of the year.”