Well, iFest is over, y'all.
By now, the downtown streets of McKinney, Smith, Lamar and Brazos, once bright and teeming with festival goers of all ages, have turned back into the Houston Public Library's more studious thoroughfares. Festival volunteers are surely resting their sore, overworked feet, and the food and drink coupons are now just souvenirs, proof of the Argentinean-themed Houston International Festival's two action-packed weekends.
Abby Koenig covered the first weekend of iFest and graciously provided us with a guide of what to expect. Armed with her instructions, we set out to conquer the festival's second half.
The Houston International Festival was just beginning when we arrived on Saturday. Although the vendors were still setting up, the KHOU-sponsored Center Stage, already on fire with the stomping stylings of Grupo Folklorico Raices de Panama, drew our ears (and legs) to its front row. From there, we headed down Market Row, known any other day as Walker Street, to peruse the fine arts and crafts for sale. We were mildly grossed out by Real Bugs, purveyors of bracelets, necklaces and key chains with actual dead insects lodged inside, but we found CultGrrrl Creations, created by Jess Carlos, quite darling.
"These are unique handmade crocheted dolls," said Luis Carlos, Jess's husband, in her absence. "They're cotton outside, fiber filling on the inside." According to her hubby, the CultGrrl creator was trained to crochet by her grandmother and can now create dolls of any color, shape -- or type, such as eyeballs, sugar skulls, Frankenstein dolls, lions, donkeys or whatever suits a customer's fancy.
We would return many times to NBA Nation, the place where most of the festival's teenagers were congregated, each making an attempt to win dunk contests, three-point shootouts and basketball obstacle courses, to consider a go at winning a prize. Watching a tall kid nearly crush a backboard in two with his windmill dunk made us reconsider, however, and instead we settled for a Papa John's mini pizza and mini red velvet cupcakes from Zeapod's Bakery. Score.
For a lighter, less competitive feel, we found solace in the Kid's World section, sponsored by Green Mountain Energy. Like Market Row, Kid's World was one of the festival's quieter streets, especially after fighting our way through food vendors and businesses peddling timeshares and air conditioning plans. Taking our cue from Koenig, we strolled through the Chevron Argentina Living Museum first, where we were bombarded with more Tums gum than we would need in a lifetime. After a failed attempt at trying to weasel our adult selves into the kids-only petting zoo ("but the baby goats are so cute!" we begged), we wandered over a few feet to the Sister Cities International Stage, where we stayed awhile, taking in three captivating performances: Katumbella, a troupe of body-wiggling Angolan singers, Haraka, a troupe of belly-wiggling dancers and Travis Caudle, a troupe of jazz musicians.
Koenig mentioned that the crowd was sparse on iFest's first Sunday. However, if there are about six million people currently living in the city of Houston, there were at least five million in attendance on the second day of the second weekend, all trying to squeeze what could have been two laid-back weekends of culture into one rushed afternoon. The human bumper-to-bumper traffic, coupled with the heat, was nearly unbearable.
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Thankfully -- for us at least -- the arts and crafts vendors, with their creative distractions, came to the rescue once again. While most of the iFest attendees were busy bobbing their heads to Nigerian band Seun Kuti and Egypt '80 at the Bud Light World Music Stage, we cooed over the adorable miniatures provided by Inca Wash, an arts and crafts store here in Houston, and even considered buying some Bob Marley earrings from one of the many jewelry vendors in attendance.
As the sun was beginning to drop, the models of Kachi Designs were making the men drool near the African and Caribbean Bazaar. We drooled, too, at Kachi's brightly colored fashions: a lineup of Kente cloth cocktail dresses in purples and pinks parading down the runway, all triumphantly concluded with a lime green tulle ball gown.
Not long after, the festival was over.
It is pretty apropos that the entire city came out en masse to celebrate the Houston International Festival. Houston is, after all, more than just a metropolis. It's a combination of little communities as varied as the countries represented in the festival, yet brought together time and time again by great food, great music and great culture.