STERLING HEIGHTS — Diane and John Anderson often travel to art fairs and similar events in other communities, but none, they say, comes close to topping Sterlingfest, the hometown festival they’ve been attending for five years.
“There’s a little bit of everything; you’ve got a real nice variety of stuff,” said John, ticking off a laundry list of the celebration’s appealing attributes: music, quality food and beverages, a pleasant ambience.
“It’s just a nice thing for families,” said Diane. “It just reminds me of something small-town, even though it’s a big town.”
Though Sterlingfest’s arts and crafts portion has existed for decades, the 2009 event — which ran July 30-Aug. 1 — marked the ninth year of the expanded celebration, combining a bevy of musical performances, rides, kid-friendly fare and dining options, said Community Relations Director Steve Guitar.
Guitar called organizing this year’s event “a bigger challenge than ever,” especially in terms of securing sponsorships, but said he felt staffers still did well within the parameters of the current “economic reality.”
“We’ve put together a show I think most people will be proud of,” he said.
On opening day, visitors — individuals, couples, families pushing fleets of strollers — wandered Dodge Park and the City Center campus, taking in the myriad attractions.
The plaintive thrum of bass emanating from the Jazz and Blues Court near the Upton House mingled with the whir of carnival rides and the shrieks of their delighted passengers at the Family Midway across the street.
Rock from within the Suds ‘n’ Sounds tent provided a background rhythm to the conversation of visitors perched at picnic tables near Restaurant Row, where a dozen local establishments — including Loon River Café, Dodge Park Coney Island and Picano’s — served up their specialties.
Sterling Heights resident Wayne Gollnick, who brought daughters Ashley, 8, and Autumn, 4, said attending Sterlingfest has become “an annual thing” for his family, with much time spent in the Kidzfest tent, where youngsters engaged in crafts and took in performances by musicians, magicians and puppeteers.
In the Art Fair area outside of the Sterling Heights Public Library, crafters sold photographs, glass creations, faux flower arrangements, jewelry and other unique products.
“What I like is the community spirit of it,” said Fraser resident Sherri Banuelos, who returned for the second consecutive year to sell her handmade jewelry and bleach-design shirts. “It seems like the neighborhoods, groups of people wait for this. I get a ton of returnees.”
For Kevin Layman, the vast offerings meant one night was not enough.
The Sterling Heights resident — who came with his family and others from his neighborhood to check out the Thursday night concert — planned to return Friday and Saturday as well. He said they’ve attended Sterlingfest five of their six years living in the city.
“The music’s great, the rides for the kids; everybody enjoys being here all the time,” he said. “It brings the city together, which is nice. In these economic times, obviously things are a little bit different, but hopefully this is going to bring them together still.”
Clinton Township residents Bob and Theresa Zabick also intended to make a weekend of it, checking out Thursday’s festivities but planning to come back Saturday for one of their favorite musical acts, the Balduck Mountain Ramblers.
“We’ve been here the last few years,” said Bob. “I like the diversity, the jazz. You get a little of everything.”
By 5 p.m., the expanse of lawn in front of the Dodge Park band shell was already a sea of lawn chairs and blankets, and the crowds only intensified as the 7 p.m. balloon launch and performance by The Square Pegz, a high-energy ’80s cover band, approached.
The Andersons were among those staking out a spot early, intent on catching the release.
“I don’t know why I love the balloon thing,” laughed Diane, while John joked, “If it weren’t for the balloons, the planet would go down the tubes.”
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