Menlo Park resident Rick McColloch writes a letter to the chamber. See the letter and the response below.
By Dave Boyce | Almanac Staff Writer
The management of the Connoisseurs' Marketplace, Menlo Park's recent annual midsummer art and wine festival, would like to hear from the festival's critics as well as from its fans, and particularly from critics with constructive ideas.
Fran Dehn, president of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, said she and her chamber colleagues are looking for emailed suggestions and comments, and she offered a template: "I had a great time and it was a good festival, but, you know, maybe next year you could try ..."
Some people commenting on the Almanac's online Town Square forum had their own ideas about the form and content of their complaints about the July 18 and 19 festival.
"So disappointed," said Jenny in a July 20 post. "No big Sat eve concert? The kids area was terrible. (N)othing for the little guys. This festival used to be so great."
The decision not to have a Saturday night concert was in response to complaints from the neighbors around Fremont Park, Ms. Dehn said.
As for the area meant to appeal to children, the management went with the Kids' Creative Center this year -- more interactive, but without a climbing wall or rides for the young children, Ms. Dehn said. According to the program, "These young art connoisseurs will leave with their own handcrafted memento." The city's Community Services Department collaborated on the creative center.
A complaint on Town Square by someone named "free wheeling puppets" was quite specific: "No Pride and Joy. Literally AND figuratively," this person said, referring to a Bay Area band known for its danceable pop and soul music.
Pride & Joy played on the Peninsula recently, Ms. Dehn said, adding that they're a difficult band to book and that they haven't played at the Connoisseurs' Marketplace for a number of years. This year, the concerts featured jazz and marimba, she said.
Another poster complained about music and food. "No bands even on the side streets. No kids zone," Chris said. "No Paella (last year that guy had the biggest line!)."
The festival has never had bands on side streets, Ms. Dehn said. The paella vendor was not available this year, but Big Ed's Buzzard Barbecue from Santa Clara was.
Feedback is important in putting an event together and in reviewing it, she said. "You respond to input. You can't make something better if you don't know what everyone wants."
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"We as a chamber hope that we brought another festival to the community that would be embraced by the community and enjoyed by the community," Ms. Dehn said. "Some of the choices were probably not the best choices, given the feedback. ... Our goal will be the same next year: to bring a festival that is compatible with what people want."
Planning for the 2016 festival will be starting soon, she said.
The layout of the festival, including who is placed where, changed this year.
The Culinary Arts Corner and wine tasting used to be on Doyle Street but was moved to Chestnut Street, Ms. Dehn said. It's not that Doyle didn't work, but that Chestnut is broader and more central to the festival, she said.
The beers available included six varieties on tap and 13 microbreweries, she said. "I think there was a spread of beer," she said. She apologized to people who were disappointed, including Brian on Town Square. "We really tried to have a choice. Clearly we did not have a choice that was satisfying to that individual," she said.
Police and firefighting representatives requested and were relocated next to the children's area to make it easy for parents to have their children fingerprinted, Ms. Dehn said.
There is turnover in artists -- potters, glassblowers, painters, photographers and anyone not making music or preparing food. Who shows up depends on who applies, whether they apply in time and what the jury decides, she said.
The festival has between 220 and 225 spots each year, and some vendors take two, she said. This year, there were 222 artists. In general, the layout is reconsidered so that festival visitors have better chance of seeing everything, she said.
Some factors are beyond the chamber's control, such as the unusually high humidity for at least one day of the festival. "We did not have the weather on our side," Ms. Dehn said.
The humid weather may have contributed to a thinner crowd, she said. Exact attendance numbers are not possible, since there are several ways into the festival and no ticket booths, she said.
Letter to chamber
Rick McColloch of North Lemon Avenue in Menlo Park said he submitted this letter to the chamber:
"I have been a resident of Menlo Park for the past 30 years. My wife Kristine has lived here her entire life and teaches at Oak Knoll elementary school which she attended as a child. We have raised 5 children here and now are enjoying our grandchildren.
"We have greatly appreciated all the wonderful activities and community spirit over the years. Without a doubt, a big highlight each year has been the Connoisseurs' Market. Our kids growing up loved all the kid zones and we all looked forward to the dancing and wonderful music in the evening.
"This year our friends from out of town, our adult children, and grandchildren could not wait for Saturday afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, this year was a HUGE disappointment and honestly an embarrassment.
"We were shocked to discover there were no kid zones or activities and no headline band for the evening. It was painful to tell my excited granddaughter there would be no dancing with me. We sat in the park staring at the empty stage.
"You should also know that we spoke to the vendors and, without exception, they commented on the lack of people attending and that sales were disappointing. We ran into many friends who walked into the park for the evening music event and starred in disbelief that the stage was empty.
"To our knowledge there was no announcement that this year would be drastically cut back. If there was, no one we know knew about it. What in the world happened? Is this what we should expect for the future??"
Mr. McColloch said he received this response from the chamber:
"Thank you for taking the time to submit feedback about the event. We are always trying to find new and better ways to serve this community. Your comments are much appreciated as we assess this year's Connoisseurs' Marketplace and look at what positive changes we can make for future events."