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A festival for the soul of Richmond

on September 13, 2011

When Amanda Elliott, the executive director of the Richmond Main Street Initiative, describes the menu for the upcoming Spirit and Soul Festival, she scoots to the edge of her seat and flashes a smile.

“There’s greens,” she says, “smoked-baked chicken, red beans and rice, and cornbread.”

The caterer calls it “healthy soul food,” Elliott says, and it’s a fitting menu for a fundraiser dedicated to the health and soul of downtown Richmond.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, the third annual Spirit and Soul Festival will treat attendees to music, food and wine tastings, and an open-air market featuring local vendors. Musical acts headlining the celebration include Derrick Hall, La’Chic!, Sekhou Senegal and Richmond-born jazz musician Ray Obiedo.  For the event, Elliot and her staff plan to transform the Community “Green” Space Park on the corner of Macdonald Avenue and Harbour Way with swaths of wine-colored fabric and tables decorated with bunches of grapes, leaves and vines. Profits from the event will support the Richmond Main Street Initiative in its efforts to create a cleaner, safer, more business-friendly downtown Richmond.

“Richmond, like anywhere else, can have a really wonderful event,” Elliott says. “People can come away feeling as if they had a great time, and they weren’t worried about being in the midst of some crime-ridden city, all the things we get so much bad press about.”

Musical events are one of the ways the Richmond Main Street Initiative is working to change the reputation of the city’s downtown neighborhood, which runs from Eighth Street to 19th Street along Macdonald Avenue. In recent years, the organization has supported streetscape improvements, like the addition of more streetlights, and turned vacant buildings into temporary exhibits for local artists. Elliott wants to use money raised from this year’s festival to fund two major projects: the Neighborhood Ambassador’s Program, which supports a corps of volunteers who walk down Macdonald Avenue reporting blight and helping visiting shoppers, and the Youth Entrepreneur Program, which gives young adults the chance to get business experience.

The festival is also raising funds through raffles and a silent auction, with items donated by participating vendors. Top prizes include stays at the Courtyard Marriott in Richmond and Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe.

Elliot expects around 200 people will come to the festival—about the same as last year. But she’s hoping over time the festival will rival other East Bay events.

“We want to build people’s comfort with downtown Richmond so this can be a big-scale event like we see in El Cerrito, Albany or Oakland,” Elliott says.

Some people are already sold.

“Where else in town can you see first-class musicians,” says Steven Voight, a North Richmond resident who has attended several music events hosted by the Richmond Main Street Initiative.  “We’re not the richest community, but we have a lot of good people with good ideas.”

Ramon Franco, whose family has run Salsa Taqueria on Macdonald Avenue for 16 years, says improvement to the area is already attracting more people.

“I think it keeps getting better and better,” he says.


| Spirit and Soul Festival and Fundraiser

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