Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Oak Cliff festival celebrates local flavor...

Oak Cliff festival celebrates local flavor

12:00 AM CDT on Monday, September 13, 2010

By STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News

The vibe along West Davis Street on Sunday could be felt even through a sweat-soaked shirt.

Despite an overbearing Texas sun that hardly seems to realize Labor Day has come and gone, partygoers showed up in enthusiastic numbers to soak up historic Oak Cliff's latest street festival.

Authentic. Organic. Creative. Vibrant. This is what organizers of the Blues, Bandits and Barbeque block party were after when they began planning the event just eight weeks ago.

They trucked in young oak trees and shrubs to temporarily line the street, courtesy of the landscaping design firm SWA Group. They booked 23 barbecue teams to compete in a cook-off of free-range, organic meats.

Vendors dotted the sidewalks, selling everything from Mexican-style handbags to goat cheese.

Estimates of the crowd ranged from 600 to several thousand.

There was plenty of beer and flip-flops, as well as a laid-back aura that the rest of Dallas can often find difficult to capture.

The nonprofit group Go Oak Cliff, which organized the event, wanted to show what sidewalk seating, landscaping and local culture can do for a place. They billed the day as not just a party, but a "political statement" and a "demonstration zone."

"The success of this event today is a testament to the fact that the city of Dallas is really craving authentic, neighborhood-oriented spaces," said Rob Shearer, a board member of Go Oak Cliff. "I don't think you've got that with West Village or Mockingbird Station, and we're really striving to create that."

Business owners along this long-depressed strip hope it portends good days to come. The nearby Bishop Arts District is now a well-established collection of unique shops and restaurants. What's to stop that vitality from moving westward along Davis Street?

"It's beginning to happen," said 37-year-old Joel Laxson, owner of Oak Cliff Pizza. "It's really exciting. It's a great time to live over here."

The area thrived in the early 1940s, back when the Kessler Theater was built at West Davis Street and North Clinton Avenue. This year, after decades as an embroidery shop, the theater has been reborn as an art gallery, a teaching institution and a live performance venue.

"Obviously today is a pretty good example of what potentially could happen," said Edwin Cabiness, the Kessler's owner.

Across the intersection from the Kessler, a pop-up business named Fair Play was open Sunday in a vacant shop. Among the vendors inside was 32-year-old Lisa Walter, selling colorful bags made of vinyl from discarded billboard coverings.

Walter, who grew up in Arlington, said she worked in the corporate world after college until she decided it wasn't for her. She wanted to make her living doing something creative.

It often occurred to her that she might better belong in Austin.

"Until I moved to Oak Cliff," she said, "and I saw that there was this awesome pocket of incredibly creative people, living in a little community."

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