If you’re in downtown Raleigh during the weekend of SPARKcon
, it’s nearly impossible to avoid. I was still in pajamas on Saturday, Sept. 13, when I noticed a throng of 30 people in front of my house around 10 a.m. They were on designSPARK
’s Urban Issues Walking Tour, learning about design in the historic district. A jumble of umbrellas colored the sidewalk as neighbor Matthew Brown explained the history of my home. From my porch, I waved politely when he said, “A nice couple has done wonderful things to the interior.” I quickly returned to the comfort of said interior and prepared to go for a run.
Laced up and on my way, I passed Durham singer-songwriter Shawn Deena on the Courthouse Porch, one of the less conventional settings of musicSPARK
this year. A few feet farther, a 10-foot-tall girl on stilts startled me. SPARKcon commands the entire length of Fayetteville Street, plus six blocks surrounding the main thoroughfare. Pockets of people hang around each section, some to watch live music, others to hula-hoop with fire.
By the time I stumbled back home, my visitors had gone on to see Oakwood’s infamous modern home at 516 Euclid Street
and then back to the AIA Building for a panel discussion. But the grueling 14-mile run was the longest I had clocked in some time, and I needed sustenance. So I hopped on my bike and plunged into the heart of the festival in search of a sandwich.
Although I arrived at bazaarSPARK
in short order, the vendors were so densely concentrated that their tents—and the minglers they attracted—clogged the streets. I tied my bike next to a dozen others at the state capitol and made my slow way toward Jimmy Johns, located at the other end of Fayetteville Street. I know, I know: food trucks. But the lines were so, so long.
Surprisingly, it took 20 minutes of milling about before I ran into my first drum circle. The percussionists and onlookers filled an entire intersection, nudging me onto a side road and into circusSPARK
. I snaked past jugglers casually flinging bowling pins and wiggling hoopers with bare tummies, careful not to upset any delicate karmic balances. People worked feverishly on the chalk drawings that colored three blocks of Fayetteville Street. Cicadas, Labradors and anime characters looked on as I made my way toward City Plaza. It all felt a little surreal, like a calorie-deficit hallucination gone Technicolor.
When my wobbly legs finally delivered me to the sub shop, I ended up talking to a young boy in front of me about the giant box of soft pastels he was cradling in his arms. He’d just gotten them and eating was a secondary concern. It was simply fuel for more street creation, although clouds were crowding in threatening formations. A few artists had preemptively covered their drawings in Saran-Wrap.
Sandwich in hand, I headed to danceSPARK
’s afternoon showcase, but was disappointed to find the lineup had been rearranged. The North Stage was also running significantly behind schedule. If there’s one easy complaint to make about SPARKcon, it’s the lack of central organization. Fourteen distinct, volunteer-run “sparks” don’t effectively communicate much of anything to an overall audience, and the event’s online presence is virtually nonexistent. Trudging through the day’s schedule shifts felt like trying to navigate quicksand while wearing a blindfold.
Instead, I filled my time by watching the young metal group Black Wall, whose fresh faces and long hair kept me grinning, and then Hazelwood, the soulful folk-rock outfit whose lead singer met her fiancé at last year’s SPARKcon. Then I played with some robots.
After my meal and a short nap, I headed to fashionSPARK
’s Wear What You Are runway show. The DJ beckoned from several blocks away, calling with pounding bass and howling wolves. Hundreds of onlookers cheered as Lumina trotted out coats and trousers in navy, maroon and orange—crisp hues that flirted with the night’s autumnal weather. Tyger Alexis went the opposite route, presenting a showy line in bright white, complemented by crowns of gold. The enthusiastic crowd was mostly dressed to the nines. Except for me, of course. I had changed into sweatpants a long time ago.
Despite the threat of rain and the schedule confusion, the crowds lasted through the day and into the evening. I hopped on my bike around the time a school bus full of fire dancers wheeled into the street, blasting Queen. The ’70s disco party that followed would surely require energy and strength, neither of which I had. As I headed out, the heat of the flames licked at my back. I willed my noodle legs forward. Too much fun for me.