Down by the River
Come rain or come shine, the Cambridge River Festival is your best bet Saturday for live music, local art, puppets for the kids, and a leisurely bike ride along the Charles.
Ah, the Charles River. The sunlight glinting off its ripples. The funky smells emanating from its depths. We all know the river well, but would our perception of it change if it had a different name? What would happen if the public were to rename the Charles and other well-known Cambridge spots?
The Institute for Infinitely Small Things, a research/performance art group based in Waltham, wants to know. On Saturday, members will be donning their lab coats and engaging Cambridge residents and visitors in a unique experiment. They will be bringing their mobile mapping unit to the Cambridge River Festival to offer you the chance to rename your favorite corner of the city. The resulting bizarro version of Cambridge, where streets are named in honor of dogs and drunken college memories, will be created on a map that will be distributed later this year.
The project is just one piece of the Cambridge River Festival, a daylong celebration of the citys arts and culture scene in all of its quirky forms. On a mile-long stretch of the Charles between Harvard and Central squares, you can stop to take in a variety of musical performances and peruse the offerings from more than 100 local artists, restaurants, shops, and community groups.
The band Uncle Monsterface is performing in the childrens area, with its show aimed at oddball kids of all ages. A little bit Devo, a little bit Hanna-Barbera, and a lot of something uniquely its own, the Jamaica Plain-based trio promises a show full of awesome-sock-puppet-quirk-rock, giant mutant prairie dogs, and inflatable lobsters. Fresh from its first tour and debut album, Letter Green (I Love You), the group is playing its first River Festival. Frontman Marty Allen says his band rocks out ferociously hard no matter what the venue. Were like 27 Super Bowls in outer space covered in gravy and surrounded by foxy girls, he says. The band is relocating to New York soon, so this is likely to be your last chance to see the band in the Bean for awhile.
Filling the festivals main stages is a variety of jazz, folk, gospel, and world music programmed by the Cambridge clubs Regattabar and Club Passim. The Edmar Castaneda Trio brings together an unusual musical combo harp, trombone, and percussion to create Latin jazz and traditional Colombian music. Somi, a singer/songwriter of Ugandan and Rwandese descent, performs a fusion of jazz, soul, African folk, and urban grooves. Local funk group the Boston Horns will play some classic New Orleans tunes, and Roxburys legendary Silver Leaf Gospel Singers will belt out a cappella harmonies.
Meanwhile, art at the festival is an all-ages affair. Kids can head over to the Pup Tent to help construct a giant puppet or make their own puppet masterpieces out of socks, bags, or foam. ImprovBoston will lead them in theater games and puppet karaoke, and at the end of the day, they can join in the Grand Puppet Parade.
There will also be plenty of opportunities to purchase a few artistic treasures. The festival hosts more than 150 arts and crafts booths with wares including African stone sculptures, Ukrainian eggs, handblown glass, and handcrafted flowers. Local artists will be out in full force, including Bren Bataclan, a Cambridge-based artist known for leaving cheery paintings in public places to encourage people to smile at strangers. And if you work up an appetite shopping, youll have more than 40 options for filling up, including Indian and Thai fare.
For the athletically inclined, Bostons Hub on Wheels biking group will lead a short, kid-friendly ride along the Charles River bike path, starting at Herter Park on the Boston side. The ride will end at the festival site, where New Orleans-style marching band the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society will guide riders on a parade through the grounds.
As the sun sets over the Charles, you can take a moment to stroll its banks and reflect on whats in a name. Marty Allen of Uncle Monsterface has a pick for the rivers new moniker on the map of the City Formerly Known as Cambridge: The River Dino von Robo-Vampire. Now picture that on a regatta T-shirt.