PITTSFIELD -- Just over a month from now, the city will close down North Street and prepare for a rapid influx of more than 10,000 people.
Its not a motorcycle gang or an invading army. Quite the opposite -- it's the return of the popular 3rd Thursdays street festival.
Heading into its seventh year, 3rd Thursdays has become the largest free event series in Western Massachusetts, according to Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's director of cultural development.
The first 3rd Thursday, set for May 16, will carry the theme "Youth on the Move," Whilden said. The last 3rd Thursday of the year typically draws hundreds of kids in Halloween costumes. Slated for Oct. 17, it will boast the Halloween theme "Monster Mash."
"I can't wait," Whilden said. "Seeing hundreds of little monsters dancing in the street to Monster Mash would make me really happy."
Whilden recalls the first 3rd Thursday, in 2007. That first year, there were no vendors. North Street remained open, and some businesses didn't know about it.
"3rd Thursdays began in 2007 with no outdoor vendors and no street closures," she said. "Vendors were actually requested by attendees, so we began adding them in 2008, with a strong focus on local and nonprofit organizations."
Now, fees paid by vendors carries much of the cost of putting on the festival.
"And 3rd Thursdays helps support dozens of local civic organizations from Civitan to the Catholic Youth Center Cheerleaders by providing fun opportunities to raise funds," Whilden noted.
Organizers are still seeking vendors -- the fee is $65 for for-profit vendors and $35 for nonprofits.
In 2007, organizers were not quite sure how the events would go.
"The very first 3rd Thursdays caught many businesses by surprise," Whilden recalled. "I remember that one local restaurant had an employee walk off the job because it was so busy. My other memory of the very first 3rd Thursday was of a friend who saw a woman weeping on the street. When she stopped to ask if she was OK, the women said yes, she was crying with happiness because she had thought she would never see North Street bustling with people again in her lifetime."
The 3rd Thursday schedule:
May 16: Youth on the Move
Almost all performers will be local youth. This year, the Mason Zink Band, led by
4-year-old singer-guitarist Mason Zink, a Pittsfield resident and son of country/bluegrass performer Corey Zink, will be featured.
Zumba, hoola hoops and other activities up and down the street, the annual National Alliance on Mental Illness walkathon, and the 2013 kickoff of the Downtown Walking Loop will also be part of the festival.
Partners include Pittsfield Public Schools and the Healthy Pittsfield committee.
June 20: Play Ball!
The June 3rd Thursday will celebrate "America's pastime" and will feature the annual Green Mile Road Race and more activities.
July 18: Under The Sea
Featuring Barrington Stage Company's Youth Theatre production of the Little Mermaid Jr., the return of the North Street Beach and the Silver Swimmers.
August 15: Weird Science
The August event is in partnership with Sabic and the Berkshire STEM Pipeline.
Organizers hope to feature MCLA's portable planetarium and science experiments up and down the street, as well as performances by the Mad Scientist Jazz Ambassadors.
September 19: Viva Italia
A festival to celebrate the city's Italian heritage will feature a Venetian mask making booth; a pizza dough throwing contest; Italian music, food and dance in partnership with the Pittsfield Sister City Committee and local Italian-American organizations. Also the famous third annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes fundraiser for the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
October 17: Monster Mash
Along with all the other activities, the annual Halloween costume contest will draw plenty of ghouls, ghosts and other assorted creatures.