Photo Gallery | 2016 Third Thursday kickoff
PITTSFIELD — Amid more changes to Third Thursday, tradition reigned on opening night for the 10th season of the city's monthly celebration of food, entertainment and special events.
Earlier in the week, organizers announced the monthly downtown block party would wrap up in September, dropping October due to lack of interest by vendors, performers and attendees. The sixth monthly event is being replaced by a daytime harvest festival Oct. 15.
This year, the pedestrian-friendly Third Thursday is also entirely tobacco-free along the blocked-off area of North Street from Park Square to Maplewood Avenue.
But the thousands who turned out Thursday went about enjoying the annual staples of May Third Thursday: youth-based musical and dance groups and the Minds Matter fundraising walk for the Berkshire County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
"We come out to see what's new, catch up with friends, and Persip Park is our favorite place to hang out," said Ken Van Bramer of Pittsfield, accompanied by his wife, Kylie, and 2-year-old daughter, Taylor.
After years of using a mobile main stage, city officials in 2015 designated the newly renovated Persip Park as the permanent main stage for Third Thursday. The Kids 4 Harmony musical ensemble was among the youthful performers ready to delight the crowd.
Brother and sister, Nate and Grace Burdick, played the trumpet and violin respectively. Grace, a 9-year-old student at Morningside Community School, has been playing the violin since first grade.
"I like to play fast music and slow music with twists to it," she said.
However, a rain shower halfway through Third Thursday forced Kids 4 Harmony to forgo the park stage and play next door at the Scelsi Intermodial Transportation Center.
Youth Alive, Cantarella School of Dance, musical ensembles from Reid Middle and Taconic High schools, and Berkshire Pulse with Aimee Gelanis were among the other scheduled youthful performers.
In its 11th year overall, the Minds Matter walk from Persip Park north to Maplewood Avenue and back has been associated with May Third Thursday since 2011, according to NAMI officials.
Berkshire NAMI board Chairwoman Deborah Sadowy said raising awareness about mental illness is as important as raising money.
"You usually have no idea if a friend or neighbor has a mental illness," she said.
Board member Amy Alexander, of Pittsfield, noted how NAMI services, such as learning coping skills, has helped her get through the tough times.
"I've suffered half my life, and at times in silence, not wanting to complain," she said.
While the themes and entertainment line-up changes monthly, many of the same vendors, civic groups and nonprofits form the backbone of Third Thursday.
For several years, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Pittsfield has pitched a canopy, selling a variety of religious artwork and Greek food.
Third Thursday "helps us be part of the community and lets people know who we are," said longtime church member Emilie Goudey.
Increasingly over the years, dozens of dog owners love to parade their pooches within the Third Thursday venue — usually without incident. Canines of all sizes and breeds were out again Thursday evening, if not leashed, being pushed in a stroller, as was the case with Koda, a male Pomeranian.
"We walk North Street every day; he follows me where ever I go," said owner Dave Traver, of Pittsfield.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.