Third Thursday: Ethnic eats, dancing draw thousands downtown

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Photo Gallery | Third Thursday and Ethnic Fair

PITTSFIELD — Two fairs are better than one. Throw in a 10-year anniversary and you're really in for a good time.

Roughly 5,000 people seemed to agree as they flooded North Street and hung around for food from Europe and south of the border, all kinds of live music and dancing and Shakespeare performances later in the evening.

It marked the first time the city combined its annual Ethnic Fair with Third Thursday, broadening the former's audience and livening up the latter's food menu. The move fit in perfectly with the night's food theme, and spiced up the 10th anniversary Third Thursday celebration.

"I hope by bringing the Ethnic Fair to Third Thursday we expose vendors to audiences and audiences to different cultural offerings," said Executive Director Kristine Hurley of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.

She added, "We have seen an increase in the amount of ethnic cuisine in our restaurants on North Street, and we want to encourage more. People are excited and embracing it."

Ethnic food vendors on the street were indicated by bunches of red, yellow and blue balloons, nestled in among the other Third Thursday regulars.

Italian food, Peruvian, Mexican and Spanish and many more offerings were available. Salmon, chicken and lamb kebabs proved very popular, as dozens walked the streets holding them.

With all the food going down, many burned the energy dancing to the music. Latin music — which enjoys a growing audience in the Berkshires, according to local salsa, merengue and bachata dance instructor Alan Franco — was a highlight.

"What I'm trying to do is bring more Latin live music to the area," Franco said. "The audience and community is growing. It used to be many of these people looking for Latin music had to go to Hadley, Northampton, Albany. Now we have it here."

Bronte Roman and her "El Groupa Caliente" band testified to the fact, as they brought a high-energy blend of Latin rhythms to center stage near Park Square during prime hours, garnering a considerable audience and a crowd of dancers.

"There's such a great appreciation for different styles and cultures in Pittsfield," said multi-instrumentalist Eric Walentowicz, who played in the band. "Our energy got going because their energy encouraged us."

Roman said "diversity is growing" in the area, and more ethnic music and food are coming to the Berkshires to meet the "call for more presence."

"It's a time of great opportunity for Latin music in the Berkshires, particularly in Pittsfield and Lee," Roman said. "There's starting to be a huge amount of diversity."

Franco, who runs Berkshire Salsa out of Berkshire Yoga Dance & Fitness on North Street, said turnout at his bi-monthly free lessons at Tavern at the A has blossomed of late. The next will be held on July 30.

"We want to further tap into that community who enjoys to dance," Franco said, gesturing to the crowd as it moved to Roman's band.


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