Culture delights at JAMS

Dancers on stilts entertain the crowd during the Jamaica JAMS festival.
Photo by Nat Valentine
By Steve Mosco

Thousands of revelers braved the heat and soaked up the fun as the cultural diversity of southeast Queens spilled out onto the streets at the 16th annual Jamaica Arts and Music Summer Festival Saturday.

The open-air street festival stretched along Jamaica Avenue between Parsons Boulevard and 169th Street and featured music, dance and a vast array of merchants selling everything from jewelry to deeply discounted CDs.

Thick plumes of smoke rose from the festival as well, but this was no fire emergency — rather an enticing melange of diverse temptations like skewered-meat, jerk chicken and chiccarones. Cups of watermelon slices and freshly squeezed lemonade were also on hand to take the edge off.

“I feel every year it stretches another block or so,” said David Fallweg, who has been bringing family members to the festival for the past decade. “It’s a great place to spend a Saturday. Shopping, eating and dancing. It’s a lot of fun every year.”

This year close to 400 vendors set up shop in the August heat, each one offering their own unique collection of wares. Children stared in awe at the toy vendors, while wives nudged husbands at the jewelry tents.

“My wife is in the zone right now,” laughed Fallweg, whose wife Christine was busy digging through baskets of rings and bracelets. “I just want some of that lemonade over there.”

The festival kicked off Friday night with JAMS Under the Stars, at Rufus King Park at Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street. It featured musicians such as Robbie Nova, an R&B artist from Queens, and spoken-word performer Casel Lee, also known as The Verbal Artisan.

There was also a “Soul Train” tribute Friday night as well as a tribute to popular musicians who recently died, including Whitney Houston, Heavy D and Gil Scott-Heron.

One of the performers from Friday night, 6-year-old Haitian prodigy Malachi, also performed during Saturday’s festivities, wowing the crowd with his skilled drum technique.

“This is the best festival ever,” said Malachi from the stage, whose proficiency behind the drum kit was belied by his mischievous smile and playful nature off stage.

Some youngsters were there only looking for fun — and some at great heights.

Lucinda Renwick, 8, hung from the top of a rock-climbing wall, while her mother, Tabitha Lopez, cheered her on from down below.

“Last year she was too small to climb. I promised her we’d come back and there she is, way up there,” said Lopez, who is from Hollis.

When she finally reached the ground, Renwick could not believe what she had just done.

“It’s way too high up there!” she screamed. “It was scary!”

With that, Lopez high-fived her daughter and asked her what she wanted to do next.

“They just love it here,” she said. “Every year they want to keep coming back.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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