A tale of two festivals

New street festivals have different alcohol policies, similar goals

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COMMENTARY

I wish Open Streets OKC could be more like WestFest.

Both festivals are billed as family-friendly, all-day events. Both seek to highlight the growing walkability that sidewalk improvements, increased lighting and new traffic controls have added to the environs of up-and-coming districts. Both are newcomers to OKC’s cultural fabric, either brand new (WestFest) or only a year old (Open Streets).

But there’s one big difference that makes them distinctly separate: Only WestFest has beer.

The inaugural WestFest occurred from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday between Northwest 41st and 43rd streets. Local breweries poured brews in plastic cups, and several tables and benches lined the street to create a beer-garden atmosphere.

In October, Open Streets OKC will host the autumnal installment of its biannual event. Previously held in the Uptown district on Northwest 23rd Street, the latest installment will be in Capitol Hill. Official beer vending seems to be conspicuously absent, but I suppose there is a decent reason.

Open Streets OKC’s “presenting sponsors” include the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, the City of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City Public Schools and the YMCA.

Public institutions such as those likely want to avoid the promotion of public boozing, especially when one major goal of Open Streets OKC is to promote healthy activities.

The other goal of festivals like Open Streets and WestFest is to advance economic activity. While WestFest is backed by private organizations and private businesses (many of which sell alcohol), Open Streets tries to spur economic activity without promoting intoxicants in the age of addiction awareness and health statistic pachisi.

Still, you know city leaders would be thrilled for a new bar and grill to open in, say, Capitol Hill. So why not let a local business set up and sell beer for a few hours at an event like Open Streets OKC?

Maybe Open Streets’ leaders fear the potential for drunken shenanigans?

That might make sense on their part, but Chris Brake, a security guard with Tam and Harris Security Investigation and Security, told me Saturday night at WestFest that there had been no disturbances or bad behavior of any kind during the event.

“No problems here at all,” he said. “It’s actually been kinda fun.”

And it WAS kinda fun: seeing the newly re-opened VZD’s, trying out the chicken at the Chick N Wangs food truck, hearing live local bands on the main stage, all while enjoying ice-cold adult beverages from local breweries. It was the perfect respite after a hard workweek, and it’s also good for the local zymurgists trying to make a name for their brews.

“We look for any opportunity to really get our product out there and interact with the community,” said Ben Childers, brand ambassador for Anthem Brewing Company. “So (WestFest) gives us a good chance to see a lot of people.”

Open Streets OKC would do the same.  Someday, I hope to see the zymurgists involved.