Street festivals can be so much more than a good romp on the sunny asphalt. At their best, they can be an homage to a shared sense of culture; a common idea within a community of strangers suddenly connected and brought face to face under the auspices of merriment outside their front doors.
Miami is as perfect a place for a street festival as can be, with its delicious weather and hoards of half-naked, surreally beautiful people, and yet there really aren't as many major events of the like as you'd expect. There's the Coconut Grove Art Festival, and of course the Calle Ocho Festival, but what else?
Fortunately, there's a new celebration being added to the short list this year, and it's called Wynwood Life -- a festival of art, fashion, food, and music along the Western edge of Wynwood from Friday, April 25, through Sunday.
The festival will feature -- among other things -- local graffiti crews of the highest repute; Miami designers, fashion bloggers, and couture-draped models with their very own runways; and a myriad of musical acts, both foreign and domestic. The former camp will be championed by Baloji, the Congolese-Belgian artist who raps in French. His set will open the festivities.
Wynwood Life started out as a blog, a sort of catch-all website aimed at keeping people up to date with what was happening in Wynwood, what was worth getting excited about, and what an exciting place Wynwood was. Then, Tony Albelo -- the man who's more or less responsible for other major Miami events like Grovetoberfest, the Coconut Grove Seafood Festival, and various fishing tournaments in Miami -- took up the charge to bring the blog to life as a full-on street festival along NW Sixth Ave., between 22nd and 24th streets, right next to the unmistakeable "Wall of Fame."
"Twelve years ago," Albelo said, "I started running fishing tournaments, both here and in the Bahamas. Then, five years ago, I started getting really into craft beer, became a really big fan of craft beer, started drinking and consuming plenty of craft beer, and created Sprung and Grovetoberfest because of my love for that. But I've always been a fan of street art. I graduated in the '80s, and in that period, graffiti and breakdancing and that type of stuff was huge, so I've always been a fan of street art. Even though I may be a stranger to art in terms of events, I'm not a stranger to being a fan."
The events Albelo touches have become some of the most popular happenings in Miami, so the idea of having him at the helm of a multifaceted art festival in Wynwood seems a sure winner.
"With everything happening in Wynwood, we started a blog following what was going on called wynwoodlife.com, and in a very short time, the site just blew up and our facebook page blew up," Albelo noted. "I started thinking that we should do something for the artists, because every time I would talk to any artist or any craftsperson in Miami, they would say that Art Miami and all these things around Art Basel and all the satellite fairs were just ridiculously expensive for vendors. A space during Wynwood Art Fair in February, for instance, is about $4,000."
One of the major themes that typifies the Wynwood Life Festival is this respect for the artists. While Albelo may not be an artist himself, it would not be too much of a stretch to say this festival has been built from the ground up for artists by artists, with heavy hitters like Miami's Trek6 coming on board early to create the poster for the event. The idea that started off as a poster grew into an entire wall, built in Trek6's studio, for him to paint a commemorative piece for the festival that would also serve as the promotional poster. This wall was then disassembled, piece by piece, and will be sold as 350 bricks with the first 350 posters purchased.
"I figured we could do something more street level, something more grassroots," the organizer explained, "and we could keep it really affordable for the vendors, like $300. I have some friends who are artists, and they all said to do it. But we didn't wan't to be just like the Coconut Grove Arts Festival -- which is a great event -- but we wanted something that's more representative of what Wynwood is. You think of Wynwood, and yes, it's artsy and eclectic like the Grove, but it definitely has much more of a nightlife vibe. It definitely has much more of a fashion sense because of where it is in Miami's original fashion district, so we modeled the event after what Wynwood life really is: art, music, food, and fashion."
This first year will see more than 100 vendors, many of whom would not have the interest or the cash on hand to partake in a bigger, pricier festival, meaning that Wynwood Life will put you face to face with many of Miami's prodigious and prolific artists who could otherwise go totally unknown to you. What Albelo and company have put together is a direct line between local artist and local audience, which seems extremely in tune with the spirit of Wynwood and the idea of saturating this piece of the city with artwork for everyday enjoyment.
"I think once this first year succeeds," Albelo began assuredly, "we're going to have even more support from the community. I mean we've already had some great partnerships, for instance, Miami-Dade College, which is bringing in our music headliner on Friday night, a Congolese artist named Baloji. Now, I had honestly never heard of Baloji, but then we found out that he played at a party at Coachella last year and had Bono come up on stage with him and sing and dance with him, which makes him a pretty serious guy. Him playing at the festival was made possible because of a partnership we have with Miami-Dade College and their live arts program, and that's a big deal."
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During the three days, there will be more than 20 bands, including local favorites, ¡Suenalo!, headlining on the last day. According to Albelo and company, they're expecting some 20,000 people to come to Wynwood Life throughout the weekend, and at this point, they couldn't be happier with what they've put together.
"We really believe that the majority of Miami doesn't really know what Wynwood is or even where it is," stated Albelo. "My own wife didn't realize that Wynwood and Midtown and the Design District are really three separate, unique areas. And it wasn't until I took her down there that she really appreciated Wynwood as its own neighborhood. Since we're really reaching out to the general public to come out to Wynwood Life, we think that's going to be a really big boom for the area. We think people are going to say 'Hey, this is much cooler than what I would've imagined. This is much cooler than what I hear about or the pictures I see online.' Hopefully, it'll get people to come and be more familiar with Wynwood day after day in their lives."
The inaugural kickoff of Wynwood Life will get started this Friday at 5 p.m. along NW Sixth Ave from 22nd to 24th streets. Ticket prices for the weekend range from $15 to $50. For more information, visit wynwoodlife.com.