Several blocks of 17th Street N.W., roughly from P to R streets, will be closed Saturday for the second annual 17th Street Festival slated for 2 to 6 p.m., though streets will be closed from noon to 8.
Organizers say it has the flavor of “an old-fashioned block party.”
“It’s a chance to come out, meet our neighbors and just enjoy the street without having to worry about cars or any major disruptions,” says Jack Jacobson, the ANC commissioner for that area who co-conceived the idea last year with Stephen Rutgers and Lee Grenados, president of community group Urban Neighborhood Alliance and a life-long 17th Street resident.
Jacobson says the idea was born out of the street’s extensive year-long “streetscape” renovation that was completed last August and saw all the curbs, gutters and sidewalks there refurbished.
“I saw throughout all that how the residents and businesses worked very closely to make it a success, so I thought a festival inviting neighbors and showcasing businesses would be a great continuation,” Jacobson says.
Rutgers’ boyfriend, Cobalt manager Mark Rutstein, says he was inspired by a recent trip to Chicago where he saw how successful a Market Days event was.
“It was huge and really energetic,” he says. “We kept thinking, ‘This would be really cool if we could do this on 17th Street.’”
A main stage will be constructed in front of Safeway. Acts slated throughout the day include the Deb Felz Band, Sherry Vine, Eric Scott and Company Dance Crew, the Silver Liners (a popular D.C. band), the cast of “Drag City: DC,” DJs Shea Van Horn and Bil Todd who spin at local gay parties, and headliner Inaya Day, who’s slated to go on at 5 p.m.
It’s free and open to everyone but organizers conceive of it as an event mostly for the 17th Street area and its neighbors within walking distance — Logan, Dupont and U Street areas.
“We’re hoping for a nice big turnout but we’re not thinking of it like Adams Morgan where the whole city comes,” Jacobson says with a chuckle.
He guesses about 25 to 35 percent of residents there are gay but says “about 98 percent” are gay friendly.
The blocks there are home to Cobalt and JR.’s, two of D.C.’s most popular gay bars. Rutstein says the two businesses are happy to be involved.
“It’s kind of like it is with the Pride parade, which comes right past us,” Rutstein says. “They’re bringing us all this revenue and increased foot traffic, so it’s kind of our duty to get involved and give back a little.”
There will be a kids’ zone and another area for pets. About half the businesses there will be offering specials; the Blade is a sponsor. It will be held rain or shine. Last year, organizers estimate about 5,000 stopped by throughout the day. They’re hoping for substantially more this year.
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