NEW ORLEANS — An estimated 4,500 revelers gathered around a Festivus pole on Freret Street Saturday to air grievances, perform feats of strength, and otherwise pay homage to a modern TV classic — “The Strike,” better known as the “Seinfeld” sitcom’s “Festivus” episode.
While the “Freretstivus” festival’s activities all paid due homage to the fictional New York-born holiday, the fun, of course, had a distinct New Orleans flair.
New Orleans’ Big Easy Rollergirls roller derby team, for example, joined in by wrapping gifts and participating in a tug-of-war, the “feats of strength,” with attendees.
While the ladies lost a number of bouts — including one crushing defeat by “Washboard” Chaz Leary — skater Beatrix sKiddo said with a smile, “It does motivate us to play a little harder next time.”
“In New Orleans, we love to have festivals for anything,” festival co-creator Michelle Ingram said, “so it’s just a great excuse to have another big festival.”
Ingram, who worked with Greg Ensflen and Peter Gardner to create Freretstivus, said the festival actually was created to serve two important purposes.
“Our goal was to get people on the street and get a lot of these vacant storefronts back into commerce and we achieved our goal quite quickly,” she said. “People are now using Freret ... and seeing the potential of the street.”
Ingram stressed that the festival’s other goal, to encourage and provide an opportunity for people to “buy local” when shopping for the holidays, is just as important.
“We don’t allow the packaging and selling of mass-produced merchandise because we want to support these local artists,” Ingram said.
Certainly, with 96 local vendors and two food courts at which to shop, visitors had ample opportunity to do just that.
Booths filled with art by vendors such as Bare Bones Studio, Nathan Arthur Arts, New Orleans Masks, and Shultzilla buzzed with shoppers throughout the day and food vendors — including Ms. Linda Green, Direct Select Seafood LLC, Cool Fruit Sensations, and Cane River Meat Pies of Harahan — stayed just as busy.
The festival also offered performances by the Tin Men, Debauche, and John Mooney as well as “the airing of grievances,” an integral component of the Festivus tradition.
Visitors had the opportunity to write and submit their grievances, as well as the person to whom they’re addressed. The best of them — and the most family friendly — were read aloud before and after musicians took the stage.
The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and “users of the French Quarter dog park” found themselves the targets of grievances ranging from taxes and politics to pet clean-up.
“What you have here is a mystical wonderland of infinite delights,” Andrew Ward, event emcee and grievance-reader, said of the festival. “This is no longer just a neighborhood blip. This is something that has become an institution.”
While people who missed the event will have to wait until next year to celebrate Festivus on Freret, they can find “serenity now” knowing the next Freret Market will take place on Jan. 5.