Block party celebrates Amherst

By Kristin LaFratta

Despite the gloomy weather, the second annual Amherst block party transformed North Pleasant Street into a festive celebration, inviting thousands of residents and students to come together and enjoy all that Amherst has to offer.

Brett Reardon/ Collegian

Restaurant booths, live music and circus acrobats flooded the streets of downtown Amherst on the evening of Thursday, Sept. 12. The purpose of the block party, sponsored by the Amherst Business Improvement District, is to unite the town’s varied demographics and show off the character of downtown..

“We are celebrating what is exciting and unique about our downtown. The restaurants, the shops – that we have a vibrant community,” said BID Interim Operations Director Sarah LaCour.

University of Massachusetts political science professor Rebecca Woodland and her children, Emma Gajda, 10, and Gabe Gajda,14, refused to let the rain put a damper on their day.

“We love the block party. It is so great to shut down the streets and let everyone walk around,” said Woodland. She added that she felt that the merging of the different age groups helped combat the bad reputation of the area’s college students.

“Something has to be done to repair the image,” said Woodland.

LaCour explained the uniting effect of the block party, saying, “We are embracing all of the different spectrums of our community – the college students, the families, the elder people; everybody can come and participate in this event.”

Amherst Block Party 2013 from Daily Collegian on Vimeo.

A number of UMass students turned out for the event, including senior Abby Needleman, who works at the Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst and likes to stay active in the community.

“It’s fun to have things like this. It brings the college community together with the town community,” she said.

More than 20 restaurants, as well as a wide range of community businesses such as banks and spas, participated in the block party. The sound stage set up by the River radio station in Kendrick Park hosted live bands such as Kid’s Choice, Who’da Funk It, Shokazoba and the Snaz.

Monte Belmont, morning host and brand manager of the River describes them all as “great bands,” comparing the young members of the Snaz to a future Beatles. Radio station Hits 94.3’s DJ Construc performed on a Peter Pan Futurliner stage at the opposite end of the street.

Amherst native Michelle Chamuel, runner-up on NBC’s latest season of “The Voice,” held a meet-and-greet. The Hits 94.3 station provided her with a tent to sign autographs and take photos with fans.

“It’s great to come back to Amherst because it’s my home,” she said. She added that she doesn’t feel like much of a celebrity, but “having a lot of people pay attention to you for something you’ve done is a really interesting feeling. It’s really great to have the support of the community, and I’m just honored to be here.”

Amherst resident Rich Cain felt that overall, the party was a success.

“The block party is the most fun event all year long,” he said. “I’m glad they do it.”

Kristin LaFratta can be reached at [email protected]