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Rochester Greek Festival! Opa!

June 2, 2011 by in East Avenue, Events, Featured
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Rochester Greek Festival (Image by Kristin Munson) The Greek Festival kicked off at 11 AM today (June 2, 2011) and will last late into the evening (11 PM) every night through Sunday. Cancel your lunch and dinner plans for the next four days, because you won’t want to miss a single item that the talented Greek chefs are whipping together on East Avenue. Moussaka, souvlaki, patitsio, gyros, spanakopita – how will you even choose where to begin with this menu? Save room for melt in your mouth Baklava, or make room with a little Greek Dancing later in the evening. Stroll around the festival, while sipping your drink, and gnoshing a gyro. Take in the warm floral aromas of East Avenue’s colorful landscaping, while the sounds of Greece, played by a variety of Greek musicians, fills the air. You can even shop for Greek art in the boutique & art tent. Admission is free, making those who work in the southeast city especially prone to slipping out to the Greek Festival for a little lunch break and culture infusion this Friday. You could come every day this weekend to hear the music and dance with friendly festival-goers (or learn to dance traditional Greek dances at one of the dance lessons throughout the day.)

Today through Saturday (NOT Sunday), parking is available at Asbury Methodist Church. Gleason Works has kindly extended parking to the Greek Festival on all four days. Very limited handicap parking is available in the driveway area of the Greek Orthodox church.

Dimitrios Theodorou of Webster NY Greek Festival 2011As always, the festival is taking place at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, in the East Avenue Neighborhood, at 962 East Avenue. In 1967 this church published a book which I came across at the Rundel Library in downtown Rochester. Within the book is an excellent account of Rochester’s Greek history, and the history of the local Greek Orthodox Church. It is written that the first Greek settlers were George Lamprakes a street vendor from New York City, and James Zutes, a street vendor from Baltimore, who moved to Rochester in 1893 with the hope of improving their lot. At that time, there were no more than 3,000 Greeks registered in the entire United States. James Zutes started a fruit store at the corner of East Main & Front Street. Lamprakes opened the Olympia Candy Store at 10 East Main Street with a business partner, George Katsampes. Slowly, the Greek population climbed, when Zutes’ cousins arrived and opened a second fruit store on East Main Street in 1896, and yet another Greek man, Epaminondas (Peter) Rousos opened a shoe-shine parlor in the Powers Building, and later a food importing firm called “Maggioros and Rousos” at 42 Front Street with Harry Maggioros. More and more Greek immigrants trickled into Rochester, several per year, and finally in 1904 the first local Greek family was started when Nicholas Katsampes was born in Rochester, the first of Rochester’s first-generation Greek children. By around 1910, the community was large enough that they had started an organization called “Ethnike-Aroge,” and had begun talking about forming a local chapter of a Greek Orthodox Church to fulfill the spiritual needs of the community.

The church was not always located where it is presently on East Avenue. The first Greek Orthodox services (between 1910 and 1912) were held once a month in a room that usually served as a coffee house on East Main Street, over what was once Daw’s Drug Store, near the old Reynolds Arcade. The priest would travel from Buffalo to conduct the services. After that, it moved around from location to location in downtown Rochester, and then briefly to the old Cook’s Opera House on South Avenue, until finally settling in on Howell Street, which today runs directly alongside the Inner Loop. The 1912-era congregation was so passionate about setting roots into a permanent location, that one of the congregants, Sotirios (Sam) Lagarias put forth a check for $400 towards the church’s establishment, a remarkable sum at a time when most salaries for immigrant Greeks ranged around $5 per week. This first donation towards the local Greek Orthodox church began a drive that raised about $5000 to complete the remodeling and adornment required for the Howell Street location, and even desks for the church’s Greek school. The Howell St. location opened for use in 1920. It was during this time, from 1912 until 1920 that the Greek immigrants of Rochester really pulled together, and became a community.

Considering what was happening in their homeland, it was perhaps not only necessary for survival in their new home of Rochester that the Greek community pull together, but possibly necessary for their hearts as well. The First Balkan war had broken out in Greece in 1912, and though settled far away, the Greek immigrants of Rochester were, of course, deeply sentimental in support of their homeland. So much so that when a Greek man came the church’s State Street location to raise money for a cannon, the community was said to be so stirred by his speech and poetry, his high silk hat and chest full of medals, that many in the audience wept. The donations came so quickly for the cannon, that they could hardly write the names of donors fast enough, collecting $3000 in one hour. Some even took off their gold watches and gave them on the spot. Even after contributing so generously towards war efforts, and building their own church on Howell Street, the Greek community grew more and more prosperous in difficult times, thriving as entrepreneurs in the heart of downtown Rochester.

Greek Musician Rochester NY 2011The local Greek community, though now dispersed to Rochester’s suburbs, used to be very tight knit in the heart of Downtown Rochester, and the Corn Hill neighborhood. In 1920, the community lived mostly in the First, Third, and Fourth Wards, which are better known as the Corn Hill neighborhood, and the Cascade District, Four Corners District, and East End District of Downtown Rochester. The local Greek Orthodox Church’s records say that “not only were those first families closely knit by national ties but their everyday experiences. It is interesting to note they resided within a small radius of one another in an area of well-trimmed lawns and tree-lined streets in what was then known as Rochester’s Ruffled Shirt Ward – the Third Ward.” Nearly 8% of the residents in the Fourth Ward were of Greek descent, and it was almost 5% in the Third Ward, and 3% in the First Ward (Corn Hill.)*

In 1937, after surviving the economic hardships of the Great Depression, the Howell Street church succumbed to a “mystery blaze,” which raged for two hours, halting all traffic on Monroe Avenue. The beautiful, painstakingly decorated church was completely destroyed, so they moved to a new building at 110 South Fitzhugh street in the Four Corners District, before the purchase of the current East Avenue lot in 1955, for a mere $9,378. Just down the street from the George Eastman House, and surrounded by a variety of Rochester’s most upscale, Tudor and Greek revival mansions, the church is situated beautifully, for what now seems like such a small (and wise!) investment. And luckily for the rest of us Rochesterians of all cultures and backgrounds who come from all over the metro for this once-a-year celebration of Greek culture, we also get to enjoy the conveniently central, ornately beautiful East Ave neighborhood.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, the church is offering “Religious Tours,” which are offered at the Greek Festival Friday through Sunday at various times, noted on the Schedule of Events. I wish the Rundel Library had more on the local Greek history, post 1967, because now that I have a much clearer view of what life was like for the first Greek immigrants in the beginning of the 20th century, I’m curious about how the population has become the large and vibrant community that thrives in Rochester today. Perhaps I’ll have to try one of the church’s “Religious Tours,” which promises to provide insight into the Greek church’s “architecture, history, practices and beliefs.” That way I’ll have something new to say when next year’s Greek Festival rolls around.

Rochester Greek Fest MenuIf you can’t make the Greek Festival this year, at least you’ll be able to sample some of the amazing Greek cuisine (because that’s the part of the festival you”ll miss the most) that the wonderful Greek community offers at many of Rochester’s excellent dining establishments throughout the year. RocWiki has a running list of restaurants that offer Greek cuisine. (And, since its a wiki that can be edited by anyone who creates a free account, be sure to add any restaurants that haven’t been listed yet!)

* Source: Research by WIlliam Bement, undated, Ethnic Groups documentation (Folder 1/2), Monroe County Library, Rundel Branch

June Music at the Little Cafe

June 1, 2011 by in Center City, East End, Music
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Most Rochesterians find the Little Theatre quickly in their first expeditions into the heart of downtown Rochester. Movies at “The Little” frequently open to packed houses, who come in droves for the art house, foreign, and independent films that are impossible to find in the large, National-chain theaters. The Little Theatre also owes some of its popularity to its prime location in Rochester’s East End, a district that spans from the origin of East Avenue, where it intersects with Main Street, to the heavily trafficked club district at East & Alexander Avenues.

When the Little Theatre expanded from the original 1920’s single-cinema theater, to the five-cinema theater that it is today, they added the Little Cafe, a wise move, considering movie theaters make nearly all of their revenue on concession sales. When you’re wandering around the East End and suddenly decide to catch whichever independent film is playing next, and you find yourself with an extra half hour before the show, you can settle in to a cup of coffee, one of the Custom Brewcrafters beers on tap, and a slice of quiche or a slice of chocolate cake.

Surrounded by seasonally-rotated locally-made artwork, your Little Cafe experience will come paired with live jazzy music most evenings. This June, musical acts will range from a crooning a capella group, a five-piece blues band, and a classic piano-drums-and bass jazz trio, to a sassy Fionaesque import from Long Island.

Here’s the full June schedule:

The Uptown Groove Rochester NY

The Uptown Groove, a five member blues group from Rochester, is playing at the Little Cafe every Monday throughout June. Led by female vocalist, Amanda Montone, the Uptown Groove plays a variety of R&B, rock, motown, and blues. Here’s a sample of The Uptown Grooves playing ‘Just the Two of Us.’

The Bowties

The Bowties also consist of five members, but rather than the standard bass, drums, and guitar, everyone in the Bowties performs with one of the most challenging instruments of all, the human voice, a capella. Playing Wednesdays from 7:30pm – 9:30pm throughout June, except for June 8th, the Bowties will serenade you with their unique a capella blend of contemporary numbers, and time-tested classics. The Bowties’ most recent addition to their nearly 13-year-old a capella group, Madeline Forster, is the first woman to perform with the Bowties. Her renditions of two classics, ‘Broken Hearted Melody,’ and ‘Twisted,’ will fill the Little Cafe’s java-scented air this June. Alan Wertheimer, of The Bowties tells me that the set list planned for June 1st includes The Bowties’ own version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and a cool jazz version of ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.’ He let me in on some other tricks they have up their sleeve for later this June, including a 4-part harmonized version of True Colors, and selections from The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and Annie Lennox. One ballad in store is about Laika, the Russian dog who was the first to fly in space. Another, is about a fisherman’s view of heaven, called ‘The Fisherman’s Green.’ As though those examples coupled with beloved PBS theme songs and Queen aren’t proof enough of the unique angle that The Bowties takes on perfoming a capella, they have arranged a version of the Jonathan Coulter cult classic, ‘Your Brains,’ about a zombie who knows proper office protocol.

Thursdays at the Little Cafe, sip your chai to melodic jazz classics performed by the Jim Nugent Trio, a quintessential jazz trio with Jim Nugent on piano, Mike Montelbano on drums, and Elliot Kirby on bass. As the Jim Nugent Trio plays, you’ll instantly recognize selections from the Great American Songbook, but you’ll hear them take on a new energy as the Jim Nugent Trio expertly maneuvers them. Here’s a sampling of The Jim Nugent Trio, that I’m especially fond of, ‘How Insensitive.’

On Fridays this June, Amanda Ashley will growl her sultry, romantic originals. This Long Island native, educated in Fredonia, will demonstrate her lifelong passion for music by publicly seducing her keyboard, with her snarling powerhouse of a voice, and then soothing it in her lilting, gentle pianissimo. Amanda’s performances blend her unique take on Top 40 tunes with her sexy original jazz compositions.

Connie Deming Rochester NY
On Saturday evenings, Connie Deming will perform her original folk music, calling your Joni Mitchell days to mind. Accompanying herself on an acoustic guitar, Connie Deming sings songs songs that often have a deep personal connection. I’ll admit that Connie Deming once brought me to tears, as I recalled my grandfather during her performance of “Pass It On,” a song she wrote for her recently passed father. She was performing, as she often does, at an autism awareness benefit (that particular benefit was a couple years ago at Calvary St. Andrews, in the South Wedge.) Connie is passionate about autism awareness, having dealt with the ups and downs of having an autistic son herself.