Cultural festival has many big draws

Paul Sanders

Paul Schmitt, 56, said he doesn’t often come to Minneapolis from his home in Apple Valley. But a train ride on a vintage steam locomotive at the Minnesota Heritage Festival lured him into the city Sunday afternoon.
“You get an interesting view of the city from a train,” Schmitt said while watching a fiddlers’ contest at the festival.
The recently restored Steam Locomotive 261 that made daily trips through Minneapolis and St. Paul was one of the most popular events of the fourth annual Minnesota Heritage Festival, said Randy Dewitz, executive director of the festival.
The celebration of Minnesota’s cultural diversity and history took place Thursday through Sunday on Nicollet Island and along Southeast Main Street in Minneapolis. Dewitz estimated four-day festival attendance to be more than 150,000 people.
The festival, which offered a variety of ethnic food, entertainment and arts, kicked off Thursday with a laser light show and fireworks. While vendors sold ethnic food ranging from Middle Eastern cuisine to French crepes, strains of flamenco, bluegrass, classical and modern rock echoed through the streets of Nicollet Island and along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Despite Saturday’s rain and noise from the Children’s Grand Prix automobile race across the river, Dewitz said he thought the festival, like those of previous years, was successful. “We have quality attractions of all types.”
Some used the festival to promote diverse political causes.
University student and Director of La Raza Student Cultural Center Mario Sanchez worked at one of the Festival’s information booths Thursday. While giving festival goers directions to different events, he was registering people to vote.
Sanchez said festival organizers allowed him to distribute information for the Latino Vote USA Campaign in exchange for working at the festival as a volunteer.
“There’s a big Latino population in this area,” Sanchez said. “We’ve found that they don’t want to get involved in politics.”
The festival, he said, was giving Latino Vote USA a chance to register not only Latino voters, but all people.
Alex Arcone, from Appleton, Wis., said though he was having a slow afternoon collecting signatures for a political party, he was enjoying the festival.
“It’s good because it brings everyone together in a fun way,” Arcone said. “It also seems to be quite beneficial for local business.”
Others came to the festival simply to be entertained.
Wendy Curfman of Hopkins said she thought the festival was a good way to spend Independence Day. She said, “Everything’s free, except for the food.”