The Fluidity of the Niagara Festival
Half-way through the sixteen months of planning the Niagara International Kite Festival, the Beatles song, “The Long and Winding Road”, crept into my head, and continued playing and replaying for a very long time. The festival date was selected very early on, sixteen months out. It ended up being the festival location that was a real bugger to nail down.
Sanity levels were certainly challenged with an event that had to meld multiple venues, two countries, two Parks Departments, three Mayors, the Bridge Authority, Canadian Customs and Immigration, USA Homeland Security, and private businesses with an historical re-enactment, international guests, exhibits, workshops, and an arch connecting two countries.
The Youngstown Business Association (Youngstown, NY) was the kite festival catalyst. They were originally very enthusiastic. However, about half way through the process, after the planning had been well under way, they found they were unable to continue.
This was a problem; Nakamura-san in Japan had already started making the arch, schedules have been worked around the event and people were making reservations to come from all over the world.
Fortunately, the kite festival was rescued and indeed resuscitated by Kate Scaglione and the Niagara Tourism Convention Corporation (NTCC). When Youngstown was unable to continue, Kate stepped forward without hesitation, foreseeing the benefits the event could bring to the area. She convinced her boss, David Rosenwasser, that it was an event worth salvaging; an event that had merit. She is our very own Kite Festival Angel.
That was the good news. The bad news was that the festival’s budget was drastically cut, although that was really only a technicality. What the festival was lacking in resources was more then made up in spirit, motivation, and a strong will. Plus, we had a damn good plan! (But then again, the best laid plans of mice and men…)
Below is a daily chronicle of the good, the bad, and the ugly bits of the inaugural Niagara Falls International Kite Festival:
Pre-Event: Blake Pelton, Jaime Hohl and dean jordan arrived in Buffalo on September 25th and 26th. We meet up with Laurie Dutton on the following Monday and filled up the min van built for maxi fun. We filled it as full as humanly possible with an absolutely incredible amount of crap, and then we managed to get even a little more in there. Good thing we don’t need to see out those windows!
Our ROAD TRIP to the AKA Convention and the adventure commenced! Within a couple of hundred miles we got a flat tire. The rain poured so heavy that when our friend, Vaino Raun, drove by (on his way to AKA) he didn’t realize it was us standing on the side of the road. Dean woke up, looked up and screamed; “WE ARE GOING TO DIE!”, fearing how we parked the van on the side of the road to change the flat. A State Trooper pulled up and used his car as a barrier to protect us from thruway traffic; a move I was especially appreciated. We were wet down to our underwear, and the ten hour trip had barely begun.
I must admit, though, that I would have probably used my cell phone to call AAA and rested warm inside the van until they arrived.= But we had far too many males with us for THAT to happen. We are informed by the local garage mechanic that it is an ‘unfixable’ flat due to it being on the rim. Isn’t that special? The strange part is that we were still having a great time. We were thrilled to be together and I laughed so much and so hard that my face was aching. Eventually, we arrived in Ocean City, met up with a lot of friends, the sun came out, and the merriment truly began.
Monday 3 October: After a week of good Convention fun and friends at the ocean, we return to Buffalo ready to get to business and make the Niagara event a success. I brought reinforcements back with me!
Tuesday 4 October: Katy Schultz and Peter Lynn arrived in Western New York to a buzz of activity. Final festival details were busily being hammered out. Laurie Dutton and her team are making name tags and designing mini kites to hand out during press day. Teams preparing for the Homan Walsh re-enactment were whirling with excitement as they planned, strategized, made kites and tried to psyche out their opponents.
Wednesday 5 October: There were press conferences, mayoral proclamations, and kite flying at Terrapin Point overlooking the brink of the falls; and all by 10:00AM! That afternoon, Peter had a live interview at a local TV studio, and succeeded in stealing a woman’s purse. He swears that he picked it up on accident as he was gathering up all his stuff to leave the TV station after the interview, but, I don’t know, it matched his ensemble very nicely.
Dean, Blake, and Jaime had gone off to pick up Scott Skinner at the Buffalo Airport and to find sewing machine needles. My husband, Bill, went to the Toronto Airport to pick up the Japanese Delegation (Mr. and Mrs. Modegi and Mr. and Mrs. Nakamura). Bill made great time to Toronto, but he called me from the Airport and said “I can’t see them, I know their plane landed, but they’re nowhere to be found.” At the same time Modegi-san called me saying, “We are here and I do not see Bill-san” I thought…hmm…wonder how many terminals at the Toronto Airport? Then, as I myself was running to hurry to get to the airport to pick up Craig Wilson, I ran smack into my sister’s closed screen door! (It was dark) I hit it face first so hard that I bounced back five full feet. I was pleased to have been able to provide comic entertain for those present, and there were plenty of witnesses to my graceful departure. Then, to my great dismay, I lost the lovely German boys, Volker & Christian Hoberg (Team No Limits) at the Toronto Airport. Fortunately, they were later found alive and well, but only after a 2:00AM phone call from New York to New Zealand to get a German telephone number. It was about at that point that I realized…damn, this is only the first day…I am so screwed!
Thursday 6 October: Jose Sainz arrived on the red eye from California. All was right with the world. We had a very successful press fly with combinations of live remote shots for the noon news and taped pieces to use on the morning shows. Following our picnic lunch at a Buffalo waterfront park, we headed to the lower Niagara River for an exhilarating Jet Boat Ride through Class Five rapids. It was pretty cool. We completed the day with dinner at the new Seneca Casino in Niagara Falls, after which most of us made an early night of it. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
Friday 7 October: The day of the much anticipated… at the cost of significant blood, sweat, and tears… Homan Walsh Contest. It rained. It poured buckets. The only thing we should have been considering doing that day was maybe build an ark, not an arch. This, mind you, was on the heels of the hottest and driest summer in Western New York’s record keeping history.
This did not stop us. Au Contraire! We were not going to plan something for almost 18 months, have Nakamura-san make and deliver an arch from Japan, and tell the 80 or so flyers who came to participate in the contest that it wasn’t going to happen. Not even an option.
We had the pre-flight meeting, checked the weather (wet and miserable), checked wind direction and speed (gusty and opposite of prevailing). The flyers grouped off into their prospective teams, the strategies where finalized, and off they went with their kites to challenge the elements. There was a bit of espionage with the stealing of line, but there are multiple versions to the story.
Every kite flyer and every team that entered the contest were winners. They truly showed an eagerness to re-enact the historical contest, full of enthusiasm, team spirit, and friendly challenges. Technically, no team actually won the Homan Walsh contest re-enactment this year, but we still awarded three teams with plaques, even if only for perseverance, intent and stamina. It was entirely possible that any of the teams could have won had they had time to wait out the weather. Several of the teams made it across the span of the gorge. It was bringing the kite down that proved to be a challenge.
First place was awarded to Nakamura-san and Modegi-san from Japan, Second place went to the Niagara Wind Riders team from Canada, Third Place was awarded to the University of Buffalo School of Engineering student team, and honorable mention went to the team of (motley crew more like it) Scott Skinner, Jose Sainz, Craig Wilson, dean jordan, Blake Pelton and team captain, Jaime Hohl (also known as Mrs. Buttercup).
The Niagara Wind Riders Kite Club has their newsletter posted on a blog, and their fearless leader Bob White has written a wonderfully detailed and thorough account of the Homan Walsh contest re-enactment. He did such an outstanding job! Being a man, Bob takes this competition stuff much more seriously then I ever could. For further information on the day please go to www.NWKA.blogspot.com and scroll down to Tuesday, 11 October, 2005.
About an hour into the attempt, as the weather was continued to deteriorate, we decided that it may be prudent to try to launch the arch. We originally scheduled the Arch for later in the afternoon after the Homan Walsh contest, but there were concerns that may not be possible due to the increasingly ugly weather.
Because of the challenges of getting a line across the gorge, we improvised, and launched the arch from the deck of the Rainbow Bridge, with one end on the Canadian side and the other end on the US side. The arch went right up and flew like a charm; even in the rain. It was indeed a spectacular sight flying in the foreground, with Niagara Falls in the background.
The long day ended with a very nice reception at the Top of the Falls Restaurant, overlooking Niagara Falls at Terrapin Point. Stories of the day were exchanged, information was dissected, and lessons learned were shared.
Saturday 8 October: The day was a bit on the cool and gray side, but we were pleased the rain had subsided. The winds were still coming from the opposite direction of prevailing but we worked with it. Saturday and Sunday’s activities were scheduled to be at Artpark in Lewiston, New York, a quant little village located a few miles North of Niagara Falls on the lower Niagara River. We all got to the field (OK I got lost on the way to Artpark with three cars following me, after leaving the hotel, but did manage to find it eventually) and began to fill the sky. Our goal was to put up so much stuff you wouldn’t see the gray skies.
Laurie Dutton and her crack team of kite making instructors had the workshop all abuzz with activity and showed again, why she is the festivals Most Valuable Player! I am a firm believer that the free family kite making workshop is a major draw for kite festivals and is a terribly under-rated and under appreciated aspect to the kite festival. Ted Shaw, a local kite enthusiast, was a major contributor to the planning and executing of the event. However, he really made my weekend when he arrived that morning with his very own golf cart. It was perfect. Kate and I have decided that Ted can chair absolutely ANY committee he likes!
Then… major problem. An emergency vehicle arrived and told us there was an accident on the river, a helicopter was coming and everything had to come down. We had that sky emptied in record time. I was pleased and proud of how fast we were able to respond in an emergency. Then we waited, and waited, and waited, and when nothing was showing up after a half hour, forty-five minuets, an hour, we started to make phone calls and ask questions. After a torturous few hours of trying to get information out of the Sheriffs’ Department and the FAA we finally were informed that there was a fishing boat capsized in the lower Niagara River and the helicopters were doing search and rescue. We sent our condolences and asked if we could do anything to help, and then asked why that was affecting the kite festival since it was occurring well over two miles away. We were told the helicopter pilots were concerned the kite line might break and the kite would get lose and drift towards them. We tried very hard to explain the realities of the situation to them, which was, that it was highly unlikely that this 2 and 4 thousand pound braided spectra would break, but if it did, the kites were designed to come down. They were not balloons that would drift up and over to where they were! I was cranky, it wasn’t pretty. I was pacing the field snorting like a bull. After several phone calls and trying that useless tool of logic when dealing with bureaucracy, we managed to get the kites back up with a lower ceiling then we wanted (100’ at first), but it was a start. I started to consider the conspiracy theory.
The entire day was salvaged by a fantastic dinner at Villa Fortunata in Lewiston. The NTCC wined and dined us like kings and queens. It was a wonderful group at a wonderful location, consuming wonderful food and drink. We were happy.
Sunday 9 October: Things were definitely more settled and running more smoothly. The day was a more traditional kite festival and was enjoyed by many. There was a big tent on the far side of the field that housed exhibits of Glenn Davison’s lovely miniature kite collection, and Pat & Russ Mozier’s International Kite Stamp display. Craig Wilson from Madison and Carl Bigras from Ottawa displayed their incredible KAP exhibits. There was a kite traction corner with a KiteCat, an antique Kite Buggy, and a photo display of the history of Kite Sailing. I displayed some of my kite history exhibits; the SITES posters, my Gibson Girl and radio, Garber Target Kite, and various reproductions.
We were treated to the routines of the Windjammers who had come from Detroit to fly with us. It was a pleasant surprise to find that one of the Windjammers had moved to Western New York. The festival was also proud to have Eli and Shula Shavit from Israel, whose daughter, in fact, had also moved to Western New York. Pete and Sue Dutton came from England, to fly kites and visit relatives locally. Ralph Reed came from Massachusetts with Glenn Davison to do a great job representing KONE (Kites over New England) Glenn and Ralph graciously contributed to the sponsoring of the kite making workshop. It was also brought to my attention that Ted Manekin and his wife Lisa Hayes, one of three AKA members to be at all 28 AKA convention banquets, also moved to Buffalo a few years ago.
We had a large contingency of our Canadian friends with Don Brownridge and Gary Mark and his beautiful family representing the Toronto Kitefliers, Vaino Raun, Bob White, Fred Taylor and many friends from the Niagara Windriders, Carlos Simone from the Kitcheners Wind Climbers, as well as Jean Lamoureux and Michele Bérubé from Quebec. There are, no doubt, many that I am forgetting and I am very sorry, so many came and helped to make it a special festival. They were all extremely appreciated. My 78 year old mother and 80 year old aunt helped sell t-shirts, while Mrs. Buttercup was the vending queen.
It was a small group that helped us to begin a tradition, and they were an exceptional group. Every single one of them went above and beyond the call of duty and was a joy to have here. We ended the festival with a very nice farewell dinner for the flyers and workers at a place in Lewiston called the Water Street Landing. It sat on the bank of the lower Niagara River across from Canada.
Monday 10 October: We all checked out of the hotel, got 11 guests off from two different airports in two different countries. So much stuff was taken back to my house I was incredulous to believe it could have all come out of my house! We only find two houseguests when we unpack, dean jordan and Peter Lynn. That is an improvement! Previous to moving to the hotel last week, Bill and I had six house guests, along with all their junk. We had fun, but our dogs, Bailey & Moe, were so over this festival business. Way too inconvenient for them.
Tuesday 11 October: Richard Dutton helped The Niagara International Kite Festival with its community outreach component. In addition to his own team in the Homan Walsh contest, Richard Dutton mentored the University of Buffalo School of Engineering team and brought Peter Lynn into the University as guest lecturer while he was in town. Richard also put kites that he made on display at the Castellani Art Museum on the campus of Niagara University, along with the Drachen Foundation’s Miniature Kite Exhibit and a beautiful kite made by Dan Flintjer of the Buffalo Cody Kite Company.
It has to be said that Laurie and Richard Dutton, along with Ted Shaw and my husband Bill, were the dream team. They helped, listened, suggested, worked hard, occasionally ducked, and were worth their weight in gold.
Wrap up: At the end of the day I realize that perception is a funny thing. What may have looked like a train wreck to me was an amazing success to everyone else (except that weather thing). I spent all my time putting out fires, solving problems, I had such tunnel vision I never looked up to let the good parts of the festival make my radar. Niagara Tourism, Mayors, the village of Lewiston, Homeland security, Canada & US Parks departments, plus the many others, all thought it was tremendous and were very happy with the results. Business increased for the merchants in town, and as a senior woman said to me…”Honey, this kite festival is all they are talking about at Tops (local food store)”. We did have what I considered the best endorsement, when many of the people that came on Saturday came back again on Sunday, only this time dragging someone along saying, “Wait till you see this!”
The Future: It was a matter of days after the festival when NTCC declared they wanted to do the Niagara International Kite Festival again in 2006! They wanted to put it in a high profile manner in the 2006 Niagara Falls Tour Guide. They said lets go ahead and have it on the same autumnal weekend!
Modegi-san’s world largest flag kite the ‘Mega Moon’ is going to fly at the 2006 Niagara International Kite festival in both the United States and Canada. It will be a logistic challenge, but well worth it. The Canadian Parks Department have already asked to set up a meeting with us for the end of November 2005 to discuss them having a larger role in the 2006 kite festival and a day to fly the ‘big’ kite.
Unfortunately the 2006 AKA convention is scheduled to conflict with the 2nd Niagara International Kite festival. We are looking at all our options and trying to come up with a solution to this difficult situation. We’ll have the 2006 date posted on the events web site as soon as we figure them out. Keep an eye on the site http://niagarakite.com
In the mean time, I am trying to figure out how I got back on the carousel when I hadn’t gotten off yet from the previous ride? Got any Dramamine?
© 2005 Meg Albers