It's official — festival season is now underway and Hard Times Cafe is bringing it to the streets, literally. The restaurant will be taking advantage of the pre-humid Virginia summer weather on June 3 as it presents the second annual Hard Times Cafe Music Festival, to be held on the corner of King and West Streets.
"Everything happens down by the water," said Doug Welsh, head of Franchising and Development for the restaurant, as well as a key figure in organizing the event. "We wanted to bring some activity to the upper part of King Street."
According to Welsh, the festival usually starts off slow, with people browsing the shops and vendors along the blocked off section of the street, but then picks up around 3 p.m.
"At the beginning part of the festival you see families pushing strollers up and down on King Street, and normally they never get to do this," he said.
Had it not been for the work of Welsh, the festival might not have been able to provide that experience again. Sponsored last year by Z-104, the festival lost a good portion of funding and exposure when the radio station changed from its modern music format to the new home of Washington's Classical Station.
"It affected the planning big time," said Welsh. "It threw us for a loop. As a small regional company, we do plenty of radio advertising so we are tied in, but no one saw that coming so we were a bit shell-shocked. Quite frankly, we weren’t sure how we were going to pull this off."
BUT WITH some encouragement from the City of Alexandria, and local business vendors in the vicinity of the restaurant, Welsh found a new home at country music station 98.7 WMZQ, who agreed to help promote the event.
"They [Z-104] were one of the last stations that had a budget to produce something like this," said Fred Parker, who co-founded Hard Times Cafe with his brother in 1980. "After some scrambling around we talked WMZQ into sponsoring the event. If it works out I hope they will do it again next year."
Both Parker and Welsh agree that the WMZQ turned out to be a nice fit for promoting the festival, which Parker believes also fits the general music format of the restaurant.
Despite the turbulent road, the two aren't too worried about attracting an audience again, which topped off last year around 7,500 people. Welsh believes that bringing in this volume of people to Hard Times' event benefits Alexandria businesses as a whole.
"It certainly brings in a lot of people who wouldn’t normally come into the area," he said. "Like anything else, when you learn how to take the Blue Line to Alexandria and walk a few blocks to the festival, the next week you remember when you want to go look at the shops.”
This year's performers range in genre, but mostly stick to the Americana feel that both the restaurant and WMZQ produce. Performers include local favorite The Mary Ann Redmond Band, Last Train Home, Leaving, Tx. and John Luskey.
"I feel so good about this," said Welsh. "We want this festival to grow and get bigger and become more of a mix of different types of music throughout the day."
With continued efforts, Welsh and Parker both hope to not only see the festival grow, but also garner some recognition for the section of King Street opposite the waterfront.
"I guess the people up at the other end of King Street have always felt out in the boondocks and this is a good way to attract people out in this end."