I tend to start descriptions of art festivals by pointing out the positive, so I'll start this tale by doing that now :)
This weekend was our 4th year at Fountain Square Art Festival, in Evanston, IL. Great people, the Evanstonians - Appreciative, inquisitive, lovely patrons. We love this event, and we have the same booth location as the last 2 years, and we like it because it's quiet, we're at the end (technically the beginning of the festival - We're booth number 7) so it's easy in, easy out.
We have lots of friends who also show their work at this event - Some whom I didn't realize were going to be there, so I was pleasantly surprised. Time permitting, I like to go visit them to see how they're doing & to take some pictures.
Our Evanston & Chicago customers came out to support us, which was, to sound kinda cheesy, very heart-warming :) We always try to catch up with their news as well as our own by swapping stories of personal landmark events. It's really a very enjoyable time.
Saturday started off well enough - We didn't get a ton of sleep, about 3 hours worth, but were feeling pretty good. Of course we're checking the weather at every chance, because that whole week before, reports were crappy. Rain, severe thunderstorms, a little windy - All things that can destroy an art festival's attendance.
But the sky was a brilliant blue, hardly any clouds, nice breeze! Maybe we lucked out with awesome weather for the weekend!
But wait - Man, it sure is windy. Is the wind picking up? Those clouds are moving kinda fast, no?
That right there was the start of what was to become the now infamous Fountain Square Microburst.
At about 3:30 Saturday, we started to get storm advisories from (fellow artist) Eva May's personal weatherman (Craig); nothing too bad, but could be severe. Definitely rain, lots of it and moving in fast. 10 minutes later when a police officer was issuing warnings of high winds and hail with an ETA of 10 minutes it started to get a little more intense.
"What do we put away then Andy?" I asked, thinking right away that the tallest things needed to come down.
"Let's pull in the table first."
Not an easy thing to do when you still have people in your 10x10 booth.
We're moving around a bit, just taking things down to lower shelves, when at about 3:45ish, staff comes by again.
"It's upgraded to a severe thunder storm alert with extremely high winds coming in fast - Take your work down - People, take cover!"
Well, shit. We don't want to hear that.
I start to feel kinda nauseous, because we all know that cities and towns by lake Michigan get hella high winds. I want to go home. I want to leave everything there, and just go hide.
So we start to scramble around, trying to gather our bins, and realize the people are still in our booth.
"Get out now," I tell these people, "because I don't want to be responsible for any injuries incurred by flying ware!" They look a bit affronted. I dare say even offended by my lack of hospitality.
Then the police came running down the aisle, yelling to take cover. Bless them.
"You people need to take shelter immediately," said one officer, as he made the turn to run back up towards Church street.
"SEE?" I say, "GET OUT! NOW!"
At this point, rain and the wind are starting to come in sideways, and all sorts of people are running towards stores, restaurants, awnings against buildings.
And then it really came, this tremendous quiet and huge, breathtaking gust of wind - I was inside the tent, holding it down from one corner, while Andy and our section manager were finishing up zipping up our tent sides.
"Andy where are you!"
"I'm here - Nancy, hold down the left side! HOLD DOWN THE LEFT SIDE!!!"
Well, Nancy couldn't remember what side was her left fast enough. I straddled some bins, got over to the left tent leg to weigh it down, when we both heard a ripping and then a "zzzzzzzzzzriprirprirpripripSWOOOOOSH"
Our sides had been sucked in, then out of our booth, leaving Andy exposed on the back-end, and me partially exposed in front. The side no one was looking after was the one that ripped completely off taking out a shelf that had some itty bitty cylinders on it.
The wind would just not let up though, and we were trying to desperately keep our booth from being pushed down like the last domino; our booth lifted up a lot, but we managed to hang on and keep it down.
I remember thinking, and forgive my language choice, "When the fuck is this going to END?!?"
Wind, big, huge gobs of rain just keep coming, and I was shaking from the effort of restraining my end of the booth - Andy was desperately trying to keep the back of the booth from lifting off more than it was already -
And then it just sort of got quiet again and the rain kinda stopped. That was it.
The sun came out, the sky was blue, and the breeze came back.
We all looked around at all the debris and puddles everywhere, and then gathered to see what was what - Staff were walking through, also asking if we were ok, did we need anything, and that's when we heard about the destruction at the other end.
After a bit of cleanup, I told Andy that I was going to walk over to Church street to see how bad it was over there, and to take pictures, with Connor, our neighbor's son.
Walking over there we gradually started to realize how awful this weather event had been, and the immense, overwhelming amount of damage done by it: Tents were looking at first a bit tousled but upright, then gradually more distressed and bent, then flipped over, then completely mangled and just flattened.
This whole time Connor is on the phone asking his friend to check the weather because this sunniness looked deceptive (I do believe this young man has a bright future in Meteorology of some sort!). Apparently yes, there was some activity, but it seemed to be around us, possibly avoiding us altogether.
While trying to get closer to the center where all of the damage was, I got separated from Connor, so I finished taking my images and walked back to the booth.
Andy & I continued the cleanup and packing, and were feeling ok, when an event manager came by to announce that another storm was coming, with wind and hail. Large hail.
So I call my mom to ask her, and she's giving me a bad sounding report, Eva's got her report, as does Connor. So we start packing up, fast. Eva came over and started to help us again, and we got a lot of it put away. Then we heard screaming, and the hail started to come down - And they were *huge* balls of hail! I couldn't believe it - And the the wind was back, though not as high as earlier, but enough for us to go back to hang onto our tent. People were running everywhere trying to take cover again, and wait it out. Then, it was gone.
Closer to 6pm, it hailed again, but thanks to warnings (again) from staff and friends, we were ready for it. We keep packing, and were able to load our van after it was over. There were reports of overnight blustery-ness & heavy rain, and I did not want to leave anything there to risk damages.
As we were driving out, we saw news vans. No surprises there - People were injured, tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage - Perfect local news story.
Sure enough, we caught it on 3 channels that night, then again Sunday morning - Good or bad, it did bring people out to see the festival. Several people that came by to see us on Saturday even came back Sunday to make sure we were alright. We were very lucky with minimal losses and we really appreciate all the heartfelt goodness from the Evanston community - Thank You!