Think of it as an open house with more than one location. Or maybe a block-after-block party.
Or an entertainment-packed afternoon and evening.
The 2nd annual New Brunswick HEART Festival, on Saturday, August 14, from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m., is all of that and more. And it is FREE and family-friendly.
Co-presented by State Theatre of New Jersey, New Brunswick Cultural Center, NBPAC, and Above Art Studios, the HEART Festival celebrates the wide range of arts and history that New Brunswick and the Middlesex County area have to offer.
When I was looking to learn about the festival, I reached out to Bert Baron, Public Information Officer for the City of New Brunswick (and New Jersey Broadcasters Association Hall of Famer) for an overview of the event.
Baron said last year’s inaugural HEART Festival came about when Kelly Blithe, Director of Communications and Community Involvement for State Theatre New Jersey, and Dontae Muse of Above Art Studios almost concurrently came up with the idea of an arts festival in New Brunswick. But in February 2020, with weeks of planning and discussion already underway, the organizers were facing pandemic restrictions and decided to switch gears and produce a strictly virtual event.
“Even though it was virtual, we saw it as an opportunity to showcase the arts in the city and County of Middlesex,” said Baron. “The benefits of a strong arts and culture community are widespread, and we thought it was important – even without the in-person element – to keep that idea top-of-mind.”
Blithe couldn’t agree more. “Last February, we had gotten together this big group, over 40 different partners,” Blithe said, “but with everything that was happening, we had to figure out a way to be safe and still get the content out there.”
“Last year was a learning experience;” she continued, “a jumping-off point from which to move forward and grow the festival.”
And oh, how they are moving and growing.
The 2021 festival will be a hybrid in that it blends live and live-streaming events in a format that provides almost limitless options. And everyone in the core group of planners - Blithe, Tracey O’Reggio Clark and Sarah Ferreira from New Brunswick Cultural Center and the Arts Institute of Middlesex County, and Dontae Muse from Above Art Studios - is thrilled by the wide array of experiences they can offer.
“We are so happy to provide attendees with the choice to enjoy this year’s festival live and in-person or watch the live stream on YouTube,” said O’Reggio, “and I thank my colleague Sarah Ferreira for embracing and implementing the technology needed to bring the stream to audiences.”
The line-up for the main stage and on-the-street performances, starting at 4:00 p.m., is outstanding – everything from tap dancer Omar Edwards, who kicks off the festival (and is, I am told, a must-see), to local Latin band Sonido Latino; from the New Brunswick Brass Band to Hearts of Oak Youth Pipes and Drums; from a salsa dance class party (bring your partner or do it solo) with Elvis Ruiz to an English/Spanish children’s show by The Bilingual Birdies Trio; as well as guitarist Dennis McDonough, jazz violinist Bri Blvck, and opera singer Sonya Headlam.
In the “interesting other activity” category, Above Art Studios will host a Live Art Battle with seven contestants, three timed rounds, and a common theme for each participant to create around. This unique competition will be happening on-site at the studio and streaming on the studio’s Instagram from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
And for the folks who aren’t ready to call it a night at 9:00 p.m., the party will continue with “Ignite the Night” - three DJs spinning heart-themed sets at three New Brunswick eateries: RunTheFade at Roosterspin, New Brunswick Vinyl Society at Ani Ramen, and Flygerian at Delta’s.
Speaking of dining out, both O’Reggio Clark and Blithe made a point of noting the important contributions by the festival’s culinary partners, including Ani Ramen, Christopher’s in the Heldrich Hotel, Costa Chica, Delta’s, Harvest Moon Brewery/Cafe, Louie Pizza City, Mozzarella Kitchen, Roosterspin, Tavern on George, and others, adding that most will feature a specialty menu, also on a heart theme.
In case you think the festival is just food and music, let me assure you that other New Brunswick institutions will be showing off their goods as well. There will be tours at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center and hard-hats tours of State Theatre New Jersey to get a sneak peek at the renovations underway in preparation for their 100th-anniversary fall reopening. There will be a showing of steamroller art (!) by the American Hungarian Foundation, ticket giveaways at George Street Playhouse and American Repertory Ballet, an activity tent hosted by Garden of Healing, yoga with Sisterwork, button-making at the library, and Japanese black ink painting with the Highland Park Arts Commission, and, yes, more.
While this extensive list may make your head spin, it clearly projects the message about the diversity of the area and the collaborative efforts that went into making this event a reality.
“We’re at the crossroads of New Jersey, where the Parkway and Turnpike merge,” said Baron. “We have a little bit of everything – history, Rutgers, even a little oceanfront.”
“And having arts and culture makes it a better place for everyone.”
NEW BRUNSWICK HEART FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
4 p.m.-5 p.m. performances on the main outdoor stage
Tap Dancer Omar Edwards
New Brunswick Brass Band
5 p.m.-6 p.m. performances on the main outdoor stage/Monument Square/roaming performances
New Brunswick Vinyl Society and Silent Knight
Hearts of Oak Youth Fife & Drums
6 p.m.-7 p.m. performance and fance class on the main outdoor stage and on the street
The Bilingual Birdies Trio
Salsa Dance Class Party with Elvis Ruiz
7 p.m.-9 p.m. live art battle at Above Art Studios
Above Art Studios, 55B Morris St – 7 contestants, 3 timed rounds, and 1 prize winner.
9 p.m. Ignite the Night! Live DJs at Restaurants Across New Brunswick
RunTheFade at Roosterspin (120 Albany St)
New Brunswick Vinyl Society at Ani Ramen (37 Easton Ave)
Flygerian at Delta's (19 Dennis St)
Visit NewBrunswickArts.org for more information.