Friday, July 26, 2013

Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason

     There is such a thing as having too much fun.  The Renegade Craft Fair taught me that today.  If you’ve ever been to Patchwork (or you’ve read my article on it), you’ll have an idea of what Renegade is all about.  Pump Patchwork full of organic and environmentally-friendly steroids and throw in a chicken wearing sunglasses and you have Renegade.  So, if you like Patchwork, the American arts and craft scene, or fresh designs, you can’t miss Renegade.  But be warned.  Visiting this craft fair may lead to bankruptcy.
     According to Renegade’s website, it “is the first, largest, and most well respected event of its kind.”  The first fair took place in Chicago in 2003 and now appears in many cities: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and even London.  Renegade calls itself an “indie-craft marketplace” that hosts hundreds of vendors who make their own products and designs.  You can learn more about the event, dates, locations, and vendors by visiting Renegade’s website at www.renegadecraft.com.  While you’re on the site, don’t forget to add yourself to their mailing list, shop for Renegade merchandise, and check out photos of each event.  You can also follow Renegade on Facebook and Twitter.
     The great thing about Renegade is that the fun doesn’t end after you leave the craft fair.  That’s because Renegade has partnered with Square (also known as squareup), a really nifty company that’s made it easy and secure to purchase from small and independent vendors via credit card.  Vendors simply attach a device to their iPhone or iPad (as well as other Android devices) that allows them to swipe your card, and Square processes the transaction.  You sign with the iPhone or iPad, and you can have your receipt emailed to you or texted to your phone.  Once you enter your email or phone number, you don’t have to enter any information again if you use the same card in the future.  You simply confirm where you want your receipt to go, and it arrives in minutes.  It is, in a word, brilliant.  Hello convenience.  Goodbye, ATM hunting.
     But I digress.  Renegade has used their relationship with Square to give shoppers one online marketplace to find vendors they saw at an event.  Visit www.squareup.com/renegade to check it out.  Patchwork also features Square at its event, but you have to find your favorite vendors on their own websites or on Etsy.  While you're on Square's website, do some exploring.  You can shop other vendors outside of the Renegade family at www.squareup.com/market.  This may be exciting for the shopper who likes to browse and ponder a while before purchasing, but it can be plain dangerous for the indie-craft fanatic.  Still, it’s nice to know I don’t have to wait half a year to get my next craft fix.
     And Renegade occurs in a larger selection of cities than Patchwork.  I myself went to the San Francisco Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason.  It runs on July 27th and July 28th from 11 to 7.  But if you can’t make the July event, don’t worry.  Renegade returns with its winter market on December 21 and 22 at the Concourse Exhibition Center.  I suggest using public transportation to the event at Fort Mason because, if you don’t live in San Francisco, the drive to the show takes you through some hairy and congested tourist hot spots.  Fort Mason is about a thirty to forty-five minute walk from the Pier 41 ferry terminal, or you can BART and bus your way there.  However, if you love the challenge of the drive, there is parking available.  And there were plenty of open spots when I was at the show.
     So, what did I think of the event?  Well, “overwhelming” sums up my entire experience.  There were dozens of vendors, each of which had unique and ooh!-inspiring merchandise.  I had my pick of jewelry, clothing, art, bath soaps and makeups, candy, home d├ęcor, stickers, toys, knick knacks…you get the idea.  There wasn’t anything you couldn’t find there.  Not only was I able to find Christmas gifts for multiple people, I was also able to pick up a couple of mugs to add to my collection, some trendy stickers (a flying pug, for example), and some Snapea Crisps to keep up my energy.  The most unique item I saw was a bracelet made out of a book’s spine.  This is a show that definitely makes you believe in the awesomeness of human creativity.
     And the food options were as unique as the crafts.  I was able to sample and enjoy my first Chicken Shawarma as well as a rich potato knish.  You could purchase chocolates, baked pea crisps, vegetarian corn dogs, and gorgeous sandwiches from Lunchpad.  Plus, the location of the event allowed me to enjoy views of the Bay and the Golden Gate while I ate without having to endure the noise and crowding of other tourist locations.
     However, as much as I enjoyed myself, I still prefer Patchwork to Renegade.  And here’s why.  Patchwork is in a roomy building that has enough space for people to browse, socialize with friends, and buy without congestion getting in their way.  It seemed to me that Renegade, on the other hand, tried to fit too many vendors into one building.  The crowd inside the building was awful.  And it was made worse by the fact that the food vendors were inside the building as well, so you didn’t know if you were waiting in line to move down an aisle or if you were waiting in a line to order something to eat. There simply wasn’t enough room to get close to tables, spend a little time looking through merchandise, or move constructively from one end of the building to the other.
     Besides the space being too small for the number of vendors, there wasn’t a clear flow of traffic.  People moved forward and backward on both sides of the aisle, which created hopeless gridlock as everyone tried to decide how best to squeeze past one another.  It took me almost three hours to make a single pass by every vendor, and many of the vendors I just had to give a quick glance because I couldn’t muscle my way closer. I waited for about ten minutes to pay for an item from one vendor because I couldn’t get close enough to him to complete the transaction.
     And the shoppers at Renegade were hopelessly oblivious to manners, etiquette, or common sense.  Again and again, large groups of friends would stop in the middle of the aisle to chat about their weekend plans, their purchases, and any trivial thing they could think of.  Shoppers crowded in front of each other and pushed each other out of the way numerous times, even if a person had merchandise in hand.  And many shoppers would stop in the middle of the aisle to look at a vendor’s booth or change direction without warning and try to go the other way.
     I think if Renegade used more than one building for their event, reduced the amount of vendors to widen the aisles, created chat spots where people could pull off to the side to socialize, or marked the floor to create a flow of traffic, the experience would have been less stressful and more enjoyable. I felt like I missed vendors and merchandise because I simply couldn't see them.
     That being said, don’t let a little crowd phobia keep you from enjoying a very awesome craft fair.  If you want to find unique gifts for friends, unique jewelry and clothes for yourself, or just be impressed by what American crafters are creating, this is a must-see event.   Just make sure to go in with a budget…and a budget enforcer.

Where to begin?

The crowd...

A view of the venue

The unique structure of the booths was as fun to see as the merchandise.

The mugs I found.  A little scare with your coffee?

This was my favorite vendor and the creator of the adorable mugs pictured above.

Alameda Art and Wine Festival

     The Alameda Art and Wine Festival is one of the best festivals in the Bay Area.  I look forward to it every year, and it never lets me down. This year the festival took place on July 27th and 28th from 10am to 6pm. If you're thinking you're not an art or wine fan, don't worry.  Art and wine are just a fraction of the festival.  This event is a shopper's and foodie's paradise.
    You can find the best fair food here (teriyaki chicken bowls, BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, curly fries, kettle corn, funnel cakes, etc.), but you can also find unusual treats if you're wanting something new.  You can enjoy deep fried artichoke hearts or asparagus, for example, or a whole mango on a stick.  I usually get a teriyaki skewer with a big, juicy heap of chow mien. And I never pass up the opportunity to get garlic fries, even if I have to take them home.  If you don't want alcohol, you can get a big glass of homemade lemonade or a fruit smoothie.
     You can also find any merchandise your heart could desire: hats, scarves, clothes, jewelry, pet products, beauty products, knick knacks, pins, bags, wallets, belts, local art, wall hangings, bowls and cups, wind chimes, etc.  You can even buy Adirondacks, rocking chairs, fountains, hot tubs, and yard decorations.  Many of the products you see are handmade, most are local, and the vendors are friendly and proud of their products.
     Two vendors I want to highlight from my visit this year are Lix Perle and Salma's Treasures.  Lix Perle sells hand-knit scarves, and their small scarf is very chic and one of the most unique styles I've seen (see the picture below).  While I was making my selection, one of the vendors was sitting in a corner of the booth knitting while the other helped me try on the scarf and complete the transaction.  And the prices at Lix Perle are amazingly affordable.  The scarf I purchased was $18, and I've seen other knit scarves and even plain infinity scarves upwards of $90.
     Salma's Treasures is also very affordable.  I was drawn to the hand painted earrings on wooden discs.  You can choose between three sizes.  I prefer the medium size, which are only $15 a pair.  You can choose between trees, scenes from the Bay Area, Bay Area sports teams, and landscapes.  My favorites are the tree designs and the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate designs.  Each set of earrings is hand painted, so no one else is going to have the same earrings you have.  And I got to meet and chat with the artist herself.   You can find both Salma's Treasures and Lix Perle on Etsy.
     I mentioned these two vendors' affordability, but the same is true for all the vendors at the festival.  You can eat and shop without decimating your wallet.  And because the festival is outside, you don't get a feeling of claustrophobia when it gets crowded.  Park street also boasts some of the best businesses in Alameda. You can stop in at one of the shops and take a break from the sun and crowds any time you need. I highly recommend getting ice cream at Tucker's or renting or buying a video from Video Factory.
     One of the biggest positives of this festival is crowd control. The booths and food vendors are arranged in such as a way as to facilitate the movement of shoppers, and there is plenty of room to walk, socialize, or even sit and eat.  Even though there are carnival rides for children, they are located in areas that ensure other shoppers are not overwhelmed by hordes of screaming children. And shoppers are friendly, polite, and smart.  They don't disrupt the flow of traffic by stopping in the middle of the walkway to stare or chat.  They pull off to the side, and they apologize if they bump into you.
     Another bonus of this festival is that you can park in the large parking garage by the Alameda Theater for free (on Saturdays and Sundays).  If you arrive after noon, the garage might be full, but there's plenty of parking in the area.  Be sure to check the park behind the KFC.
     So if you hate crowds, hunting for parking, or are on a budget, but you love local products, delicious food, and shopping, then the Alameda Art and Wine Festival is the best event in the Bay Area to visit.  Check out the photos below to get a feel for the event, and please support your local artists and businesses.  They give you products that come with a story and a memory to cherish.





Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Legends of the Summer Tour at Candlestick Park

    Nothing can bring out the screaming, twelve-year-old girl inside like watching a concert in summer in the Bay Area...unless it's also a Justin Timberlake concert.  Tack on JAY Z just to sweeten the deal.  Hey, if you're going to dream big, as they say.  And voila, you have the Legends of Summer.  Possibly epic?  Hell yah.  I was definitely looking forward to seeing Justin Timberlake in concert again.
     However, my excitement was tempered by a few logistical details.  For one, the concert was held at Candlestick.  I know it's a crime to have lived in the Bay Area for years without ever visiting "The Stick," but I haven't heard good things about the park.  The 49-ers are even abandoning it, after all.  And Candlestick is way out in Bayview Heights.  That means a long drive through snarly city traffic or a long jaunt on public transportation (I, for example, would have to take the BART, three buses, and walk a couple miles to get there, and I live just across the water from the city).  Goody.  Plus, I found out the week of the concert that every event in the Bay Area that could possibly be happening on a Friday was happening the Friday of the concert: an A's game at the Oakland Coliseum, a Giants game at AT&T Park, a John Mayer concert...you get the idea.  Major Gridlock.  Yah, that's a capital G.
     After weighing the options, my sister and I decided it would be best to drive since we couldn't be sure how late the concert would run and didn't want to risk missing the last BART train and being trapped in San Francisco for the night...as exciting as that may sound.  So we knew we would have to leave hours early and face hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home.  But such is the price of glory.
     So we left the Alameda/Oakland area at 3:30pm to arrive at a concert scheduled to start at 7:30pm.  If you are going into or out of the city on a Friday, you have to avoid rush hour at any cost, or say goodbye to your entire evening.  Trust me on this.  Unfortunately, everyone had the same idea we did, so we sat in traffic for two hours anyway before reaching the stadium.  However, things went smoothly from there.  I didn't take the wrong exit, get lost in the maze outside the stadium, or maim my navigator.
     The good thing about arriving early is that I got front row parking.  There was a shop set up right outside the gates with official tour merchandise where fans could kill some time before the show.  Then we went through security at our leisure and, just inside the gates at one of the vendors, we grabbed the most delicious burrito I've ever had.  The wait in line for this blessed burrito knocked off another 30 to 45 minutes, and then we went into the stadium and found our seat. We were able to eat dinner, grab another drink, and go to the bathroom all before the show started.  It's worth noting that once we were inside the stadium, there were no lines for the bathroom (this NEVER happens in San Francisco) or the concessions.
     Now, a few things surprised me about Candlestick and this event.  First of all, Candlestick isn't as bad as I've been told.  Sure, it's a little aged.  The paint is faded, and there are stains on the concrete walls and floors. But if you've ever been to a Raiders game at the Oakland Coliseum, you'll know the difference between aged and just plain nasty.  Plus, the seats were very roomy.  This alone got a big plus from me.  Second of all, the staff was friendly.  I mean, genuinely friendly.  I'm used to cranky, impatient event staff that could care less if you enjoy yourself or if you take a flying leap off the top tier.  Even security was friendly...and patient.  They didn't rush me, even when I had a problem getting out my tickets while juggling my keys, sweater, purse, and phone.  After being shown to our seats, I was told by at least two workers I passed to enjoy the show.  What? At other events, staff look at passerby with disdain and you scuttle past them quickly.
     Most surprising of all, there were no screaming teenagers or rowdy drunks.  Granted, I first saw Justin Timberlake perform as part of 'NSYNC, so my expectations may be a little dated.  However, I still expected to see hordes of prepubescent anxiety tearing through the stadium.  Instead, everyone at the concert appeared to be mid-twenties or older, were respectable (even after a lot of beer), and though they knew how to get down (especially to their favorite JAY Z song), they were never rude or disruptive.  I was actually able to see, hear, and enjoy the performance.
     And the performance was nothing less than amazing.  The stage was phenomenal.  It was split into three squares, with the middle square fracturing inward toward the back of the stage.  While JT and JAY Z performed, the boxes presented themed displays of pictures and patterns.  For one song, a snake slithered along the edges of each box.  Another song was accompanied by images of water that splashed and burst to the music.  And the boxes on the edges of the stage held close-up cuts of JT and JAY Z as they performed.  Justin Timberlake and JAY Z performed well together (their voices and styles complemented one another), stepped into each other's songs smoothly, and gave great solo performances.  For the final song, we were asked to take out our cell phones and wave them at the stage.  The effect was amazing.  The stadium can hold up to 70,000 people, and it was nearly full.  All those cell phones made it look like the sky had dropped into our laps.  And the final song?  JAY Z's "Young Forever."  Too appropriate?.
     You might be wondering if there was anything negative about the experience, since I seem to gush with praise above.  But yes...oh yes. There are negatives.  First of all, parking cost $40.  And a bottle of soda cost $5.25!  I bought cheaper soda on the Vegas Strip, for God's sake.  And the merchandise was ridiculously overpriced.  A pair of cheap flip flops was $25 and t-shirts cost $40.  Plus, if you bought soda or beer at the concessions stand, you weren't given a lid.  Good luck walking down very steep stairs without spilling all over people and yourself.  I certainly failed.
     And the biggest negative of all?  Traffic leaving the stadium.  Granted, I knew it would be bad, and there were a ton of people to move out of San Francisco.  But after waiting for the lots to clear out, my sister and I still waited in traffic for two hours without getting more than ten miles from the stadium.  The concert ended around 11pm, and we didn't get home until 2am.  What was frustrating was that no one was directing traffic, at least that I could see.  The lot attendants and cops in the lot and on the roads around the stadium just watched people do whatever the hell they wanted to get out. Talk about near misses. When I finally did get out of the gates, I needed to turn left.  Something you can usually do.  But they had coned off that option and sent me back up along the stadium to a line of cars that never moved.  People then u-turned, as cops watched, on a road too small for such maneuvers to head back the way they needed to go in the first place.  At one point, a cop did step in and motion for the traffic to move forward, but that was the only active directing I witnessed.  Perhaps traffic around the stadium wouldn't be so bad if the city actually planned how to handle it and actively directed it to keep it manageable.
     However, the positives far outweighed the negatives.  This was the best entertainment event I've been to in the Bay Area so far.  I would definitely recommend seeing concerts and games at Candlestick to anyone interested.  Just be aware that traffic is going to be bad, and prices are going to be outrageous.  Here are a few tips to make your experience more enjoyable: take cash for parking, take blankets and sweaters for evening events because you'll freeze without them (even if it's sunny all day), and take snacks in case you want to save a little money or have a long wait before you get inside the stadium.  If you hate driving the freeway into San Francisco, don't plan on exploring the area around the stadium before your event.  It's a maze.  Better to get there and park so you don't have to worry.  Above all, remain calm and enjoy the adventure.  The traffic, the crowd, the waiting...this is the Bay Area.
     Below, I've attached photos from the concert.  Enjoy!

Bay view from Candlestick

The stage before the show

JAY Z

Justin Timberlake
 
People holding up their phones for the final song