SAINT JOHN – One of the most talked about events in Saint John last summer that drew thousands into the uptown core is returning August 25.
This time the Moonlight Bazaar will be even bigger with the event taking place on Canterbury Street, the signature moon once again hanging high overhead.
The inaugural event, which took place last summer, was the brainchild of Lauchlan Ough and Jody Kliffer after they visited a night market in an old Brooklyn warehouse back in November 2014.
They decided to organize a similar event in Saint John in an old parking lot off Grannan Lane, featuring vendors, performers and a giant moon hanging over the action. The first Moonlight Bazaar brought out around 3,000 people. Kliffer says they knew the event was going to be relatively successful, but it went beyond organizers’ expectations.
“Having done the farmer’s market in Queen’s Square for six years, I expected that kind of foot traffic with the number of vendors we had and with that concept for an event. But we smashed our expectations,” he says.
“It was a unique event in the context of what’s offered generally in Saint John. And because we were drawing attention to a space people hadn’t really explored, you’re playing with that human curiosity. ‘What is that space like? What is this event doing in that space?’ ”
Though the attendance was great, Kliffer says there was another crucial indicator of success.
“The most important thing is people left saying how much fun they had,” he says. “That to me is much more important than the number of people that go. By that measure, we call it successful.”
This year, instead of being held in the Grannan Lane parking lot, it will be moved to nearby Canterbury Street. Kliffer says the reason for the location change was partly due to the fact that the parking lot is now under development. But he says hosting the event on Canterbury Street will allow it to grow.
“We had talked about exploring a new location for it or expanding it in some kind of creative manner. So the fact that the parking lot was being developed almost forced that conversation to the front,” says Kliffer.
There’s something magical about holding events on public streets, says Kliffer. It transforms a place people prefer not to spend much time on into a gathering place.
“Streets are powerful. We always tuck ourselves away from streets. They’re dangerous. You don’t go there. There’s a lot of fear factor that’s built in our culture since automobiles have occupied them almost predominantly,” says Kliffer. “But for hundreds of years streets were for people. That’s built in our genes and the more things you do on a street, people want it.”
Like the previous Bazaar, this year’s event will feature its signature giant moon and will have different vendors for food, drinks and even fortune telling, though they haven’t done an official call-out yet.
“We’ll probably have more vendors, but we want to keep that mix of you can get food, you can get a drink and you can get your fortune told, but we’re going to search the community for some other types of vendors that might have something unique to offer that we think would bring that creative edge a little more to the surface as well,” says Kliffer. “We had performances last year, so we’ll be looking again for more performances this year.”
Many people in Saint John have the mindset that one major project or industry is going to “save” the city and transform the economy, and it’s only when this happens that arts and culture will thrive and the city will become vibrant. Kliffer says he hopes people leave this year’s Moonlight Bazaar realizing that’s not the case.
“You don’t need to wait for an economic boom, the silver bullet in the economy that’s going to be the Irving headquarters or a major project in the industrial parks and then we’ll have money and do cool things and we’ll all be middle class or whatever. That narrative is done,” says Kliffer.
“Now is the time for the resurgence of a city that once was vibrant and one of the most interesting cities in the country. We’re regaining that territory. We’re saying ‘this is our space’ and we don’t need any more than we already have to have a hell of a time.
“The takeaway message is that this city can do anything and everything that other cities that are famously cool and attractive [can do],” said Kliffer. “We can do that on at our scale and it can be meaningful to the people who live here. It doesn’t cost a lot.”
Kliffer also hopes the Moonlight Bazaar will also inspire others to create “weird” events of their own.
“What I hope and expect of this city is that 10 years from now, this is not the ‘weird event.’ This will be the ‘normal event’ and somebody else who is a young and creative person has the new ‘weird’ and keeps on pushing those boundaries,” he says.
“It probably won’t be me. It probably won’t be Laughlin, but I hope that it keeps on happening. And that anybody who’s got an idea to do an event, just do it. The worst you can do is fail and that just sounds like a regular day at the office to me’