The Alive After Five committee chairman will be getting some additional help for this summer’s installments of Long Island’s best-known series of street festivals.
James Skidmore, the GM at Toast Coffeehouse, has recruited Jacqueline Routh, a local writer, musician and regional marketing coordinator for Fridays, as a special assistant for 2017 and moving forward.
“It’s an honor; it’s a privilege to be so directly involved in Alive After Five” said Routh, 25, of Patchogue. “This is a shining example of the progress we’re making as a community and showcases the things we value and care about.”
When Skidmore, 50, took over as chairman of the Alive After Five planning committee in 2014, he sought to use the popular Patchogue street festival to effect social change, he often says.
He introduced two themes, one celebrating women in the arts and the other celebrating cultural diversity.
The festivals have since carried other themes, such as a salute to our military (as part of that event in 2016, the soldiers at the U.S. Army Recruiting Office helped put on a huge show).
Skidmore also rebranded AA5 using subway symbols for a more urban feel, and had a new website built.
“My goal was to really make this more of a regional event,” he said. “I wanted more attendance, but I also wanted the event to reflect more truly with what’s going on in the community. That meant more live performances, and that whole artist area on West Main was part of the big plan.”
The festivals, which are run by the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, once again shattered attendance records this past summer.
July of 2016’s second installment attracted an estimated 25,000 people to downtown Patchogue, surpassing a 2015 surprise turnout of 21,000 by nearly 20 percent.
Prior to 2015, the highest-attended Alive After Five clocked in at around 10,000.
This year, to better deal with inconveniences to local residents, chamber and village leaders will be huddling to craft a new plan to better handle traffic and parked cars. That could mean cordoning off some areas of the village to bus in attendees, something that was suggested at a Village Board meeting Monday night in Village Hall.
The Village Board approved four dates for 2017: July 6, July 20, Aug. 3, and Aug 17.
Despite the parking and traffic issues, unruliness is not typically a part of Alive After Five festivals — with a few exceptions. The four festivals are held on Thursday evenings each year downtown.
Skidmore said he believes the themes do help set a peaceful tone at Alive After Five, which features artists, musical performances up and down the road, craft vendors and food trucks.
“The arts, the themes, do all set the tone, and that’s a reflection of the community,” Skidmore said.
He said adding an assistant will help him better plan and manage the ever-growing festivals, as well as free up some of his time up to focus on his duties as the chamber’s newly elected president.
Skidmore also believes having a younger person involved — Routh will also be representing the Community (formerly Millennial) Think Tank — will help add a valuable perspective.
As for some of her ideas, Routh said she would like to see the music offerings diversified, perhaps by adding another stage for the festivals.
“We’re watching the music and arts community grow and evolve right here in our backyard,” she said. “It’s time to involve this new collective voice.”
She added there might be opportunities to introduce more sustainable approaches to handling trash during the festivals.
Above all, she wants to help keep the momentum going.
“This has been handled with such care,” from branding to execution, she said.
Skidmore said he chose Routh because they’re both on the same page when it comes to the philosophical approach and long-term vision for the festival.
“Inclusive. Inclusive. Inclusive,” he said. “The more people who become part of the event, the more they participate and take ownership of it.
“And that’s really the most magical, important element to the whole thing.”
Photo: Jacqueline Routh and James Skidmore on East Main Street in Patchogue earlier this month. (Credit: Benny Migliorino/Benny Migs Photo)