The 23rd edition of Local Colors had to deal with on and off rain, not to mention relocation of the main stage from its usual amphitheatre location at Elmwood Park, but the several thousand or so who showed up last weekend seemed to thoroughly enjoy Roanoke’s award-winning celebration of diversity.
Local Colors has been mentioned in several magazines recently, as Executive Director Pearl Fu likes to point out, including Virginia Living and Garden & Gun. This year’s festival featured more than 100 countries, all of which represented ethnicities found here in the valley. Once again Fu told the story from the stage of the first Local Colors event, when just a handful of countries were represented in the Parade of Nations, on stage or at the vendor booths.
On the temporary stage, set up at the corner of Elm and Jefferson, there were singers, dancers, a fashion show organized by the local Fashionista group featuring clothing from a handful of countries; the Southwest Virginia Ballet performed at Local Colors for the first time and an 18-member delegation from Wonju, South Korea (one of Roanoke’s sister cities) drummed and danced. Performers from Opera Roanoke belted out Italian arias on stage in honor of the festival’s featured country, Italy.
On Jefferson Street in front of the library there were food vendors hawking “exotic” fare from countries all over the world. At the end of the day Fu said a few words to the crowd, then encouraged people to join songwriter Berg Martin and a volunteer chorus on stage for several closing numbers, including It’s a Small World and Martin’s own composition written for Local Colors, Rainbow.
Fu, who spoke to the crowd while seated – a concession to her ongoing bout with Parkinson’s disease, was pleased with the turnout despite the iffy springtime weather. “Miraculously it was bright sunshine until the [late] afternoon,” said Fu, “and people stayed on. They were glued to the stage. I was very touched.” Fu, also known as Roanoke’s Goodwill Ambassador (everyone knows Pearl Fu of course) joked that people “from all the different cultures [and] religions were praying [for no rain]. That really helped.”
The smaller stage was a “challenge” said Fu but everything went off smoothly for the most part, although most spectators had to stand in front of the portable amphitheatre, rather than sit in a portable chair. Fu said she has been promised “a beautiful stage” when Local Colors returns as planned to the lower section of Elmwood Park next spring. Between now and then Fu and her small staff will appear at community outreach events promoting cultural diversity and offering assistance to recent immigrants at the same time as well as planning for Local Colors 2014.
“We like to show we can work under difficult circumstances,” said Fu about the 2013 edition of Local Colors, “we wanted to show that we could persevere. With hard work and dedication we can do anything.” That includes the latest edition of the Local Colors festival, now well into its third decade.
By Gene Marrano