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Houston International Festival offers fun for all ages from all cultures

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trying it out for size- Some of the 20,000 visitors to the 44th annual Houston International Festival April 26 2014
trying it out for size- Some of the 20,000 visitors to the 44th annual Houston International Festival April 26 2014
Marc Pembroke
Sikd Dancers visit Eritrean Community booth at Houston International Festival April 26 2014
photo by Marc Pembroke

The 44th annual Houston International Festival officially opened on Friday April 25 with a ceremony at the Reflexion pool behind City Hall. The main events are on two weekends, April 26-27 and May 4-5. Vendors then began assembling their booths and displays, and HPD started the process of assembling the barriers and entry points for the 2-weekend spectacle. Five stages offer live entertainment. Performances too numerous to be listed here are posted on the Internet page and on posters near each stage. But there is plenty of offstage interactive entertainment at all times. The main stage is at the entrance of City Hall near the pool. Another stage is at the back entrance of City Hall on Bagby. The remaining stages are in Sam Houston Park. The children's world entrance is off McKinney near the City Hall Annex.

The Festival grounds include the about 4 blocks around City Hall, bounded by Smith Street on the north, Walker on the west, and Lamar on the east. Entry during festival hours is $18 per adult and 9 for child. For all food vendors, tickets are sold at booths throughout the festival grounds. There are also plenty of ATM machines for cash purchases for souvenirs, books and arts and crafts.

Vendors are grouped in “Markets” by geographic region, The Afro-Caribbean Market is near the McKinney Street entrance followed by the Asian, Middle Eastern and European Market. Crossing toward Walker, the local market is next to the Latin Market. Walking through the grounds, one might hear or see just about anything. I met Haydy Padron of Gardening Imports Talavera, specializing in garden pottery and decorations hand made from clay and hand painted with liquid glass. My Spanish is still a work in progress but I understood that most of the works are produced by Mr. Padron's family in Mexico. His wife is bilingual, and she graciously helped fill in the details. The family store is in booth 406 of the International Market Place at 239 Greens Road

A little further in the Latin Market and on the opposite side of the street, I heard a strangely familiar sound of recorder music. For those old enough to remember the Simon and Garfunkel albums of 1970, El Condor Pasa (If I could) was the original Peruvian source of the song. Members of the Andes Musical group Inka Wayra played several Peruvian pieces, including El Condor Pasa and Sounds of Silence.

A few steps further, leaving the Latin American section, I had a jovial encounter with author Andy Upchurch discussing his book “The Oleanders of San Leon” his amusing and inspirational autobiographical adventure of a sailor/musician who decided to buy land and build a house with no prior construction skills.

Beyond the markets, one might see a street dance performance, hear aboriginal music or see colorfully costumed artists from all over the world, a fitting tribute to the most culturally diverse city in the USA. Estimated attendance Saturday was 20,000. No figures were available for Sunday. Festival organizers hope to see a total attendance of more than 100,000 after next weekend.