“I was down here when it started, because I kind of knew when they were having the big parties down on Sixth Street,” says Shannon Sedwick, a longtime organizer of the Pecan Street Festival who’s now considered the “chair emeritus” of the Pecan Street Association. “But it was all … really haphazard at that time and not half as organized as it is right now. It was more like a block party.
“Back in 1977, when we came down to Sixth Street, there were some people that already lived there, in little places above the street, and I got to meet them – David Graeber and his wife Jean Graeber, and also Emma Lou Linn,” Sedwick continues. “The three of them and some people… had started this party, basically, where they would have people come in and sell their wares in little booths, and have a little music and have beer. And then they would – immediately afterward – they would clean it up themselves. And so that was the first Pecan Street Festival.”
More than forty years later, that party still happens at least once a year and usually twice (the upcoming fest is the 42nd annual spring fest, but also the 80th Pecan Street Festival overall). It’s grown and changed a lot over the decades, but its heart remains much the same – there are still vendors selling their wares, there’s still beer, and there’s still plenty of live music.
Lynn Raridon, the current chair of the Pecan Street Association, has been helping to organize the fest for the past few years, but was coming as a participant for years before that. “I always made it point to go at least once a year,” she says. “I moved to Austin in ’78, so I got here the year after it started. So yes, I’ve been coming a lot.
“We’ve always tried to present a cross section of all of the different types of art that’s out there,” Raridon says. “Whether it’s visual art, it’s music art…”
“Magic,” Sedwick adds.
“...magic. Edible art. You know, food. Austin’s such a foodie town now.”
Sedwick and Raridon take pride in offering a wide range of music styles at the festival; this spring, it’ll feature (among many other acts), Juarez-based psychedelic rock trio Malahierba, Rusty Dusty from down the road in San Marcos, and Austin’s own award-winning hip hop artist Mama Duke.
Though the festival’s been going on for decades, not everybody knows that it’s actually a fundraiser for the non-profit Pecan Street Association. “Our main goal behind presenting this festival is to raise funds for us to turn back around and donate to arts education programs in the community,” Raridon says.
Sedwick thinks the festival has gotten better with age. “It is [now] in its best incarnation, I feel like,” she says. “Because it’s got diversity of people, it’s got artists, it’s got a lot of people who are invested in Sixth Street but not only in Sixth Street. So we do our donations and our philanthropic things with the East Side, with just artists from everywhere.”