At the risk of diminishing the hard work of many volunteers, not to mention the well-deserving beneficiaries, Lambertville’s Shad Fest was, for many years, a natural excuse to day-drink on a beautiful early-spring afternoon.
If we entered the day with at least a basic plan in place, we usually managed to snatch a prime table somewhere along the patio at Lambertville Station. It was close enough to all the action that we felt a part of it, even though we never moved from our seats outside of bathroom breaks. But it was enough to be outside, under a warm sun, after a long winter, watching masses of people amble by.
On the occasions when we were literally left on the outside looking in—the patio seats go early at Lambertville Station—the Inn of the Hawke, on the southernmost corner of Main Street, was our Plan B. That was only because it was a couple of blocks removed from the festival, though. Once we were there, it seemed like we were right in the heart of it.
Try sitting around the Hawke’s rectangular bar on a crowded Lambertville Shad Fest afternoon and not making friends with everyone within shouting distance.
They’re hardly the only bars in town, but for as many Shad Fests as I can remember, they were our bars. Until last year. Last year was a decidedly different Shad Fest. Last year, I became the guy I loved to criticize from my prime patio seat: I was the dad pushing the stroller the size of a Fiat.
And just like that, we were a part of the masses, shuffling from booth to booth along Main Street, plotting our afternoon around the next concert.
Our son was still too young to want to have his face painted or to be interested in the demonstrations down on Lewis Island that explained the nature of the very work that made shad in the Delaware River Towns a thing worth celebrating.
He’s big into drawing now, so he’s probably going to want to check out the poster exhibition at the First Presbyterian Church (31 North Union Street) and the stuff at the student art auction at the justice center (25 South Union Street) at this year’s Shad Fest (April 27 and 28, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.). But last year was more about letting him nap in his stroller so that we could walk around for a while and squeeze in a fast lunch at the food court.
We saw a different side of the Lambertville Shad Fest, for sure. We saw lots of others like us and even more kids sprinting between us. It came to me later on, when I was considering if a sober Shad Fest is as fun as a boozy Shad Fest (it is), that Shad Fest is many things to many people.
What it’s always been, though, whether everyone’s realized it or not, is the essence of the Lambertville community. Last year, two students were each awarded $10,000 through the Jim Hamilton Shad Fest Scholarship. Since 1981, that scholarship’s awarded a half-million dollars to Lambertville kids.