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Monday, May 17, 2010

"A Soup-er Time in Shelton!"

“A Soup-er Time in Shelton!”
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Shelton, CT – Shelton waterfront. Brilliant sun. Blue blue sky. Tasty tunes. Soup. These were just a few of the ingredients in the bubbling Soupstock Arts & Music Festival, a benefit for the Mary A. Schmecker Turtle Shell Fund, held Sunday May 16th.

As the lead singer of Chicago-like brass band Old School switched glasses to dark shades for a rendition of “Soul Man”, Libby Meissner caught some rays at the corner of the soup tent.

“Looks like you’ve found the perfect angle and sun trajectory,” I commented.

“Perfect day,” she replied.

It was appropriate that Libby was one of nine soup makers here, given her name and its relation to the commercial soup maker of the same name.

As she was summoned to fire up the Sterno pots under her soup vats, I stood by watching her ladle hefty scoops of her secret recipe batch of black bean and chorizo soup.

“That looks like a hot tub of soup. I want to dive right in there!” I said.

She made an “ugh” face, not sure if she agreed, but nonetheless amused.

The crew at the entry to the grounds, a lovely flat, grassy green call The Slab alongside the Housatonic River, was also bubbling with excitement. They were selling t-shirts and hosting a half-mile walk at 10, 12 and 2pm, for which 32 sponsors had signed on to lend support. Funds raised benefit the Ansonia Boys and Girls Club. The benefit to supporters: free admission to the soup tent.

The den mother of the group, “Sooz” DeLeon, wearing a bright blue “Get Your Walk On” t-shirt, said, “We appreciate the walkers participating and all our sponsors. And look at the sun!”

The soup makers were all set to go so I went back and down the line, starting of course with suntanned, pink tank top-wearing Libby.

“You tried the rest, now try the best,” the “soupierre” said spooning out a small plastic cup of goodness to an eager taster. Libby was no rainy day soup aficionado – the soup is a staple on the menu at Crave, the restaurant she owns in Ansonia.

Backpedaling to the first soup station, I continued my tasting tour, hitting lentil with cilantro; lamb stew and turkey chili courtesy of Fairfield’s Chef’s Table; Italiano Tomato Garden soup from Alexis Goulas; a privately submitted BLT soup; Michele Tanner’s turkey chili; and a cream of mushroom.

The tastes blended in my mouth like mountain streams surging into one, my tongue becoming a raft afloat on a sea of soup. At the same time, I felt like I was at a wine tasting and joked about admiring its bouquet.

A soup server picked up on this and said, “ Let it breathe!”

I picked up with John Listro and Frank Gaudiano’s butternut squash concoction, which they had cooked up in association with the CT Burns Care Foundation of Milford. Last but not least: Ingrid Cerone and Dawn Cantafio’s gluten-free triple corn chowder.

With warm insides, I stepped from the soup tent re-entering the sunshine and a now Woodstock-like atmosphere that had evolved. Kids in 70s style outfits hula hooped, kites and balloons hovered in the air, wooden cutouts of tulips and daisies provided d├ęcor.

“If you found a baby bird, bring it back to the Kids Tent. The momma sandpiper is screaming her head off,” said an announcer mounting the stage. It was Brian Smith, formerly of WICC and WPLR radio stations and “now living on the streets” as he joked. He introduced Hubinger St., a band led by a cool cat wearing a paper king’s crown. The latter was a craftwork fabricated in the aforementioned Kids Tent.

The smell of sun tan lotion lazily rode a cool breeze as folks spontaneously danced and wiggled in place.

“My mom works for the Boys Club,” said one bystander Flip Video recording the hula hoopers. “I’ve never seen such talent,” said Alison Miner, 23, standing with friend Megan Bromley, also 23. Technically the two were Valley Girls, but reluctant to admit that.

Like Wavy Gravy, along came Ted Olenski from Ansonia, playing his Fest part in a black fedora, gray flowing locks and beard and black t-shirt with an imprint of the Muppet, Animal. He was strolling about with wife Brenda and their friends Lisa from Derby and Nancy from Ansonia. We decided we’d snap a pic with Ted’s truck, which he calls a “Chevy Hybrid” as it had started life as a four-door 1940 Chevy sedan that he morphed into a pickup. A pale green, the vehicle featured an old steamer trunk in the cargo area, which was lined with a checkerboard-like insert.

“I do a lot of crazy metal work. I’ve got another car that goes in water,” Ted said. This truck was certainly unique among the 25 classic cars on display on a grassy flat adjacent to the massive Inline Plastics Corp. factory building facing the Fest site.

Luis, 9, and mom Maria Lopez, 35, from Shelton were checking out the cars, too. Maria’s two other children are members of the Boys and Girls Club, Shelton chapter. Maria was enjoying “tasting soup and food and having fun with my son.”

Lining one side of the Fest grounds were about a dozen arts and crafts vendors, near the car display area. Poking through these tents was a happy trio – Andrew, 22; Andrew’s girlfriend Allyson, 22, five months pregnant with Maleki on board enjoying a “womb with a view”; and Allyson’s best friend Alicia, 22, from Shelton. Alicia was the driving force in their being here: “I called them up. There are some real cool bands and cool stuff.”

Among the “cool stuff” were glass and stone creations by Heidrun Morgan, the middle-aged proprietor. About how she was inspired to pursue this craft, “I went to Vienna, got interested in glass mosaics, decided I wanted to do it as a hobby and it became a business. I love the feel and color of glass and to do jigsaw puzzles, which many of my works are like.” The thick-accented woman from Wiesbaden, Germany was excited by the crowd and fun here.

I walked the line, in and out of the nearest tents showing fine-crafted jewelry and glass mobiles. The mobiles, in particular, caught my eye, on display from Jennifer Harkey, out of Seymour.

“The whole idea of turning something as simple as a bottle into art is cool. And because it’s a form of recycling, people embrace it even more,” Harkey noted.

Right next door, black-haired Stephania, 25, was relaxing at the back of her family’s booth. It displayed handcrafted dream catchers and beadwork, an illustration of the work of her tribe, the Colville Indians based in Tacoma, WA. “I’m actually half Colville. Norwegian, Irish and Czechoslovakian is my other half. My dad’s a mutt! My mom Wanda is 100% Colville.” Stephania lives in Ansonia while her mom’s in Stratford. The ladies and Wanda’s youngest daughter Christine all participate in the craft making.

Stephania selected for me a beautiful red-tinged dream catcher with feathers, which I planned to hang from my car’s rear view mirror, “to guide your travels,” she offered.

Visiting a glass beadwork booth were Robby Hermanns, 21, and girlfriend Sarah Russell, 20, from Bridgeport. When asked how they’d heard about the Fest, Robby explained, “I think I got a Facebook invite, told Sarah about it and we decided to come up. I love live music. They’re throwing down!”

Mike Wood from Shelton, sporting Chuck Taylor Converse high-top sneakers, was camped out next to a stack of a book he wrote titled “Alchemy”, self-published through Amazon. We connected as writers and shared our mutual frustrations and challenges. I was amused by a photo on the back cover of the book of him sitting in a sports chair at a typewriter-bedecked desk, knee-deep in the ocean at a spot off the Milford, CT shore.

As writers need to support writers, I bought a book inside which Mike inscribed “Chase Your Dreams”, apropos as I’d just purchased a dream catcher!

Slovakian Nicole Feltovic, 38, shared the booth. Primarily an artist that works in acrylic and oil, she is also an “Intuitive” aka Psychic, using a charm-based method and Tarot cards for personal readings. I just had to experience this and, after 15 minutes, came away with some interesting insights and even a few confirmations about the direction in which my wacky, restless life was headed.

The Shelton-based artist/intuitive was wearing an unusual, smooth sunstone pendant about which she said, “I wanted to bring in some light to the Fest… and my life in general.” To memorialize our meeting, I bought an 11x14 print of “The Empress”, rich in colors, tones and imagery that focused on Mother Earth as the giver of life.

“Helter Skelter” boomed from the main stage as I dribbled back onto the bib that was the Fest footprint. Pods of people were sprawled on blankets, playing hacky sack, flipping Frisbees, grooving in place and trying to affect a hippie look though many were children of the 90’s.

Many others still were enjoying the food and beverage offerings provided by purveyors like Liquid Lunch serving up cold beverages and hamburgers, Giggles’ kettlecorn and Mamoun’s falafel.

Hula hooping with abandon in the center of it all was Jessie Patrick, 24, from Shelton. She summed up her reasons for being here: “Beautiful day, live music, supporting the Boys and Girls Club. I love Hubinger St. and now Tim Palmieri [of the band Beatles A-Z, who was playing the Beatles tunes].”

Also standing out in the crowd was Starfire, “Queen of the Hop”, a senior citizen shimmying in front of the music stage. Dressed in saddle shoes, bobby socks, a red plaid school skirt and black vest, she tossed her black locks about, a woman fighting time and the elements.

At an ice cream truck on the outskirts were Sofia, 7, and mom Debbie Respeto, 42, recent transplants from Milford to Shelton. “Sofia saw the Fest and dragged me down here,” said Debbie. “We’re loving the face painting, arts and crafts, and Sno-Cones. I jog here at the park,” said the Puerto Rican, Italian, Irish divorcee.

Elsewhere, Tom Hoffman, 25, from Shelton, and pal Reed Padin, 31, summed up the experience as, “Great times, great people.” These most righteous dudes helped me to a cool refreshing Guinness from a cooler they had toted on site.

Bouncing along to the music near the stage enjoying the final moments of the Fest were Haley Ryan, 24, sister Lizzy Ryan, 25, and Lizzy’s daughter Grace, 10 months, all from Springfield, MA. “Grace loves this band The Alternate Routes,” said Lizzy. Added her sis, “We first saw them when Liz was pregnant. We looked on the band’s website to see where they were touring, saw that they were here and decided to come down.”

Sandy Purcell, 37, and daughter Chelsea, 14, from Shelton, were doing hula hoop aerobics. Chelsea, in fact, was trying the activity out for the first time and doing quite well. “It’s pretty cool… fun… I want to buy one of these,” Chelsea remarked. “She needs positive extracurricular stimulation,” said Sandy, spoken like a true mom.

From the hula area, I was recruited by Stamford resident Aaron, 26, to shoot a Frisbee around while his Ecuadorian girlfriend, Veronica, 30, of Greenwich, joined the hula hoop group. “I heard about the event through a friend who was going to work here and on Facebook. I figured it would be a good opp to hoop. This is my first hoop fest. I’m actually the lead in a group of hula / go-go dancers. My stage name is Veronica Vixen and my partner’s name is Dollie Danger. We team up with Aaron’s band the North Shore Troubadours. He goes by the name Aaron Garoovy!”

This was a fun bit of trivia to learn as the Fest was nearing an end. In contrast, the fish were just starting to bite as two fishermen seated in a two-man skiff lazily drifted past on the Housatonic, headed down river. As they passed, a line jerked to. “Fish on!”

A lucky wonderful day for us Fest attendees. Not so lucky for the sea bass that just found itself hooked!