Monday, October 03, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression.

AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression. 

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Idly cruising Twitter one recent evening, I happened upon a jarring retweet dispensed from a regional “craft” brewery’s official account.

It was nasty and misogynistic attack on the plaintiff in a biracial rape case, and judging from the hashtags, it may originally have emanated from supporters of the once and future Klansman, David Duke. Sadly, both Indiana and Kentucky have been traditional bastions of hooded white supremacy.

This dubious retweet was deleted so rapidly that I wasn’t able to snap a screenshot, and for this I’m oddly thankful, although my comforting rationale for its hasty removal – hey, someone probably confused his or her personal account with the brewery handle – isn’t tremendously reassuring upon closer examination.

Since the dawn of the brewing revolution, it has been my operating assumption that most of us are leftists. In the 90s, I simply can’t recall meeting very many fascists in the business.

However, as someone told me back in kindergarten, never assume; you make an ass out of "u" and me. Probably my sampling was always too small, and in terms of demographics, it’s unlikely that "craft" beer would be any different in attitudinal composition than the nation as a whole.

And yet it strikes me that positing a split between Democrats and Republicans (or liberals versus conservatives) in "craft" brewing circles is one thing, and retweeting the likes of David Duke is something else entirely.

Aberrant? Abhorrent? As the shoe or mash paddle fits.

It’s hard imagining me as a cockeyed optimist, but I genuinely believed that what we were doing in elevating better beer was ultimately inclusive – in ideal terms, if not in socio-economic reality. After all, there’s a market for dollar beers utterly removed from our reach.

Sexism, racism, abject macho stupidity -- tell me, how is this strengthening the revolution’s gains?

Or is it that you’re ignorant of the revolution’s tenets … and by extension, certain key elements of the American historical record? Given the comic-opera presidential campaign, perhaps 2016 was destined to be the year when the last bits of innocence went swirling down gold-plated toilets.

There isn’t much one grizzled veteran of the beer wars can do to protest in a case like this, though one response is crystal clear to me: I buy far less beer than before, and giving me a reason not to buy yours makes my choice -- nay, my life -- much easier.

How very disappointing.


Closer to home, New Albany’s peculiar institution of Harvest Homecoming approaches.

This year, the Curmudgeons are taking a rational route out of the ensuing discordancy – specifically, I-65, which gets us started on the northward journey to Madison, Wisconsin and four classic days removed from the civic daze.

Properly rendered, community festivals are just the sort of exercise to promote good times, unite the citizenry, help us bond through joy and alcohol (on second thought, that’s a redundancy), and maybe provide another yearly excuse to conduct a spate of deep street cleaning – preferably, both before and after the crowds come through.

Unfortunately, when it comes to celebrations, New Albany prefers ponderous bludgeoning over subtle stilettos. In rhetorical terms, so do I, and yet my feelings about Harvest Homecoming probably are more nuanced than they often appear to be.

I like it, except when I don’t.

Harvest Homecoming is New Albany’s annual 800-lb municipal gorilla, or stated more mildly, it is the granddaddy of all festivals in this slowly recovering, stubbornly hidebound city.

The annual arrival of the itinerant carney corps follows the opening Saturday parade, an increasingly dull “family-oriented” exercise, and then on the following Thursday the heart of the historic downtown business district is handed over lock, stock and sewer pipe to Harvest Homecoming’s mysterious, Kremlinesque governing committee.

Four solid days of throng-crowded booths ensue, increasingly manned not by local indies but roving huckster mercenaries, dispensing foodstuffs, arts, crafts, politics and anti-abortion counseling, and completely disrupting any semblance of downtown commerce as meant to function normally.

Increasingly, this yearly disruption constitutes the flash point. For decades, there was little objection to Harvest Homecoming’s yearly invasion and occupation of downtown, because downtown was a ghost town.

Now it isn’t, and dynamic revitalization has a predictable way of igniting a revolution of rising expectations among a new generation of downtown business owners, investors and clients.

These are plain facts.

However, as yet, there is no obvious solution to dynamism’s clash with conservatism, primarily because the low level of daily communication between various interested parties makes sparse dialogue between North and South Korea look like a beer hall sing-along in Munich.

Yes, there have been painstakingly slow and incremental concessions, and as Harvest Homecoming generationally reloads, the festival slowly is going through a necessary process of reinvention.

May it proceed a bit faster, please.

But from the standpoint of newer downtown businesses, the root equation remains largely unaltered: Harvest Homecoming’s longtime business model is dependent on the existence of a clean, moribund downtown grid that no longer exists, and if anything, will grow even less adaptive to the festival’s needs in the years to come as downtown residency become the norm, not the exception.

My personal nuances are these: I don’t dislike the idea of Harvest Homecoming, only its current implementation. I believe it can be adapted to take full advantage of potential symmetry between it and an evolving downtown business district, without sacrificing its tradition, and to the benefit of all parties involved. I envision a downtown food and drink court on the current booth grid, one maximizing the uniqueness of our burgeoning dining scene, retaining space for booths while not blocking year-long purveyors. I foresee a celebration of what downtown New Albany is, and is becoming.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one stupid enough to dream aloud. For this, I'm sure to be punished.


(Go here to learn about a wonderful new initiative on Friday, October 7 called the Harvest Beer Hop)


September 26: AFTER THE FIRE: The seasonality of Oktoberfest in time, beer and year.

September 19: AFTER THE FIRE: This week in solipsistic beer narcissism (2014).

September 12: AFTER THE FIRE: England, or one man's heightened cholesterol panic is another man's nostalgic repast (2013).

September 5: AFTER THE FIRE: Beer stories and bedtime for gonzo (2013).


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