Major changes are in store for Athens’ big uptown Halloween block party this year (set for Saturday, Oct. 26), including starting the festivities far earlier in the day in a “beer garden” area, and ending the live entertainment on the standard two stages an hour earlier that night.
Athens resident Brandon Thompson, lead organizer for the Halloween block party planning, said that the city of Athens hired him this year to formally organize the event. Thompson also directs Ohio Brew Week, an annual celebration in July.
In the biggest change to the Halloween bash, the city is planning to kick off festivities – in a family-friendly manner – at 1 p.m. in the block of West Union Street between Court and Congress streets, where a stage will be set up in front of Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery, Thompson explained Tuesday.
From 1-6 p.m., a variety of family-friendly events will be held on that block, roughly the same area where the Athens Community Arts & Music Festival was held in August. While the programming is still being worked out, Thompson said potential events could be a “kiddy dance party” that he plans to DJ (he’s also known as DJ B-Funk), a “scary story time,” pumpkin carving, and some live music acts (though bands will be playing there later in the evening, too). Beer sales will also start at 1 p.m. in that area, making it a kind of festival atmosphere, Thompson said, and will continue until 11 p.m.
After the usual crowd-pleasing Honey for the Heart giant puppet parade
at 6 p.m., the usual street takeover of college students and others will take place on Court Street, Thompson said.
Music will start at the usual stage located in front of Courtside Pizza on North Court Street after the parade, as well as continuing on the aforementioned stage on West Union Street. In the past, that stage had typically been located at the intersection of North Court and West Union streets. The main difference between this year and last year in terms of music, Thompson said, is that the musical acts on both stages will end at 11 p.m., rather than midnight.
While some concerns might arise about police ending the festivities early this year, Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said Tuesday that the police have no plans to immediately clear the streets once the bands are done.
“We are hoping it (people leaving uptown Athens) happens organically,” Pyle said. “We haven’t really been trying to ‘clear’ the streets for the last few years. Street opening is really a question of clean-up.”
In the past, the city of Athens has seldom sanctioned the Halloween event, which started as a spontaneous, unlawful takeover of Court Street in 1974. This year represents a significant departure from practices in recent years.
Thompson noted that previously Halloween was organized by a volunteer-only group, called the Clean and Safe Halloween Planning Committee. Now, the city is taking on the costs of planning the event, with the hope that the beer sales on West Union Street will help pay for some of those costs, Thompson said.
Thompson said he’s still looking for people who are interested in bringing events and activities to the West Union Street area between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., and even earlier in the day as well. He noted that Court Street will close around 10 a.m. on the day of the festivities, and said he’s looking for anyone who might want to bring fundraisers or other events to that area in order to bring more people uptown earlier in the day.
He added that he hopes the changes to Halloween this year will help bring more customers to the various retail and food and drink businesses in uptown Athens.
Thompson said it’s “important for people to come out and support these events” if they believe these changes are the right direction for the city to take with regard to Athens Halloween festivities, which has seen dwindling attendance in recent years.
Finally, Thompson noted that two new events are in the works this year, one planned for the day before the block party, on Friday, Oct. 25. He said that event will be a Halloween-themed musical showcase on the top two floors of the Athens Parking Garage, from 6 p.m. to midnight, with beer and food vendors.
Additionally, he said he’s trying to organize a “pumpkin chucking” event at the Athens County Fairgrounds on the weekend after Halloween (starting Nov. 1) in order for people to get rid of their old pumpkins.