Central’s ‘good day’ has return of Together festival, World’s Fair-style concert, cultural designation

By Marc Levy Cambridge Day

In addition to being the day Central Square became a state-designated cultural district, Friday brought news that the Together electronic music and technology festival is returning to Cambridge in May and, with it, what is essentially a revival of the outdoor Central Square World’s Fair last held in 2005.

The big, outdoor festival and concert is to be May 18, a Saturday.

“It’s our first really big event with the new, exciting mantle as a cultural district,” said Robin Lapidus, executive director of the Central Square Business Association on Friday, soon after the Massachusetts Cultural Council board meeting that brought unanimous approval for the cultural district designation. “It was a good day in Central Square.”

That Together would run May 13-19 — significantly further into pleasant spring weather than this year’s April 1-8 schedule —  was known last month, but organizers David Day and Alex Maniatis were reluctant to identify whether Cambridge would keep its host duties or whether the show, despite its embrace by Cambridge officials and businesses and Central Square’s strong presence in the electronic dance music world, would move back across the river to Boston. (Maniatis promised the festival would stay in Cambridge.)

The possibility of an outdoor concert as part of Together was teased last year, but on Friday Lapidus could finally share details, including the date and the closing of Massachusetts Avenue (probably from Prospect to Sidney streets) and side streets to host performance stages identified with the name of planets (including possibly the new diamond planet), art stalls and Taste of Cambridge-style food offerings leaning heavily on local vendors.

“Our goal is for this to benefit local business and to really highlight the culture of Central Square and Cambridge,” she said.

Big, but how big?

A headlining act for the outdoor concert hasn’t been identified.

“The festival is so great at getting bigger-name acts. I have no doubt they will pull a right-sized act that’ll be exciting for the street festival,” Lapidus said, noting that it was also supposed to be “a family-friendly, all-ages neighborhood event.”

The popularity of electronic dance music suggests certain acts could draw massive crowds. “We bring Deadmau5 to the Esplanade and it’s going to be a riot,” Day mused last year, stressing the importance of choosing the right band for the right venue and mentioning Diplo at Harvard Stadium as an example.

Last year’s festival drew some 20,000 people, and the outdoor event is just one reason to think numbers this year will be significantly larger.

The weekend of the festival is also Cambridge Open Studios, Lapidus said, a combination that will bring the entire area alive with “visual arts, music, films, dance, theater, food, street art, science and technology.” As a premier festival looking at where technology and music intersect, Together will claim area clubs — likely including less traditional venues such as the YMCA and YWCA — for performances as well as convene panels and hold workshops.

“Based on last year’s experience, there was no space in Central Square left unused in some way,” Lapidus said. “Even [comedy club] ImprovBoston’s stage space was involved.”

A headquarters for the festival hasn’t been decided, but Lapidus was sure the organizers would have no problem securing one. In addition to the warm reception Together got in April, the city has been primed for a signature festival for some time; city councillor Ken Reeves in particular has been highlighting the need for one in Central or Kendall squares, with Together combining smoothly the squares’ specialties in music and technology. Reeves’ legislative aide, John Clifford, was the founder of the Central Square World’s Fair, which ended when corporate sponsorship faded amid the economic downturn.

Cultural district

Central Square was one of four cultural districts designated Friday during the board’s meeting, with the others being in Essex, Marlborough and Sandwich. The vote brought the state’s cultural districts to 14 and promised new signs, attention via state tourism websites and a greater partnership with the state’s Cultural Council in programming events.

The board, funded by a state stimulus initiative voted in 2010 and put in place last year, agreed the square fit the district definition as a compact, walkable area with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets, describing it in a press release as:

home to a mix of small, funky independently owned shops and creative startups, with larger, well-established corporations, all fueled and supported by existing cultural resources such as public art, resident working artists, dynamic cultural organizations, ethnic restaurants and leading educational institutions such as Cambridge College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Central Square is home to a number of large cultural events, including the Cambridge Science Festival, Cambridge River Festival … and the City Dance Party, together drawing an annual audience to the square in excess of 500,000.

“It means we can bring to the surface what all of us who spend time in Central Square know about it. It gives a lens for us to show the rest of the world our talent and culture and what makes Central Square special,” Lapidus said of the designation. “It gives us something to rally around and be uplifted by and is an acknowledgment of our a deep, diverse culture.”

The Central Square Business Association website, centralsquarecambridge.com, is offline for a revamp. The new site, with a redirected URL, should be up by the end of the month, Lapidus said.

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