Jul. 3—All the Noble Street Festival needed to succeed was a warm, sunny day, and Saturday managed to be both.
After a pandemic year spent quarantined and masked, Annistonians were ready for a big event paving the way to normality: Normal gatherings, normal holidays, normal fun. The city's Main Street program had advertised the festival, which had been canceled last year and postponed from April to July, for months, hoping for clear skies on Independence Day weekend. Most of Friday had been a reminder of Alabama's fickle weather; though the National Weather Service declared no more than 1/10th an inch of rain had fallen near the city, the afternoon had been overcast, dreary and wet.
Early next week, forecasters predict, Tropical Storm Elsa will swing a left hook up across the southeastern U.S., its effect on Alabama uncertain. But the festival and the Independence Day weekend were safe.
Saturday morning, under a clear sky and none the wiser of his good fortune, a little boy leaned back from the rear entry hatch of a Wounded Warrior Alabama tank parked on 10th Street.
"Can we go in here, sir?" the boy, only 8 or 9 years old, asked an attendant.
"Yeah, go on in there," replied the man, an older fellow smiling behind his aviator sunglasses. The boy and a girl about his age climbed inside the metal monster, excited.
Just beyond the tank, on the intersection of 10th and Noble streets, 4-year-old Jase McGuffey was breaking a dance fever to the music of Mary Culpepper and Robert Grind, the first musical act of the day. Culpepper's voice was smooth and jazzy, Grind's sax accompaniment filling in funky lines around a prerecorded backup band. McGuffey seemed appreciative, breakdancing on the roadway.
Jackson Hodges, director of the city Main Street program and the festival, was quick to redirect praise to city staff, event sponsors such as Combat Park and Sunny King, and vendors who brought their wares.
"We really felt like it was time to get back outside," Hodges said during a break from running the event. "Now with the opportunity to open back up and see everybody again — there are people I feel like I haven't seen in so long — it feels good."
Leaders of local organizations were glad to have an outlet for outreach, something 2020 lacked. This was the first Noble Street Festival for the CASA of the Cheaha Region, a nonprofit that provides court-appointed advocates for children who are involved in court cases, often involving their parents or guardians, and training for community volunteers to fill that role.
Members Lori Adams and Meg Swain sat at a tent among vendors, handing out pamphlets and talking with interested passers-by. Denton said CASA had to lean hard on social media last year, but in-person meetings seem to matter more.
"Nothing beats getting to meet face-to-face; that's when you really get to become part of a community," Adams said.
Renee Lyons, marketing manager of the Anniston Museums and Gardens, shared similar sentiments while working at the Museum of Natural History's live animal show booth. Some of the last year's new hires had yet to meet the community, she said, and even the animals — including a hedgehog named Amy Rose, a barn owl and a bull python — were glad to be back outside.
"The animals love it; they've been quarantined just like the rest of us for the last year," Lyons said. "It's their job to educate and they're glad to do it."
Meanwhile, restaurants reaped the benefit of a big crowd. While local food trucks such as Called Coffee Company and Let's B Sweet served up treats, restaurants along Noble appeared to be packed with patrons.
Tiffany DeBoer, public information officer for the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, sat at a table outside Rack and Roll Billiards with her fiance, Bryan Owens. The two had just finished lunch, idling a few minutes before touring the rest of the festival.
DeBoer said this was her first time to visit the Noble Street Festival, and at around noon, she'd been having a good time of it so far.
Owens said he'd been out to the festival before, and said it seemed similar to previous years, but he sensed some optimism in the crowd.
"I've been here before, but I think I appreciate it more this time around," Owens said.
Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.