Greek Festival has become a Gate City institution

by Amy Kingsley

Greek culture is perhaps best known in the United States for its hallmark foodstuffs: gyros, spanikopita and baklava among others. Thanks to Hollywood, the Mediterranean people have also become closely associated with lavish wedding celebrations, complete with gourmet spreads, dancing and spirit.

For a price, Greensboro residents could sample both facets of Greek culture alongside the more mysterious parts of the country’s Orthodox church. Greensboro turned out in force this weekend, and residents willingly shelled out the required $1 admission as well as the higher prices required by food vendors.

Parking lots up and down the block from Dormition of the Theotokos attested to the popularity of the church’s annual fundraiser/hoopla. The Orthodox institution’s neighboring churches, many of which are sizable installments themselves, offered their parking lots for the weekend. Those filled early, causing panic and parking rage throughout the city’s deity district. Those with patience, however, availed themselves of the street parking options plentiful on Friendly Avenue’s meandering side streets.

Unfortunately, parking turned out to be the first of many crowd-related challenges during the evening. Take, for instance, the line for dinner at 7 p.m. on Saturday that snaked out the door, around the corner and petered out into the confusion of the crowd. Hundreds queued up, $10 bills clenched in hand, to choose from a short menu of options. The Grecian plate consisted of marinated pork, pastitsio (a pasta dish baked with cream sauce) green beans, rice and a salad. The chicken dinner boasted most of the same component parts, with a half-chicken taking the place of the pastitsio/pork combination. For eight dollars, diners could select the Spartan vegetarian platter that, contrary to its title, constituted a full meal of spanikopita, dolmades, rice, green beans and salad.

For those inclined to imbibe, the festival offered imported beer and wine, including Retsina, a bright white indigenous to Greece. The tangy beverage provided refreshing sustenance while we waited in the half hour dinner line, sandwiched between clots of the crabby middle-aged.

Inside the dining room, Chronis DeVasili entertained the captives with bouzouki renditions of Greek folk classics. At his side a raven-haired fiddle-player coaxed notes as fleeting as a Gypsy caravan from her polished violin.

Under white tents hastily erected in the parking lot live music accompanied a dancing free-for-all. It was this main attraction that benefited most from healthy attendance. The church’s opa dancers performed for the crowd then ceded the floor to the enthusiastic rabble. Buoyed by the wine, tasty dinner fare and litany of honeyed sweets (baklava, kataifi, loukoumades and galaktoboureko), dozens of authentic Greeks and the Grecian in spirit only joined hands for several rounds of breakneck circle dancing.

One man in particular showed the rest how it was done. He entered the circle costumed in the manner of a good-natured seafarer, his waist encircled by gilded plates, a billowy shirt and tapered pants. In lieu of the cap he had doffed, the man balanced upon his head a three-quarters full bottle of Athenos beer.

The measure of his talent lay in an ability to keep pace with the rest of the group without even once disturbing the overpriced brew atop his head. It was worth more than the price of admission to see his performance.

By the end of the final opa dancers’ performance the sugar buzz had begun bottoming out, necessitating Styrofoam cups of thick, grainy Greek coffee. Then, before the throngs of people could find their way back to the sedans and SUVs choking the Friendly Avenue parking lots, we slipped out of the festival. We hoped this time we would beat the crowds.

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