Tate Street Festival honors local legends
*Editor’s note: A correction has been made to the online article reflecting that Jaime Coggins has organized the past few festivals, not just the past two festivals.
“I sometimes think UNCG wants Tate Street to disappear.”
So declared the late Jim Clark, beloved longtime director of the UNCG Creative Writing Program, one Saturday two decades ago at the Tate Street Festival. Watching face-painted children pet my large and tolerant iguana, Jim’s daughter Josie teased her father about how, when she was much younger, he refused to buy her an iguana of her own “because those damn lizards spit poison, and once in your eye, it burns into your brain like acid!”
Jim, who’d been a “reptile boy” in Florida carnivals, knew iguanas weren’t venomous. As he did when someone challenged one of his fibs, he changed the subject to something more factual but equally outrageous.
“Right there is another example of why [the writer] George Singleton called this Crazy Street,” he said, nodding at where Howard Stern regular Busty Dusty spun upside down in a giant gyroscope called an aerotrim. Watching the off-duty top-heavy exotic dancer, who lived in the Piedmont and was performing at Club Cabaret that night, defy gravity even more than usual, Jim talked about his university’s alleged hostility to both the carnival atmosphere of the festival and the street it celebrated. This was a claim he made many times over the 35 years I knew him.
Among the zillion reasons I wish Jim was still around is so I could interview him about the latest Tate Street Festival, which is happening this Oct. 13, from 1-7 p.m. on the Greensboro street it’s named after. In 1979, Jim organized one of the first such festivals to actually use “Tate Street” in its name. Almost four decades later, it’s dedicated to his memory and that of Harry “Electro” Perkins, another local legend who passed away late last year.
Jim might be surprised to learn that UNCG is supporting it.
“I think there’s renewed interest in building relationships,” said Becky Paterson when interviewed outside her store Sisters Jewelry and Gifts. “I credit that to new leadership at UNCG. When I approached them about having the festival during Homecoming, they were receptive to it, and they’re helping us promote the event.”
Paterson and fellow Tate Street veteran Jaime Coggins have organized past festivals, but this time they’re doing it together. “In the past few years, Jamie did it all by herself, but I’ve stepped back into it and helping with social media, getting sponsors, and being a liaison between the festival and UNCG.”
Paterson said that Coggins knew my friend Jim better than she did, “but I do know he understood what Tate Street was and I think still should be. We’re trying to revive that interest.” She said it’s been great working with Coggins. “Jamie captures that carnival element that Jim loved so well. I’m a bit more rigid, she’s more free-flowing; we’re good for each other and the festival.”
She said she hoped the synthesis would bring increased collaboration. “The College Hill Neighborhood Association is supporting our festival, which helps bring awareness of Tate Street businesses, as well as the local art and music that Jamie loves. UNCG is sort of reaching out and connecting with the community in different ways, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring everybody together.”
Both she and Coggins also asked me to make sure to mention Jim’s granddaughter, 3-year-old Charleston “Charlie” Trippodo, who was diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder Rett Syndrome last October, the same month her grandfather died. On Oct. 19, a fundraiser for Charlie and Rett Syndrome research will be held from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. at Double Oaks Bed and Breakfast on 204 N. Mendenhall St. Information about that event will be available at Saturday’s festival. Donations can be made via her GoFundMe page.
One person who was regularly involved with the festival from its earliest days until the end of the 20th Century was Amelia Leung, whose Hong Kong House restaurant opened in 1972 and left a hole in Tate Street’s collective heart when it closed in 1999. Leung plans to be there this Saturday, where she will be signing copies of her popular Hong Kong House Cookbook. “I hope it will go on forever,” Leung recently told me. “Because there’s no street like Tate Street. I hope to get my grandchildren to help me, and we’ll go down there and have some fun.”
There will be music by The Jahnks, Suzanne Stafford, Buddy’ro and Friends (doing a blues set in honor of “Electro” Perkins, himself a skilled musician with some surprising credits), Chuck Mountain, Jonny Alright, The Red Clays, and Doodad Farm Songwriters. There will also be vendors, street performers, food sellers and much more. The event, as always, is family-friendly, free and open to the public.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.