Article Comment 

Our view: Catfish in the Alley




Catfish Alley -- the one-block stretch of Fourth Street that is Columbus' most visible historically black district -- has seen many improvements in the past year. New landscaping, a well-executed mural, sidewalk upgrades, lighting and signage improvements and a stately historical marker have been added, largely through the work of a committee formed by and including Mayor Robert Smith. 


Saturday's Catfish in the Alley festival, organized by that committee and Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter, was meant to help kick off this year's Spring Pilgrimage and to celebrate the improvements. 


Over the past several years the festival has suffered from a constantly-shifting format and unfortunate weather. The festival has yet to establish a lasting identity. The location has varied from Catfish Alley to the Hitching Lot to Trotter Convention Center. Last year the event was canceled. 


While we applaud some of the decisions made this year, this year's festival unfortunately became a sprawling, unfocused 10-hour-long catfish fry. 


In the interest of providing feedback for future festivals, we offer the following: 


  • We can only imagine the editors of Garden & Gun magazine selected this event as their Editor's Pick due to the idea of eating fresh fried catfish while listening to great live music. We hope the use of local musicians continues.  


  • Perhaps the event partially suffered as a result of trying to live up to the hype of the Garden & Gun recognition. It aspired to be something much bigger than it actually was. The layout of the stage and various tents made it hard to orient yourself. The catfish vendors were spread far apart from each other. Additionally, the stage for the live music was at the intersection of Main Street and Catfish Alley -- a full block away from the food. 


  • The decision to move the festival from February to March and to tie it to Pilgrimage was an inspired one. We hope it stays this way. 


  • We would encourage the committee to consider a return to a shorter evening festival rather than an all-day affair. Concentrating the layout and timeframe would make the event feel more intimate and encourage more happenstance encounters with neighbors. After all, Catfish Alley, in its heyday, was described as a bustling melting pot of people from all walks of life.  


  • While Catfish Alley is an important landmark for our entire city, its history belongs mostly to our black community. You wouldn't have known that by looking at Saturday's attendees. Encouraging participation by the black community should be a priority for future iterations of the festival. 


    Obviously, a lot of hard work went into planning, promoting and executing this year's festival. Our feedback is not intended to demean those efforts. In the interest of disclosure, Dispatch publisher Birney Imes served on the planning committee, and managing editor Slim Smith served as a judge in Saturday's catfish cooking contest. 


    We would like to see a return to the festival of years' past, a more focused evening event with live music inside a large tent and catfish dinners available for purchase. People could purchase meals and eat them while listening to local musicians or take boxes to go. 


    A return to that format would have been especially nice under the new historic street lights on the alley. 


    Catfish Alley is a unique treasure that belongs only to this community. It's one of many ways Columbus stands apart from other cities in terms of cultural attractions. Catfish in the Alley is a festival we should continue to celebrate.



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