When the St. Johns Bizarre began six years ago, it was a low-profile street fair with crafts, beer and bands. Today it’s a slightly higher-profile street fair with more crafts, more beer and really good bands—this year’s fest features the Corin Tucker Band, AU and Old Light, among other fine local acts. Ian Youngstrom, a 37-year-old family man who moved to the neighborhood six years ago, has been instrumental in the slow transformation. We asked him about his aspirations for both the Bizarre and the neighborhood.
WW: How did the Bizarre start?
Ian Youngstrom: People come to watch the St. Johns parade, and as soon as the last float goes by, they get in their cars and leave. I think the idea was to capitalize on all these bodies being here.
Do you consider it a celebration for the locals or something to bring new people into the ’hood?
Honestly, I think it’s for people who don’t know the neighborhood yet. If you throw a rock in St. Johns, you’ll hit somebody who’s a tried-and-true neighborhood booster. I don’t think I have to sell St. Johns to people who live here.
When you started booking music for the Bizarre, was it all musicians from the neighborhood?
Yeah, we all just kind of threw out a net, and whoever knew somebody who was in a band—they were pretty much in. And that’s great. I loved that. But I knew we weren’t going to get people driving up from Alberta or over on Mississippi or other areas; we weren’t going to get them driving up to check it out. So that’s why we started focusing more on expanding the music.
You mention Mississippi and Alberta—do those neighborhoods provide a blueprint or a warning for St. Johns?
There’s a lot to be admired by what they’ve created there, because when you go to those places there are people out on the street at all hours of the night and day. But there are elements of that growth we don’t want to replicate. Would we like to have all of our storefronts filled with vibrant businesses? Sure. Do we want to have the Man Shop, a clothing shop that has been there for 50 years, torn down and replaced by a five-story condo? I don’t think so.
What’s your booking philosophy now?
We try to create a mixture of the more established bands with young ones. I think a lot of street fairs try to find stuff that’s as inoffensive as [possible]—it’s kind of like wallpaper, [auditory] wallpaper. I think all these bands are great, but we’re taking chances with it. I don’t think everyone is going to love all the bands.
Isn’t St. Johns still known as a tough neighborhood?
That’s not at all the St. Johns I know. It’s a working-class neighborhood. It’s a really supportive community. When I think of St. Johns, I think of a great place to raise a family—not to scare off half the crowd I’m trying to entice with rock bands. It will be a great place to see a rock show if you can get around the strollers in the pit.
SEE IT: The St. Johns Bizarre is Saturday, May 12, in downtown St. Johns. 10 am-7 pm. All ages.