Old Pecan Street Festival is an event for artists old and new

Lauren L'Amie

Most Austinites associate Sixth Street with overcrowded bars, hordes of college students and a touch
of claustrophobia. 

But for one weekend every fall and spring, the notorious Sixth Street shenanigans go on hiatus and the historic area attracts a plethora of local artisans. Welcome to the Pecan Street Festival. 

Each year, the festival features live music and over 275 vendors from all over the world — making it the largest arts and crafts festival in Central Texas.   

Among the newest additions to the festival are local vendors Mazzi Peled and her husband Erez, owners of Latika Soap. The duo started their business three years ago in Israel and have been open in Austin for one year. This is their first year participating in the Pecan Street Festival. 

“We love going to these types of festivals,” Mazzi Peled said. “We get to introduce our product to the local community and people get to know our brand. We pushed ourselves to our limits, but we finally got settled and business is
 picking up.”

Since it was founded in 1978 by the Old Pecan Street Association, the Pecan Street Festival has grown to be a staple of Austin culture. The 2012 festival attracted about 200,000 people per show. 

Veteran vendor Linda Bryant, the owner of The Tie Dye Shop in Fredericksburg, knows exactly what it takes to deal with such a large crowd of
potential customers.

“Most of the new vendors don’t realize the size of the crowd. You’ve got to have enough merchandise,” Bryant said. “I’m a business woman, and I’m an artist, but I have to have a carny attitude.”

A self-proclaimed “people person,” Bryant has been a part of the festival for more than 20 years, acting as a mentor to fellow vendors. She sells handmade tie-dye apparel — an art which she believes may fade in the presence of more commercialized artists and a rising cost of materials. 

“We’re losing a lot of handmade items because it’s so expensive,” Bryant said. “If you don’t buy this year, it won’t be there next year. If you want something to stay alive, you have to purchase it. But
I believe in this. I believe people still want this.”

Special Events Live, an event planning group that donates a portion of each festival’s proceeds to local non-profits, has managed the festival since 2006. Executive Chair Luis Zapata calls it “a very democratic festival.” 

“It allows people from all walks of life, ethnic groups, ages and income brackets to interact in a magical artistic environment,” Zapata said. “That provides the city with a strong sense of community and belonging.” 

In an ever-changing and highly-commercialized art world, artisans like Bryant and the Peleds continue to count on the generosity and support from a city embracing its local culture. 

“The show must go on,” Byrant said. “I’ve been here 20 years, and it never rains on Pecan Street. I say it’s nothing but Texas dew.”