By Carlen Ruth Hultgren
When the Strut Committee first met in February to plan the 2020 East Atlanta Strut, the word “pandemic” had yet to be spoken. The following month the meeting was virtual, and shortly thereafter, it was apparent that COVID-19 was going to be around for a while and city permits for gatherings the size of the Strut were not being issued. By the virtual May meeting, chaos, confusion, and infighting between politicians had many people wondering when all of this would end. Under the guidance of leader Michelle Rice, the committee decided to assume that no large gatherings would be allowed but agreed everyone could still use a break and have some fun (and safe) activities; the Strut must go on. And that is how the idea of 2020’s Strut In Place began.
The first question was how to avoid crowds; how to get people together without getting people together? With a vague notion of the Porch Fest combined with Small Business Saturday, East Atlanta Village’s first socially distanced street fest was born. All ideas had one goal in mind, to make the event as quirky, cool, and fun as all previous Struts, while adhering to current and predicted public health and safety precautions. There had to be music, there had to be artists, there had to be queens. Some form of parade was a must, and of course, the llamas had to make an appearance too.
It was decided early on that the event would be promoted only to East Atlanta Village residents and businesses in an effort to limit attendance numbers. The neighborhood was divided into 4 quadrants, each with its own mascot: rooster, dragon, llama, and peacock. There were multiple ways to be involved. Some streets did a theme, some neighbors hosted an artist or a band in their yard. There was a leaf blower contest and llama poop bingo. All participation was free of charge. With no street closures, EAV businesses could also participate, by hosting an artist or band, coming up with a game of their own, or having a Strut Special.
Classic cars and trucks with live music rolled around the neighborhood and business district all afternoon. Acrobats on stilts and people on their bikes were seen in all quadrants. There were virtual band performances. The event was livestreamed all day for those who could not or preferred not to participate in person, making it a truly inclusive event. Neighbors made new friends at a distance, lifting masks for a moment of recognition or a drink.
Overall, the Strut In Place was fabulous and everyone had a great time. There were 174 residences signed up over a 2.5-mile radius. The weather was perfect and neighbors adhered to safety precautions to keep the village and its residents healthy. It was a significant change for a much-loved festival, but the Strut carried on without missing a beat. And though the pandemic continues, and no one knows what else will happen in the next year, Strut 2021 will go on in East Atlanta Village next September.