In 1855, a group of European immigrants formed a community called La Réunion in what is now Oak Cliff. Inspired by the writings of French philosopher Charles Fourier, the colonists hoped to create a utopian socialist society in Texas. Alhough it fell apart after 18 months, the community’s legacy lives on in the Bastille on Bishop street festival, which marks its eighth year in the Bishop Arts District this weekend.
Bastille Day festivities will take over several blocks in the heart of the neighborhood and turn them into a kind of French village from 6 to 11 p.m. Friday, July 14. The event is free to attend, with French food, drinks and other market items. However, those who wish to consume alcoholic beverages at the event must buy souvenir wine glasses in advance on the festival’s website.
Presented by Go Oak Cliff with assistance from the Dallas-based nonprofit The Better Block, the festival will house about 45 French-themed market vendors alongside booths from local favorites like Emporium Pies, Oddfellows and Village Baking Co.
Jason Roberts, co-founder of The Better Block and one of the original organizers of Bastille on Bishop, says his organization is bringing in several build-outs for the event, including a French café façade with café seating, a classic French morris column for hanging bulletins, a water fountain and “about 20 tons of sand to put in the street and make a giant pétanque court." In addition, there will be photo booths, crêpe stands, an airstream snow cone stand, a mussels competition and a Vespa scooter rally.
Also new this year is a VIP experience for people looking to escape the heat. The $75 package, which also can be purchased in advance online, includes access to a private bar, seating, air conditioning and a buffet of light hors d’oeuvres from 6 to 9 p.m.
Most of the shops along North Bishop Avenue and Seventh Street will participate in the French-themed festivities as well, Roberts says. Spinster Records will DJ French pop music, and throughout the evening, several live musical acts will perform on the street, including Stefanie Pepping & The Sassafrass Swing Set, the L.A.-based jazz band La Pompe and a trio with Matt Tolentino of the Singapore Slingers.
Performers will play on the street rather than on a stage above the crowd.
“We wanted a true street festival feel without a separation between the performers and the people,” Roberts says. “We wanted the accordion player roving around the audience, that sort of thing.”
Nearly a decade ago, Burgandy, France, native and longtime Oak Cliff resident Pierette Lacour approached Roberts and his business partner Amy Cowan about growing the annual Bastille Day party in Lacour's backyard into a neighborhood event. Combining his passions for urban planning and French culture was a natural fit for Roberts, especially since the festival also honors a French colony focused on building what Fourier called “intentional community.”
"We thought, 'How can we make an homage to this and throw a fun street party for everybody?''" Roberts says. "And now it's become so big, so popular, we'll have 5,000 people out in the street."
Dogs and "well-behaved children," according to the website, are welcome, too.
Bastille on Bishop, 6-11 p.m. Friday, July 13 in Bishop Arts Districts. Food tokens and wine glasses available for purchase online.