Waterfront ‘Ähts’ fest combines music, visuals in the North End

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the North End’s waterfront Christopher Columbus Park will provide the picturesque backdrop for a leisurely afternoon exploration of a wide variety of art forms at the 9th annual Boston Ähts Festival.

During the original Boston Arts Festival of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, the walkways of the Public Garden featured tents displaying works of art and a variety of free performances of classical and popular concerts and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were held on an outdoor stage on the Common was. Then in the mid-‘60s, organizers declared a “break” year to reassess matters. The “break” became permanent and that version of the Festival never came back.

The festival was revived in 2003 as a one-day event by Mayor  Thomas Menino, with the word “Arts” pronounced (and spelled) with a Boston – or is it mayoral? — accent as “Ähts.” The festival was re-launched partly to help stimulate interest in the autumn Open Studios and performing arts seasons.

Since then the festival has expanded into a three-day celebration with increasingly eclectic and high quality live entertainment and a specially built artists’ village, though the exhibits have now less to do with Boston Open Studios than with selling wide-appeal pieces by artists from wherever.

All afternoon long there are excellent craft demonstrations by studios like Justin Goedde Ceramics and Diablo Glass from Mission Hill. Related to these presentations are lots of participatory art options for youngsters.

Parents and other grown-ups probably are more interested in the acts on the alternating Garden and Waterfront Stages. The Friday evening kick-off features a set by Mean Creek, just voted best local act in the Boston Phoenix 2010 Best Music Poll.

Over the weekend, the afternoon schedule starts off with folk music, poetry, and entertainment for and by kids. On Sunday from 1:45-2:15, the delightfully retro Boston Typewriter Orchestra will tickle viewers of all ages with their chants and repurposed Smith-Coronas.

On both days, from 3:30 to 4:15, dancers from the Boston Ballet pirouette, as they have at eight previous Ähts festivals.  And speaking of dance, both days end with sets by bands that defy the audiences not to boogie. On Saturday it’s Gentlemen Hall, whom the Boston Phoenix dubbed Best New Act, enthusing that their “songs sizzle and pop with resuscitated beats, bass lines, and laser-booty synths that argue the last 20 years should be stricken from the record.” Sunday’s festival closer is Zili Misik, a group garnering similar kudos for its intoxicating blend of Haitian, Brazilian, and West African rhythms.

For full details check out bostonahtsfestival.com or go to the Boston Ähts Festival fan page on Facebook.