Thousands eat, dance, support Crenshaw at Taste of Soul



Monte Hayes,71, had only to walk down the street from his home to check out the Taste of Soul festival for the very first time.

“To me it means, all people of all races are here and it’s like, ‘taste me, I’m good,’” he said.

The 9th annual celebration was held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and took over a mile of Crenshaw Boulevard from Stocker Avenue to Rodeo Road, where families and friends from all walks of life danced in the street. Attracting 350,000 people this year, the street festival presented by The Sentinel newspaper bills itself as L.A.’s largest.

Signature South L.A. restaurants provided the “tastes,” including What the Funnel, Dulan’s on Crenshaw, Southern Girl Desserts, Post and Beam and Yo Halal’s popcorn.

The festival also brings out a unique blend of soulful sounds and artists each year. This time, the lineup featured Tyrese, Angie Fisher, AKNU, Michelle Williams and many other performers across four main stages, along with young artists featured on the “StarQuest” stage.

High schooldrum lines and dance teams paraded through the crowds getting cheers while people from all different neighborhoods got to know one another and celebrated the Crenshaw community for a soul-infused shake down party.

The gathering offered Metro the opportunity to launch a campaign called Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw, encouraging the public to support local businesses and merchants located near the boulevard who are impacted by construction on the forthcoming Crenshaw/LAX line.

J.C.Lacey , business liaison for the light rail project, said the campaign aims to get the public to support local commerce.

“Small businesses make up the backbone of the local economy,” he said. “We’re impacting them with the construction, so we want to take this time to highlight them and maybe get them some new customers.”

The three underground stations that impact the Crenshaw corridor will run beneath Exposition and Martin Luther King boulevards and Vernon Avenue. Although the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2019, Lacey said the current phase of underground excavation should have the most intense impact on businesses and residents.

Most businesses represented at the event were upbeat and excited about the opportunities from transit oriented and retail development infrastructure projects like the Crenshaw/LAX line.

Viola Hubbs, walking around the event to book Chuck E. Cheese events with nonprofit organizations, said it was “a blast” to be at Taste of Soul for the first time.

“We will bring Chuck E. to your school or out to your event to help promote everything that is going on,” she said with a lilt of genuine pep in her voice.

Electric sliding through the crowd, Jamecia Stoudermire also was enjoying her first time at Taste of Soul. As a volunteer with the L.A. Urban League Young Professionals, she was assigned to check on vendors every half hour, helping to answer questions or get people water. (Great exercise walking back and forth to booths, she said.)

Stoudermire moved to the Crenshaw community last year and said she loves the concept of the festival: “The music, the food, the culture, just getting in touch with that soul culture, loving, having a good time, and enjoying life.”

Having lived in L.A. for one year she decided to volunteer to get more involved in the neighborhood, now that she’s here, she’s looking forward to seeing changes afoot with the new Metro light rail line, and possibly construction on a new Kaiser health facility.

“I’m really happy how they are trying to build up this area and really put money and business into the black community,” she said.

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