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ComFest returns to Columbus for 48th year

A street drummer performs for the crowd outside Goodale Park at ComFest. Credit: Nicholas Youngblood | Arts and Life Editor

People from all across Central Ohio came out last weekend for an eccentric celebration of the Columbus community at the 48th annual Community Festival in Goodale Park.

This year, 180 vendors and 200 bands, along with dozens of workshops and guest speakers gathered to show appreciation for organizations, artists and more. ComFest is a volunteer-run event organized to encourage activism, “nurture collaboration through safe, peaceful, sustainable practices” and “promote a more unified, tolerant, and equitable community,” according to the ComFest website.

However, for many attendees, including Cristina Cortes, a third-year in anthropology and art history, the festival is simply a place for radical self expression.

“I think it’s just kind of open to everything. No matter where you’re from, who you are, what you’re into, you’re welcome in the community,” she said.

It was Cortes’ first time at ComFest, and she said knew little about the festival prior to attending. When she first decided to go with her boyfriend and mother, Cortes said she expected a lot of shirtless women and marijuana smoking. While she saw those things, she said she also found an atmosphere of acceptance.

“It for sure was very welcoming,” Cortes said. “I think that everybody was very open to everything and not judgmental to anything that we did. Everybody was so kind and loving. We loved that so much.”

A moment that stuck out for Cortes was meeting a group of strangers who were sitting on the grass and greeting everyone who passed by. In a town where people keep to themselves, she said occurrences like this were a wonderful display of unity.

Cortes said she had such a positive experience at the festival that she is definitely going back next year and may even volunteer.

ComFest is entirely volunteer-run. Each year, the festival must fill over 3,000 volunteer shifts, according to its website. Volunteers are given chips worth $4 at any bar or food vendor in exchange for their commitment.

ComFest is founded on a principal of “Think Globally, Act Locally,” and urges its attendants to consider how their actions can affect worldwide issues such as environmental destruction, fascism and discrimination, as stated in the welcome message of the 2019 guide.

Perhaps best known for food, music and tie-dye sales, the festival was started in 1972 by community organizations including the Columbus Free Press, Columbus Community Food Co-op and Rape Crisis Center, according to the website.

Despite its focus on cooperation, the festival has not been without controversy.

Less than a month before ComFest was slated to begin this year, two bands — Weed Demon and Unchipped — were dropped from the line up because of a request from the festival’s insurance provider. ComFest said in an official statement posted on its website that it was given no good explanation or choice in the matter.

“As a grassroots community organization opposed to corporate abuse, letting a corporation tell us which members of our community can and cannot participate is antithetical to who we are,” the statement said. “We acknowledge this violation because it is critically important, but posed with the choice of cancelling the festival or removing the two bands, we were forced to make a choice we are not comfortable with in order to ensure the continuation of the festival.”

For more information on ComFest or to sign up to volunteer, visit comfest.com.

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