Melbourne’s largest Greek street party will take over the city on the weekend of 10 and 11 February painting blue and white, not only the historic Greek precinct of Lonsdale Street, but also Swanston Street right through to Exhibition Street.
“We are very proud of the shape the Greek Community of Melbourne’s Lonsdale Street Greek Festival has taken in recent years, and we encourage all Melburnians to experience some of the best Greek-inspired flavours our community has to offer,” says Bill Papastergiadis, president of the Greek Community of Melbourne.
The festival aspires to be larger than ever with stalls of the best Greek street food in town, cooking demonstrations pop-up bars, live music, dancing and a whole heap of cultural activities and competitions for everyone, including children of all ages. In the Kids’ Zone expanding along Lonsdale Street, the youngest festival goers can enjoy face painting, craft activities, balloon animals, and magic shows, as well as a range of performances on the main stages.
The event will be headlined by international Greek folk musician Giannis Haroulis. A Cretan native, Haroulis is currently one of the most successful artists in Greece. Psychedelic rock and folk musician Konstantis Pistiolis (Villagers of Ioannina City) will be joining Haroulis, guaranteeing a show packed with frenetic energy.
One of the oldest folk theatre and dance traditions will revive on Saturday night as part of the official festival opening on the Delphi Bank Stage. The Momogeri troupe of the Pontian club of Agios Dimitrios and Ryaki is flying from Kozani to Melbourne, invited by the Pontiaki Estia who will appear with them.
The small local club accepted the invitation and unsuccessfully asked the regional government of Western Macedonia, for funding. Regional Governor Thodoris Karipidis intervened and the group received support from the Foreign Ministry’s Greek Diaspora Secretariat, which offered funding of €8,500. Other costs of the trip are covered by donations from prominent Greek Australians, businesses and community organisations, not least among them the Agioi Anargiri Greek Language Centre, the Pontiaki Estia, the Bank of Sydney, and the National Australia Bank. “We are able to send a team of 25-30 people to Melbourne to present the Momogeri tradition, which is now part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list”, said Theodoros Kousalidis, head of the Pontian Club of Agios Dimitrios and Ryaki.
The Momogeri tradition hails back to the ancient cult of Momus, the god of irony (the word geros refers to the old connoisseurs of mystical ceremonies, the ‘priests’ of the time). When adopted by the Pontians, the primarily satirical custom gradually lost its pagan references and became a Christian tradition, usually performed during the pre-Christmas period up until the middle of January and sometimes even till the month of February.
Another Pontian performance comes in the form of Akrites tou Pontou: Argonauts of the Pacific, (Delphi Bank Stage, Sunday 7.40 pm) which shares the cultural links between the Maori people and the Pontic Greeks through the richness of their shared seafaring histories, and will include a performance of a haka (traditional Maori war dance) and the serra (Pontic war dance).
Foodies with a penchant for Greek cooking have already marked the dates on their calendars, because the weekend sees the return of the Procal Greek Kitchen which will be in a dedicated location along Lonsdale Street (closer to Exhibition Street).
This favourite event has risen to a ‘festival-within-a-festival’ status, attracting everyone interested in Greek culinary traditions and the modern take on age-old recipes. Hosted by Vikki Mourselas (of My Kitchen Rules fame), this year’s two-day program will not disappoint, once again boasting some of the most celebrated Greek chefs and cooks: festival regulars Kathy Tsaples (Sweet Greek), Phil Vakos (Bahari, The Gringlish Co), Angela Nicolettou (Angela’s Kitchen), Mary Valle (Mary’s Kitchen) and Spiri Tzintziras (author of Afternoons in Ithaka), while new faces include Ella Mittas from ‘Ela at the Gertrude Street Enoteca’ and award-winning mixologist Jack Sotti (manager of whiskey haven Boilermaker House), will present an array of Greek-inspired cocktails. Add to that the abundance of food stalls that have made the festival a point of attraction for Greeks and non-Greek foodies alike, and it is certain that visitors will need something to help them digest – and what is best than a cup of thick, delicious, aromatic Greek coffee?
If you are not confident about your brewing skills, the people from Oasis Coffee will be there for a quick and easy seminar, ‘Greek Coffee 101’. As for dessert, how does a baklava contest sound?
On Saturday 10 February at 5.15 pm, the Procal Greek Kitchen will serve as battleground for both amateurs and professional cooks competing for Melbourne’s best baklava. Yes, it is supposed to be made for the panel of judges, but there’s reason to believe that contestants would bring enough to offer to the audience. After all, they will need to have as much support as possible.
The Festival Bar at the corner of Lonsdale and Russell Streets will have direct viewing access of the Delphi Bank Stage, and the AA Holdings Stage positioned closer to Swanston Street will feature a rich program of music, dance, theatre, and competitions and an outside broadcast from SBS Radio as well as DJs from Rythmos Digital radio.
It wouldn’t be Lonsdale Street Greek Festival without iconic Zorba Till you Drop, the popular competition non-stop-till-they-literally-drop for a chance to win a return trip to Greece thanks to Touchdown Tours. The festival will conclude at 4.00 pm on Sunday 11 February, when all stages will pause inviting anyone keen to set a world record to link arms and unite to form the Largest Zorba Dance ever recorded.