Meltdown turns 10: The annual extravaganza brings together children’s authors, musicians, circus performers and more for an end-of-winter festival

  • Jarrett and Gina Krosoczka talk about Meltdown and what is planned for this year’s event. Their dogs are, left, Frank, and right, Ralph Macchio. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jarrett and Gina Krosoczka talk about Meltdown and what is planned for this year’s event. Their dogs are, left, Frank and right, Ralph Macchio. CAROL LOLLIS/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Jarrett and Gina Krosoczka talk about Meltdown and what is planned for this years event. Their dogs are, left, Frank and right, Ralph Macchio. CAROL LOLLIS/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Illustration by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

  • Grace Lin Illustration by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

  • Mister G Illustration by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2018 2:49:11 PM

The last days of winter and the first days of spring tend to have a lot in common: gray skies more often than not, still-cold temperatures, and a sense that better weather can’t come soon enough.

But in Northampton, just when cabin fever begins to reach a breaking point, there’s at least one outlet available, though at first glance the name seems counterintuitive: Meltdown.

That’s shorthand for the Meltdown Family Music And Book Fest, the annual extravaganza that brings children’s authors, musicians, circus performers and others together for a sort of end-of-winter celebration. This year, the festival turns 10 years old — an anniversary the organizers are happy to mark, but one they didn’t necessarily think they’d see when they first began the event.

“We didn’t really know where this might go when we started it,” said Jarrett J. Krosoczka, a Northampton children’s author and illustrator who is one of the principal founders of Meltdown, along with his wife, Gina. (Jarrett Krosoczka created the accompanying illustrations for this article.) “It was kind of an experiment.”

And it has proved to be a successful one, added Gina Krosoczka, who has watched her two daughters, Zoe, 9, and Lucy, 6, grow up with the festival (the couple also have a son, Xavier, who’s 1). “It really took off faster than we thought it was going to.”

This year’s Meltdown — a free event, as it has always been — takes place Saturday at Smith Vocational High School from 10 a.m. (doors open at 9:30 a.m.) to 3 p.m. The chief producer for the show is the Northampton Radio Group — 93.9 The River, WHMP and Hits 94.3 — while sponsors include Yankee Candle, WEBS Yarn Store and other local businesses and organizations.

The Krosoczkas, meanwhile, produce the literary part of the show, and Bill Childs, host of the nationally syndicated kids music show “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” handles the music.

As in past years, the schedule offers a one-to-one pairing of a reading by an author, followed by a performance by a band or kids’ musician; the children’s writers then move to a separate area to sign copies of their books. Other events include drawing “parties” — Jarrett Krosoczka leads one of these — and a performance by Show Circus Studio of Easthampton.

Food vendors, demonstrations by martial-arts experts, and puppet shows are also on the agenda. And staff from the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley will be on hand with copies of books by the participating writers.

“We’ve tried to make it so that whatever kind of family you have, or how many kids you have, there’s something here for you,” said Gina Krosoczka.

Over the years, the event has offered a mix of local writers, as well as some from farther afield. Some of the names have been huge draws: Last year Jeff Kinney, author of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series, came to Meltdown, and “there must have been a 1,000 people in the line” to get Kinney’s signature on a book, said Gina Krosoczka, who helped keep that line orderly.

To recognize the 10th anniversary of Meltdown, Jarrett Krosoczka and Bill Childs have invited back many of the local presenters from the first year, in 2009, such as author and illustrator Anna Alter and bands likes The Nields and Gentle Hen.

“While it amazes me that it’s the 10th year, that’s more the my-heavens-I’m-aging thing rather than any surprise about the event still thriving,” Childs, who now lives in Texas, said in an email. “It’s a lot of work — thankfully, the great people at The River handle a lot of it — and a tiring day, but I feel intensely proud and happy at the end of the day every year.”

Celebrating children’s books

A native of Worcester, Jarrett Krosoczka has become known for the wide range of his books, from picture books such as “Punk Farm” to the “Lunch Lady” series of comic graphic novels for middle-grade readers, about an elementary school cafeteria worker who’s a secret crime fighter. A more recent graphic novel series, “Star Wars Jedi Academy,” explores the adventures of schoolkids training to fight the evil empire from the famous movie franchise.

When they moved to Northampton from Boston late in 2006, the Krosoczkas were looking to start a family and to sink some roots into the community. The city’s artistic vibe was a big attraction, but they say they were a little surprised to find there was no regular event to celebrate children’s books. As Gina Krosoczka recalls, “We were like, ‘Let’s do something.’ ”

Over the next year or so, the Krosoczkas met Bill Childs, then living in Florence and producing his radio show at Valley Free Radio 103.3 FM. Jarrett Krosoczka also met Monte Belmonte, the program host at The River, and pretty soon all concerned were talking about trying to stage a kids’ book fair that would also have a musical component.

For the first Meltdown, held at Northampton’s JFK Middle School in March 2009, the Krosoczkas relied on their contacts with other children’s writers, in the Valley, in New York City and beyond.

“We had friends who were willing to take part in this unknown event because of our friendship,” said Jarrett Krosoczka, who notes that visiting writers crashed with other friends for the night, while Gina cooked a big meal for everyone at chez Krosoczka as a thank you.

Planning for and actually staging that first program was a little crazy, he adds, because Gina gave birth to their first child, Zoe, in December 2008. But the event proved popular, he notes, with attendance running somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people, “and we’ve been able to build on that ever since.”

It helps that the Valley has become known as a haven for children’s book writers and illustrators. In fact, Krosoczka says a number of nationally recognized children’s authors, including Lisa Yee, Grace Lin and Anna Alter, moved to this region after appearing at a Meltdown event.

“I’m not saying that’s the only reason they came here,” Krosoczka said with a laugh. “But it’s probably one of the selling points.”

The event has become big enough, the Krosoczkas add, that publishers of some of the participating writers now cover their traveling and lodging expenses for Meltdown. Meanwhile, support from The River and The Odyssey Bookshop “has really been so important in making [Meltdown] happen,” said Jarrett Krosoczka.

Mark Lattanzi, promotions director for The River, says Meltdown has benefited from steady financial support from numerous underwriters like Yankee Candle as well as from Smith Vocational High School itself, which prepares a petting zoo for children from among its livestock. And attendance today? “I’m comfortable saying it’s more than 4,000,” said Lattanzi.

Jarrett Krosoczka relates one story that seems to point to Meltdown as a fixture in the community. A few years ago, he was on the playground at the Montessori School in Northampton, which his children attend, with his younger daughter, Lucy. He fell into conversation with another father, someone he didn’t know, who asked if Krosoczka knew about Meltdown and if he was planning to take his family there.

“He said, ‘Oh, you have to go — we go every year and have a great time,’ ” recalled Krosoczka. “Then he said ‘Just get there early so you can get a good parking spot.’ ”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Meltdown 2018 takes place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. for music spun by DJ Quintessential. Organizers say more parking will be available this year because the Northampton Winter Farmers’ Market has moved from Smith Vocational to the Northampton Senior Center.

   

 

 

 




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