ALBANY -- The East Bay's largest free street festival will again take over the one-mile stretch of Solano Avenue between San Pablo Avenue and the Alameda in Albany and Berkeley from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 14. More than 250,000 people are expected to attend the 40th annual Solano Stroll, which will feature some 600 vendor and information booths, including food, entertainment, nonprofit and government agencies, crafts from all over the world and more.

"Nothing" is new at this year's stroll, joked Allen Cain, executive director and events manager of the Solano Avenue Association, which puts on the annual extravaganza.

He said the association board felt there was no need to keep tinkering with what is the group's biggest event of the year.

"We're just excited," Cain said. "We're all just hoping it doesn't rain. We're confident that it's going to be a great day."

One change is an attempt to keep the main stage, located at 1451 Solano Ave., busy with continuous entertainment. In past years, bands would play the main stage, meaning they might take breaks between multiple sets, or there would be a lull during changeovers between bands.

"Fifty percent of the time, there's no music at our grandstand," Cain said.

Instead, this year will see a variety of acts on the main stage and musical acts that need a full setup -- such as drum kits -- will be at other stages. Cain said there will be dancers, including Mexican style and bellydancing, as well as a surf band, DJs and other acts moving quickly on and off the stage.


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Entertainment this year will even extend beyond Solano Avenue -- a magician will set up shop at the North Berkeley BART station to entertain guests waiting for the free shuttle to the stroll.

Cain said there has been a surge this year in the number of vendors offering Tibetan gifts.

Another well-represented category is martial arts studios, which stage demonstrations.

Rides will be set up at the bottom of the avenue and Cain said he is assured the popular Ferris wheel will make the stroll this year. Last year, a mechanical problem following a previous event led to the Ferris wheel being canceled.

Cain also said he is hoping to have a zipline set up, but that has not been finalized.

The stroll is the SAA's biggest annual fundraiser every year. The money made renting out booths pays for other association events and promotions on behalf of avenue merchants, including the free Santa photos during the holiday season and the Lunar New Year celebration.

Strollgoers are encouraged to walk, ride a bike or take public transportation to the stroll, because parking is limited.

"The parking is always a challenge," Cain said. "People show up around noon and are surprised there isn't a place to park."

Albany Strollers and Rollers will provide free bike parking. In addition to taking BART and the shuttle, people can also take AC Transit to the stroll.

Solano Stroll
The 40th annual Solano Stroll is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 14 on Solano Avenue in Albany and Berkeley. Free valet bicycle parking will be available at 1245 and 1800 Solano Ave. Parking is limited, but free shuttles will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. between the North Berkeley BART station and Marin Avenue, making stops on Marin at intersections with stoplights. The event is also accessible via AC Transit. Details: http://www.solanoavenueassn.org.