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Crowds brave downpours for 18th Fluff Fest in Union Square

The day is ‘one of Somerville’s signature events.’

Bess Thaler, left, and Audrey Fentress, right, react to winning a jar of Fluff Marshmallow after Thaler placed first in the jousting competition at the Fluff Festival in Union Square.Tanner Pearson For The Boston Globe

SOMERVILLE — Even a Sunday shower couldn’t wash the sweet, sticky marshmallow off Somerville Avenue.

The city’s annual What the Fluff? Festival brought music, whimsy, and a wave of marshmallow-y new foods to Union Square for its 18th season.

By 3 p.m., when the afternoon festival formally began, hundreds of visitors had already filled the blocked-off street, taking photos with painted mascots, playing cornhole, and eating s’mores made by a robot designed by the Somerville High School robotics team.

Somerville resident Daryl St. Laurent played cornhole with his 7-year-old son, Oliver, around 3 p.m., as FM Collective, the afternoon’s first musical guest, warmed up across the street.


As he sank beanbags into a board painted to resemble a tub of Marshmallow Fluff, St. Laurent called the day “one of Somerville’s signature events.”

“We just love the parties and events that Somerville has around the town,” he said. “Somehow this one caught on.”

Fluff Fest, as locals call it, celebrates innovation in and around Somerville’s Union Square neighborhood, paying tribute to Marshmallow Fluff, which was invented in the region in 1917, according to Jessica Eshleman, executive director of Union Square Main Streets, which organizes the event.

“It’s really the theme of innovation, but having Marshmallow Fluff be the tipping-off point is so Somerville,” Eshleman said in a phone interview Sunday before the event. “It’s really hard for the fun and the excitement not to be contagious.”

Sunday’s festivities included performances by local bands, demonstrations by martial arts studios, and an evening “Innovation for Impact” award ceremony on the main stage, plus a variety of Fluff-filled games and challenges — from Fluff jousting to limbo under a marshmallow-slathered pole — on the Shenanigans Stage down the road.

Eshleman said the festival first filled the square in 2006. The inaugural celebration hosted a couple hundred attendees, but she said this year’s would likely see thousands. Despite the rain, which postponed the event from its original Saturday date, at least a thousand attendees filled the street.


Sunday’s festival came less than a week into the MBTA’s 25-day shutdown of the Green Line’s Union Square branch, to the ire of organizers and local officials. In lieu of train service, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation offered shuttle service between Union Square and East Somerville stations throughout the afternoon.

The festivities kicked off around 3:15 with an address from Katjana Ballantyne, mayor of Somerville, as an afternoon of gooey games got under way with a marshmallow toss on the nearby Shenanigans Stage.

“This event embodies all the creativity that exists here in Somerville,” Ballantyne said to the crowd. “It’s a place where new ideas come, and it’s a place where we celebrate the traditions of the past.”

Away from the stage, dozens of local vendors hawked treats and crafts, from marshmallow-scented candles to dog chew toys shaped like jars of Fluff and peanut butter. Attendees tossed rings onto jars of Fluff and went bowling, with Marshmallow Fluff jars in place of pins.

Local restaurants cooked up a variety Fluff-infused dishes in anticipation of the festival, from marshmallow cocktails, to Fluffy fried eggs, and “Oysters FLUFFefeller” — half-shell oysters topped with a dollop of toasted Marshmallow Fluff.

Eshleman said she was not sure how much Fluff the festival goes through, but said she has heard from manufacturer Durkee-Mower that the company notices an annual boost in sales around September.


By 3:50 p.m., the live music had been put on hold as the rain picked up, but the shenanigans continued through the downpour.

Brothers Ollie and Lewis Talun joined their friend Leeland Hoffman to compete in a round of “Fluff on the nose” — a race to see who could move the most pom-poms from one bowl to another using nothing but a sticky nose covered in marshmallow.

The announcer, wearing a tweed sportscoat with specs of marshmallow, called out: “On your mark, get set, Fluff!”

Instantly, the boys were off, laughing as they ran between bowls, noses white with sugary goop.

Daniel Kool can be reached at Follow him @dekool01.