Since it first began more than 10 years ago, the Cleveland Asian Festival (CAF) has grown exponentially. Organizers expected only small crowd when the festival first started in 2010, but thousands of Clevelanders have attended each year.
After a two-year hiatus, the Cleveland Asian Festival will return to AsiaTown Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 between East 27th Street and Payne Avenue.
Due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, the Asian Festival was cancelled in 2020 and went completely virtual in 2021. But this year, the festival is back to live entertainment.
While Festival co-founder (along with Lisa Wong and Vi Huynh) Johnny Wu says he’s excited to host an in-person festival this year, he is still taking health precautions and encouraging all attendees to wear masks.
“We want everyone to feel safe,” he says. “We know some people still aren’t comfortable, so we’re doing what we can to ease their nerves.”
Health precautions aside, there is a full event schedule and much to look forward to at this year’s festival. There will be authentic performances on both days, starting at 11:30 a.m. and concluding at 6:30 p.m.
Due to the high number of performers, there will be two stages, the Jack Stage and the Dragon Stage. Performances will go on at the same time, so choose which events you’d like to see in advance.
Several notable performers will be there, including the Kwan Family Lion Dancers, Lingyun Rising Star Acrobats, and Cleveland Aikika. The highly anticipated Asian-Pop Dance Competition will be held on Saturday, and the winners will be announced shortly thereafter. In total, seven dancers will compete live for cash prizes.
On Sunday, attendees can watch the Colors of Asia Fashion Show, which highlights traditional garb from Asian countries and drum performances throughout the day. Additionally, a new Face Mask Changing performance premieres this year, an ancient Chinese art featuring colorful masks that change with movement. For a full event schedule, click here.
One of the main draws to CAF is the food. Sixteen restaurants will be present at this year’s festival, including Parilya, Hunan Coventry, and Siam Cafe. Guests can enjoy authentic Asian cuisine in the food court or at various picnic areas along Payne Avenue.
“There will be food trucks and many local vendors there,” says Johnny. “We know that’s what a lot of people look forward to.”
There will be crafts, Henna tattoos, and local businesses represented at the World Marketplace in Asian Town Center off of Payne Avenue. Major Cleveland names like Cleveland Cavaliers and JACK Entertainment will also be present. At the same time, free health screenings will be offered during the festival at the Health Pavilion inside Asia Plaza.
Rain or shine, attendees can go on a walking tour of AsiaTown. This year, Spin scooters will also be available for rent. Along the tour route, vendors will be selling Asian goodies like bubble tea, sweet buns, and wontons. After all, what’s a tour without a little bit of extra fuel?
Wu says he enjoys seeing Clevelanders come together to celebrate Asian culture. “The most exciting part is seeing everyone attend the festival and enjoy themselves,” he says.
It’s worth noting that CAF is run entirely by a corps of volunteers. The volunteers greet guests, direct parking, and set up chairs at each event stage. If you’re unsure where to go or what time an event starts, the volunteers are there to answer questions or guide visitors to their destinations.
“I’m so proud of our hard-working volunteers who came together to make this happen,” says Wu.
Free parking is available at Cleveland State University near the Wolstein Center.
Dana Shugrue is a graduate of John Carroll University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media and Professional Writing. She is a full-time Content Specialist at Budget Dumpster, and part-time freelance writer for FreshWater Cleveland. When she’s not writing, you can catch Dana taking a run through the metros or sipping a latte at her favorite local coffee shop.