Image9The PopCulteer
July 4, 2014

Since it’s the 4th of July and hardly anybody reads blogs on holidays, we’re going to try and keep today’s PopCulteer a bit short. We’re going to look back at the very successful, just-concluded FestivALL 2014 and make a few suggestions, some constructive criticism that we hope can help FestivALL get even better in the future. I wrote an essay like this in 2007, and a lot of my suggestions that year did eventually get used (Although I’m sure it wasn’t just because of my blog post. A lot of this was just common sense).

FestivALL 2014 was a blast, and once again Radio Free Charleston is happy to present our take on it, with even more to come later.

But there’s always room for improvement.

stilt 01First of all, there is just too much stuff crammed into a small period of time. It’s time for FestivALL to annex the weekend prior to its current running time. They may not need to extend fully through the week, but there are simply too many quality events happening at the same time. There’s plenty of cool stuff to fill up three weekends.

This was particularly noticeable with the theatrical events where you had two companies, the Charleston Light Opera Guild and the Contemporary Youth Arts Company, sanctioned to present official FestivALL productions which ran completely opposite each other. So much effort and energy goes into staging these productions that it’s a sin to force them to compete head to head.

Making matters worse this year was the additional competition from the New Brooklyn Theatre’s “Enemy Of The People”, Kanawha Players emergency fundraising efforts, and the Alban Arts Center jumping into the fray with their production of Neil Simon’s “Lost In Yonkers.” This last one in particular was a bit of a head scratcher, because there was absolutely no reason to schedule such a well-done production opposite both FestivALL and Saint Alban’s Riverfest. Had it been moved two weeks in either direction, the attendance probably would have increased five-fold.

It’s not just the theatrical events. There’s just so much of everything going on that it’s become stressful to figure out what to attend next. With that being said, the events at FestivALL now are too good to cut. So the only solution is to expand FestivALL to one weekend sooner than it starts now.

That way, the marquee events–the Mayor’s Concert, Blues, Brews and BBQ and Wine and All That Jazz–could spread out with each event anchoring one of the weekends, instead of running on consecutive nights and putting a strain on the pocketbooks of concert-goers.

ART PARADE 2011 FestivALL Charleston Art Parade Greg Sava photoLet’s just say hypothetically FestivALL 2015 could begin on Saturday, June 13th, opening with the Art Parade at 10 AM and continuing with an afternoon event like the Wiener Dog Race, concluding with the Mayor’s Concert on Saturday night. This would leave Friday, June 12th as a possible pre-FestivALL event night and Sunday the 14th as the date for one of the more low-key fundraisers. This would also allow for the possibility of the Art Parade being delayed a week if it were threatened by rain.

The following weekend, Friday night could play host to FestivALT (if that concept continues), while Saturday would see the Chili Cook-Off in the daytime, followed by Blues, Brews and BBQ that evening. It could be the ultimate cheat day for fans of outdoor cooking.

The final weekend would see Wine and All That Jazz in its traditional Saturday spot, as well as the Capitol Street Art Fair and Hale Street Antique Fairs and the accompanying performance stages on Capitol Street.

Adding the third weekend would allow less competition between the marquee events and more room for the smaller events like the Location Plays, Musical Easels, the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame bandwagon, and the Ice Cream Social. It would also allow more flexibility in scheduling dedications of public art and special events which this year, sort of got lost in the sauce.

My contribution to this year's Art Auction

My contribution to this year’s Art Auction

I’ve also got a few suggestions for the FestivALL event which I have been participating in happily these last five years, the East End Main Street Public Art Initiative, AKA the Streetworks Art Auction. I think it might be time to re-think some of the elements of the auction. I realize that it serves its purpose as a fundraising gala for East End Main Street, but I think it might be time to find a new fundraising gala and take the Streetworks Art Auction in a more accessible area.

My idea would be for East End Main Street to have a masquerade ball or something of that ilk for which they could charge $25 admission and provide booze, music, and hors d’oeuvers. Scheduled properly, this could take the place of the Art Auction as a paid event.

I’m not suggesting that the Art Auction be eliminated, although it might be a wise idea to take a year off until all of the public art donated over the last three years has been installed, but it seems to me that if the auction took place in Davis Park on the Saturday of the Capitol Street Art Fair, just after the Fair ends at 5 PM, you would have a much larger base of people willing to spend money on art who would attend. This event, of course, would have to be free to the public. Attendance would be much greater and the audience would be much more willing to spend money.

One of the complaints that I’ve heard about the Streetworks Art Auction is that people have to pay $25 to get in simply for the privilege of bidding on artwork. Charging admission to an auction is going to drive away potential customers. I think that making the event free so that more people could bid on the artwork would raise more money for the artists and East End Main Street and, with no admission fee,  far more people would attend the event, thus raising the visibility of East End Main Street even futher. Having a replacement gala with paid admission for East End Main Street would help replace the revenue lost by making the auction open to the public.

It would have been nice to have the time to squeeze this production into my schedule.

It would have been nice to have the time to squeeze this production into my schedule.

The other advantage of adding a third weekend to FestivALL is that if you have CLOG and CYAC continue to each stage a full-blown production, you could at least start one of them the first weekend and one the second so that they only go head to head for two performances. In addition to being less of a “Sophie’s Choice” for the theater-goers, it would also allow the casts of each show to support one another. Actually, a little more clever scheduling and coordination among theatre troupes throughout the whole year could be beneficial to everyone.

With a third weekend in play, a lot of the smaller events would benefit by not being bulldozed under by the marquee events. Productions like Limelight Theatre’s “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” or the anniversary screening of Danny Boyd’s “Invasion of the Space Preachers”might find a wider audience. We might see some events return, like the one-act plays and some of the film related events. It might also be nice to have a few more public stages open to an even wider variety of local performers than we have now. Charleston has an embarassment of riches when it comes to local talent and it might be time to expand the street fairs to a second street so that we can show off more of that talent.

It might also be cool if FestivALL could try some of my crazier ideas like having a heavy metal show in one of the parking buildings or a punk show at Coonskin Park’s skate park. And as long as we’re making unreasonable suggestions, how about we get DEVO for the Mayor’s Concert and bring in The Aquabats for Live At The Levee?

I hope these suggestions are taken with the positive vibes with which they are intended. FestivALL has been a wonderful and positive addition to the city of Charleston and it would be nice to see it expand a little bit so that we don’t turn the city into a work of art crammed inside a can of peanut brittle that explodes in your face when you open it.