Shorter schedule works for Westobou Festival, organizers and patrons say

Even after five days of setting up events, checking on artists and speaking to sponsors, Westobou’s executive director was still going at full speed Sunday afternoon.

“It was so fabulous,” Molly McDowell said of the event. “It was super-attended and full of excitement.”

She might have had more energy because this year’s festival was drastically scaled back. In its first year in 2008, the 10-day Westobou Festival had nearly 200 performances. In 2011, it was reduced to about 50 performances. This year, the five-day festival featured 22 events representing five genres: visual art, music, film, dance and words.

The smaller schedule enabled people to see more, McDowell said.

“It was an excellent decision,” she said. “I have seen a lot of people at multiple events. We wanted to sell it as a festival pass where people could enjoy everything. I think we really achieved that.”

McDowell said it was surprising to see the artists interact so much. At one point, she sat in a room where Lonnie Holley, a self-taught artist, was entertaining a bunch of musicians.

“He touched a lot of people here,” she said. “It was so neat to see the artists so engaged with parts of the festival that didn’t feature them.”

She also said interest in fashion increased, and she hopes to feature it next year. Cameron Silver, the owner of Decades clothing in Los Angeles, put on an impromptu fashion show that was a big hit, McDowell said.

Westobou board chairman Shell Berry said the festival surpassed its financial goals this year.

“When we dreamed this a year ago, we never dreamed it would have done so well,” she said.

Festival patrons agreed.

Augusta native Tricia Hughes has attended every Westobou since its inception. She said she preferred the smaller schedule that allowed her to see everything instead of choosing between events.

“I get tired and worn out if it goes too long,” she said.

A highlight of her week was listening to Philippe Petit speak on Friday. Petit is a French high-wire artist who garnered recognition after walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1974.

“He is so positive,” Hughes said. “He never entertains negativity. His enthusiasm was contagious.”

As the festival wound down Sunday evening, Hughes watched seventh-generation winemakers Jacob and Jesse Kovacs entertain a crowd of more than 100 during “Words & Wine with the Kovacs Brothers,” under a white tent at the parade grounds at the old Academy of Richmond County.

The brothers from Carmel County, Calif., joked with the crowd about seeing the wine industry change from appealing to an older, richer crowd to younger people on tighter budgets, which led to their book, The Young and the Thirsty: 25 California Wines for the New School Drinker.

“When we started, people didn’t take us seriously because we were young,” Jesse Kovacs said. “But, we have seen a young wine movement come through California in the last 10 years.”

Kovacs, 30, is a retired professional baseball player and former contestant on The Bachelorette. He said he and his brother were approached by a publisher to write a book that would help young people who were intimidated by the volume of wine choices.

“We wanted to educate them. Although, if we were to do it again, we would add tons of pictures,” Jacob Kovacs said with a smile. “That’s what the book is missing. People would buy the book if it had big pictures.”

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