Originally created 09/17/00

Arts festival exceeds expectations



On one stage a troupe of girls commanded the audience with the hops and bounces of traditional Irish dances.

On another stage, Javier Escobar straightened his charro costume, the outfit of a "gentleman Mexican cowboy," and prepared for his mariachi performance.

In between were food tents giving off scents from around the world and booths where artisans were displaying their works for sale.

Sights and atmosphere were not in short supply Saturday at the annual Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival at Riverwalk Augusta.

Parking space and ethnic food were in high demand during the day, which festival coordinators said had exceeded their expectations.

Brenda Durant, executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, said every aspect of the day, from performance schedules to crowd turnout, stayed on track.

"Everything's just working out well," she said. "Even the weather."

Coordinators estimated that about 40,000 people turned out to enjoy the festival, which the Southeast Tourism Society has deemed one of the top 20 events in the region.

This year's focus is Hispanic culture, which meant the Asociacion Cultural Hispanoamericana had the added responsibility of providing entertainment throughout the day on the designated stage, said the group's vice president, Carlos Barrera.

As he surveyed the crowd, Mr. Escobar said he would enjoy performing for the audience, which filled the tent and even spilled out of its protective shade.

"It's great that a lot of people from different countries (are here) - people interested in our culture," he said.

At Augusta Korean Methodist Church's food tent, members said it seemed the crowd was larger than in previous years.

"This is so surprising," Hae Park said, adding that by 1 p.m., "We almost sold out of all the food we prepared last night."

For many who attended the festival hoping to glimpse snippets of global culture, exposure to unfamiliar heritages was a unique part of the day.

"I was surprised how many (cultural groups) we have in the area," said Lois Schmidt, who recently moved to Augusta from Michigan and had never attended the festival before. "I'll definitely come back next year."

The event continues today from noon until 8 p.m. Admission costs $3.

Today's Arts in the Heart schedule

The Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival continues today from noon to 8 p.m. in downtown Augusta. The event features seven stages of fine-arts performances, with featured artists from the Hispanic community, ethnic food and arts and crafts. Admission costs $3.

Eighth Street from Broad Street to Reynolds Street is closed until midnight today to allow for the festival. Reynolds Street will be closed between Seventh and Ninth streets except to vehicles seeking paid parking and those traveling to businesses on those blocks.

Today's schedule:

Community Stage:

Noon: Perfect Backseat Driver

1 p.m.: Fort Gordon Army Band

1:30: Ground Zero Rock Band

2: Patrick Blanchard and the Big Mighty

3: If the Shoe Fitz

4: Steven Jackson

5: Flo Carter and the Sounds of Joy

Frank Wilson's Tents and Events Children's Theatre:

Noon: Thailand Dancers

1 p.m.: Children's Musical Theatre

2: Voices of Franklin

3: Glenn Hills High School Chorus

4: Augusta West Performing Company

5: Sparrow

Southern Siding Children's Performing Stage:

1 p.m.: Country Kickers

1:30: Academy of Richmond County High School Orchestra

2: Fort Gordon Army Dixieland Band - Crooked River

3: Greater Augusta Chapter of USABDA

4: Stephanie's Dancers

5: Footloose and Fancy Free Cloggers

On the River Cafe on the River Indoor Stage:

Noon: Porter Fleming

2 p.m.: Augusta Symphony String Quartet

3: Jim McGaw, hammer dulcimer

V-8 Splash Ethnic Stage

Noon: Caribbean Sound

1 p.m.: Society Dancers Hindu Temple

2: Israeli Dance Workshop

3: The Society for Creative Anachronism

4: Abatsu Afrikan Drummers & Dancers

5: Edelweiss Dancers

Database Research Inc. Hispanic Stage:

1:30 p.m.: Grettel Rocio, Costa Rican

2:30: Puerto Rican Dancers (de Rillos)

3:30: Mexican Folkloric Dancers

4: El Mariachi

Jazz Stage:

1 p.m.: Sherrywine

2: Evans High School Jazz Ensemble

3: Air Force Reserve Jazz Ensemble

4: Fort Gordon Jazz Band

5: John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School Jazz Ensemble

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.