Pop Rocks: Westobou is well worth watching

Though the Westobou Festival is an event with intentionally few traditions, there is one that, for better or worse, seems to have become something of an administrative standard. Every few years someone new steps up to take the helm and, in doing so, reimagines what a fall fine arts festival in Augusta might be.

 

During the course of the past year, the transition was made from Molly McDowell, whose accomplishments include overseeing a festival rebrand, shoring up long-term funding and establishing the current five-day model, to Kristi Jilson.

Jilson, who had previously produced events for the Savannah College of Art and Design, proved attractive to the Westobou board not only because of experience but also because they were interested in how the event might be affected by an outsider’s eye.

The 2014 results were, as expected, somewhat mixed and mostly encouraging, and they seem to set up the festival for success in the future.

There were, unfortunately, a few performances I had marked as marquee that did not attract the audiences I expected. I was particularly excited about the Peter Bogdanovich event, but was sorry to see that perhaps his Hollywood significance didn’t translate to a large Augusta audience – particularly on a Wednesday evening. Still, the crowd did measure in the hundreds, and it’s the sort of event – bringing something international and unexpected to Augusta – that the festival continues to be built on.

Likewise, day-in and day-out attendance at the Old Academy of Richmond County art exhibition was often pretty paltry. That’s a tough pill, given how much effort and manpower went into mounting what was a strong, cohesive and engaging exhibition by a group of emerging SCAD-associated artists. It’s always painful to see great work under-acknowledged.

Though the lack of any real marquee names might have contributed to low attendance, the truth is that most of the blame can be placed on rain.

You see, the plan was for some 1,500 music fans to stream into the academy grounds Friday night for a concert headlined by Amos Lee. It stands to reason that a significant number of those fans also might have taken in the art. Instead, monsoon conditions forced a concert move to James Brown Arena, which meant both events suffered.

From a numbers standpoint, the Amos Lee show must count as a success. Ticket sales were as high as they had been for any Westobou music event, with the exception perhaps of Janelle Monae in 2012. The arena was not as charming as an outdoor event would have been, though, and the quick shift of venue certainly affected the bottom line.

Still, fans were enthusiastic, and the music – particularly the deep soul of Seattleite Allen Stone – was excellent. The concert was a beautifully measured response to extraordinarily bad luck that, though it suffered, still must be counted as a success.

These, of course, are only examples. More things worked – a family movie night, Complexions at the Imperial – than did not. More events were embraced than dismissed.

And it felt different.

Different and new.

After years of covering this event – from its initial announcement to this latest incarnation, I have learned it is folly to try to predict its next turn. I do, however, remain curious. Does new blood equal new growth? Is the standard Westobou cycle of evolution continuing? Only time will tell. But I’ll tell you this:

It will merit watching.

 

PUMPKIN POWER. I am not a man who enjoys carving a pumpkin. I’m a fan of the design element, but I’ve always bucked at the idea scraping the pumpkin gunk. That is why I must pay some respect to the crew at Tire City Potters.

Once again this year, the small shop best known for plates, pots and the occasional skull cup has thrown clay pumpkins that families can carve, color and fire. These permanent pumpkins will probably not force any farmers out of the gourd business, but carving away at the soft clay is a great way to spend an afternoon and has gotten me off the gunk-scraping hook.

That’s win-win in my book.

 

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