Banners, lanterns and signs in green, yellow, pink, orange and teal were hung at venues across the city as festival organizers kicked off the first of 10 days of events celebrating local, regional and national talent.
They signal a symbolic change for Westobou, which will present a smaller but easier-to-navigate festival this year, with color-coded schedules that aim to help audiences find their way around the 50 performances that make up the 2011 lineup.
That’s far fewer performances than past festivals, which routinely featured 200 events.
This year’s festival focuses on fewer events but bigger acts, including one-of-a-kind performances and collaborations, said Molly McDowell, who was hired last year as the festival’s new curator and art director.
With more high-profile events, such as Thursday night’s world premiere of Transfigured Time: Music for the Films of Maya Deren, composed and performed by Mac McCaughan, the festival hopes to attract a greater regional audience, McDowell said.
“We’re getting calls from people coming from North Carolina, Florida,” she said. “People are aware of what’s going on in Augusta.”
Other headlining events include Rosanne Cash and Blue Rodeo at the parade grounds of the Old Richmond Academy tonight, public radio host Ira Glass at Augusta State University on Saturday, Branford Marsalis, performing with Jessye Norman, at the Imperial Theatre on Monday, modern dance company Momix at the Imperial on Oct. 6 and 7, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the parade grounds Oct. 7.
For the first time, the parade grounds will function as a home base for the festival.
“It’s beautiful; it’s new for us; it’s different,” McDowell said. “It’s what we’re all about at Westobou.”
Also for the first time this year, the festival was separated from Arts in the Heart, the long-running international festival also held in September.
“It’s extremely rewarding watching this event come together,” said Cameron Nixon, the chairman of Augusta Westobou Festival Inc. “We have scheduled and planned events with a particular level of excellence. We’ve got room to grow, but I’m confident that we can say, with this many high-quality shows, people will want to come to Augusta.”