Like many 35-year-olds, the Utah Arts Festival is considerably larger than its younger self. And—again, like most 35-year-olds—it’s far more interesting than the younger version, having lived a little and ultimately benefited from some growing pains.
When the festival started in 1977, evolving out of the Salt Lake City Festival of the Arts, it was a three-day gathering on three blocks of Main Street, boasting 55 visual artists, 43 performing groups and eight food stands. It cost about $38,000. Now, it’s a four-day, $1.6 million monster drawing more than 80,000 to Washington Square and Library Square, showcasing more than 140 artists, 100 live performances and 20 culinary visionaries. It takes more than 1,000 volunteers to pull off, plus four full-time staffers, 60 program coordinators and a production staff of 30.
In between its Main Street start and current location, the festival bounced through a site on West Temple near the Salt Lake Art Center, the Triad Center area, the Utah State Fairpark (aka “the lost years”) and the Gallivan Center.
The festival’s executive director, Lisa Sewell, remembers visiting the Utah Arts Fest for the first time in 1983, having recently moved home to Utah after college in Oregon.
“I was trying to find a job, figure out what I was going to do, and I distinctly remember sitting on that slope (outside the Salt Lake Art Center) with hair down to my ass, and I was wearing this long white dress with embroidery on it,” Sewell says. “And I remember thinking what a great thing it was. Who’da thunk 15 years later I’d be the director of it?”
My own first memories of the fest start as a college student at the U in the early ’90s, when I had no time for visual arts but loved seeing concerts by the likes of Laurie Anderson (1991), Jimmie Dale Gilmore (1994) and Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens (1992), a South African group that inspired my house full of college dudes to start greeting each other for the rest of the summer with an African howdy: “Ya-bo!”
In the years since, my tastes have grown more eclectic, as have the offerings of the festival. Art, music, food, film—I like to sample as much as possible during those four days each June. Here’s a look at 35 aspects of the 2011 festival on my to-do list.
35 on My Must-Check-Out List:
1. Big Sam's Funky Nation: Many-splendored funk
Led by trombonist Sammie “Big Sam” Williams, a one-time member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Big Sam’s Funky Nation is a funk and rock machine that incorporates plenty of the divergent jazz styles that fill the clubs in Big Sam’s hometown of New Orleans. Sunday, June 26, 8:30 p.m., Amphitheater Stage
2. 35: Marking the years
To help celebrate its 35th anniversary, the fest called on local artist Sean Rossiter, editor of online art mag 15bytes, to curate a show called 35, featuring six Utah artists—all born the year of the first festival, 35 years ago—working in painting, printmaking, sculptural mixed-media, photography, sound and video. The show features Ashley Knudsen Baker of Orem, Spanish Fork’s Namon Bills, Ephraim’s Jared Latimer and Salt Lakers Chadwick Tolley, Rosi Hayes and Michael Ryan Handley. June 24-Aug. 5, The Gallery at Library Square, 4th Floor, Main Library
3. Brent Haddock: Remembering awakening
Heber City printmaker Brent Haddock’s prints (above) often invoke his interests in Renaissance life and the desert canyons of Utah, sometimes in one work. The seemingly odd juxtapositions between them struck me as some of the coolest visual arts of the festival. GoldenKoiStudio.com
4. Maraca: Toot Sweet
Know how often I go to hear a flautist on purpose? Try never. I can’t even stomach Jethro Tull. But the arts fest seems a perfect location to sample a musician like Orlando “Maraca” Valle, a Havana-born flautist revered in Afro-Cuban jazz circles. Expect the dance floor in front of the stage to fill quickly when Maraca gets going. Saturday, June 25, 9:45 p.m., Amphitheater Stage
5. Dorothee Kocks & The Glass Harmonica:
Looking for a little sex appeal in your arts-fest experience? Hey, who isn’t? The glass harmonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in the 1790s, was once believed to drive women into states of ecstatic abandon. Is it true? Author and performance artist Dorothee Kocks will show what the instrument can do and share tales from her book The Glass Harmonica, A Sensualist’s Tale. Men and women can probably agree: Let’s hope the rumors are true. Saturday, June 25, 4 p.m., Big Mouth Café
6. Ballet West: Fleet feet
Ballet West’s dancers return to the Utah Arts Fest for the first time in a decade, thanks to a National Endowment for the Arts grant and three years of wheeling and dealing between the fest and Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute to make sure the stage was ballet-ready. For anyone who can’t imagine sitting through a full ballet performance—my people!—the festival offers brief takes from larger works every night. Try it—ballet goes down pretty smooth in small doses. June 23-26, 6:30 p.m., Festival Stage
7. Salt Lake Electric Ensemble: Music of the machine
It’s hard to think of a better setting for the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble to perform its interpretation of Terry Riley’s “In C,” delivering the minimalist masterwork of repetition via laptops and instruments, along with some vivid visuals. Friday, June 24, 8:30 p.m., The Round
The self-educated Dave Borba creates “instant folk art” via an intricate process of hand-carving wood, making molds, casting in silicone, painting and, ultimately, putting all the parts together. The end results are distinctive pieces that often feature devils or skeletons—very rock & roll. DaveBorba.com
9. Judson Jennings: All forked up
Remember the Seinfeld episode when George’s dad made a “Fusilli Jerry”? North Salt Lake artist Judson Jennings will be at the Utah Arts Festival for the first time this year, and he’ll be introducing the “Fork-o-pelli,” a kokopelli made from, yes, forks.
Jennings was inspired to create what he dubs “forked-up art” when he was going to business school at the U and having a hard time finding a job. Having trained as a welder before college, he started playing with kitchen utensils, bending, shaping and welding them into characters like fishermen, skiers and ballerinas.
“The sky’s the limit when it comes to silverware,” Jennings says of his medium of choice.
The forked-up characters have taken Jennings from a job seeker to an independent businessman able to make a living off his art just 18 months later, all thanks to a buzz created by craft blogs when Jennings put his creations on craft Website Etsy.com.
He wasn’t accepted to the Utah Arts Festival in 2010, and he’s excited to get into the “pretty prestigious show” this summer. He expects to get the same reactions here as he does at other festivals.
“It’s hilarious,” Jennings says. “Anywhere you go, you have people double over laughing. Lots of smiles and lots of people pointing. It’s fun to see people react to something fresh, something new, something most of them have never seen before.” ForkedUpArt.com
10. Holy Water Buffalo: Retro rock
This Heber-based band of youngsters has a sound evocative of a time well before any of the members were born. When you look at the flying hair and band van, you might label Holy Water Buffalo as retro-rock revivalists, but these boys have serious chops, practice like crazy and play shows somewhere on the Wasatch Front seemingly every day. Their first show at the arts fest should introduce a lot of new fans to this band on the rise. Sunday, June 26, 6:15 p.m., Park Stage
11. Summerhays Music Center Instrument Petting Zoo: Make some noise
The festival always has a bevy of activities for kids—hey, this is Utah. And beyond the usual face-painting and the comedy-for-kids portion of the Fear No Film schedule, you can find plenty for the young’uns at the Art Yard, from youth-oriented literary workshops to hands-on artistic experiences. You’ll also find the Instrument Petting Zoo, where kids can strum, blow and hit all manner of fun noise-making devices, potentially sparking a lifelong love of music. June 23-26, noon-9 p.m., Art Yard
12. Urban Arts:
More of an Edge
You won’t want to miss this little corner of the fest, where Uprok Records will have DJs spinning and The Cube will showcase an ever-changing graffiti art piece. Copper Palate Press will be on hand to teach people printmaking and silkscreening, and a few graffiti artists familiar to fans of the 337 Project will be there to create custom trucker hats. Also affiliated with the Urban Arts portion of the festival is the City Weekly Out of the Box Art Project, in which local artists took plain black newspaper boxes and turned them into one-of-a-kind artworks; check them out at the library’s Urban Room daily during the festival.
13. Leia Bell:
City Weekly readers have seen Leia Bell’s work around town for years, via prints promoting shows at Kilby Court and elsewhere. 2010 was her first year at the Utah Arts Fest, which used Bell’s work as the “official look” of the festival’s promotional materials. This year, she’s showcasing her slice-of-life images along with an alphabet- themed look at birds. LeiaBell.com
14. Revisiting Utah Arts Festival History: A long strange trip
Curators from the U’s Marriott Library put together this show of photos, memorabilia and assorted artistic detritus offering a look at the festival’s first 34 years. June 23-Aug. 5, The Gallery at Library Square, 4th Floor, Salt Lake Main Library
15. The Old World: Fiddle me this
The band formerly known as Matt Ben Jackson hits the Utah Arts Festival for the first time with a new name and a fine new self-titled album full of pleasing folk-rock. Touches of fiddles, mandolins, organs and horns make songs like “Mexico” and “Battle Creek” come to life, and the guys prove remarkably pliable musicians via the intricate-yet-uncluttered arrangements. Thursday, June 23, 6:30 p.m., Park Stage
16. Christine Fedor: Dressed-up vintage
Calling all steampunks! Christine Fedor, one of the Poor Yorick Studios’ resident creative forces, takes recycled vintage jewelry based in brass and silver and adds modern flourishes through a blowtorch flame and metal solder in forming her one-of-a-kind pieces. PunkensteinJewelry.com
17. Blue Lotus Dance Collaborative: Shakin’ it
Obviously, one of the benefits of a massive arts festival is being able to delve into something new with little to no effort. So, if you’ve never been drawn to one of the belly-dancing festivals that pop up around town, you might want to consider wandering toward the Salt Lake City & County Building when Blue Lotus Dance Collaborative performs some of its mesmerizing Middle Eastern moves. Friday, June 24, 6:30 p.m., Salt Lake City & County Building steps
18. The American Shakes: Okey-dokey folky
This group led by former Band of Annuals steel-guitar man Brent Dreiling doesn’t play a ton of shows, so finding a place to catch them performing tunes from their excellent 2010 debut, Begin, is always a treat. If sunny folk-pop and classic ’70s-sounding country are your thing, The American Shakes have what you need. Friday, June 24, 2:30 p.m., Park Stage
19. Fear No Film:
I love going to the movies, but I never go see short-film collections. The arts fest’s Fear No Film program is the exception, though, and the one time each year I delve into the short-film world. It offers a nice mix of local and international films and the promise of a cool hour in the library on days that can be scorching hot. Visit UAF.org for a complete schedule. June 23-26, all day, Salt Lake City Main Library Auditorium
20. Cat Napier: Rising signs
Sometimes it’s amazing what an artist can do with simply a pen, ink and piece of paper. West Jordan artist Cat Napier creates remarkably intricate illustrations with just those tools, and her “Cerebral Illustrations” series turns astrological signs into incredibly detailed representations of the zodiac. SwanGraphx.com
21. Sarah Sample: Traveling troubadour
One-time Utah resident Sarah Sample is no stranger to the state. Her career as a touring musician essentially started when she was a Utah State University student, and she’s made regular tour stops here in the years since moving away.
This will be the first time she’s played the Utah Arts Festival, though, and it comes on the heels of months of touring to support her latest album, Someday, Someday, an excellent set ranging from folk to country to a little rock & roll—think of a blend of Emmylou Harris, Jolie Holland or Tift Merritt and you have some idea of what Sample brings to the table.
The Utah Arts Fest gig will be a homecoming of sorts for Sample, in a couple of ways.
While many of her gigs on the road take place in coffee shops and at house concerts—just Sample and her guitar or ukulele—this show allows her to play with a slew of the musicians populating Someday, Someday, making this performance a rare, full-band treat. Among those joining her will be Ryan Tanner, Pat Campbell and Dylan Schorer—all familiar faces for local roots-music fans.
The show is also an unofficial “welcome back” gig; in July, Sample will be moving to Salt Lake City for at least the next three years, while her husband does his medical residency at the U.
“Any festival that is celebrating art—not just the music form, but dance and other arts—I think it’s fantastic,” Sample says. “When you go to an arts fest, there are a lot of people there just because it’s a city event. You have a chance to expose your music to people who might not otherwise hear it.” Friday, June 24, 5:15 p.m., Park Stage
22. Melissa Bond:
That’s what she said
Salt Lake City poet Melissa Bond has turned her attentive eye and talented pen in many directions through the years, but perhaps nothing has begged for her creative appraisal more than motherhood. The winner of a 2006 City Weekly Best of Utah award for “Best Poet in Motion” pauses to ruminate on her new role in a show that premiered just last month and performs Afterbirth. Sunday, June 26, 5 p.m., Big Mouth Café
23. Cat Palmer:
Mixing it up
One of the pieces adorning the walls of my home is a killer shot of some L.A. gutter-punks taken by Ogden photographer and artist Cat Palmer, winner of a Best In Show prize at the Utah Arts Fest in 2009 and City Weekly Arty awards for best photographer in 2007 and 2008. Her work is always worth checking out, whether she’s doing a politically charged themed show or simple, often-stunning portraiture. This show features her 2-D mixed media. CatPalmer.com
24. Del McCoury Band: Old-timey magic
Simply put, there’s not a bluegrass band in the country that can compare to the Del McCoury Band. Led by the 72-year-old singer/guitarist Del McCoury, one-time member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, the band also includes his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo). Each of the McCourys has been voted the best at his instrument at least once by the International Bluegrass Music Association, and when the band gathers around one old-time microphone and get to harmonizing, the audience is transported to a simpler time. Sunday, June 26, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage
25. Melody Bullock: Good wood
Melody Bullock, with her husband, Kurt, started out as an artist when she realized many native Utah hardwood trees that died were simply being sent to the trash heap by their owners. Volunteering to adopt the wood, the Bullocks starting carving the logs into beautiful bowls, vases and sculptures. SpiritAndSoulOfTheTree.com
26. Thomas Holdman: A touch of glass
Lehi glass artist Thomas Holdman turned to art as a kid as a means of dealing with a life-long speech impediment.
“I’ve always had a struggle with speaking, so I had to look to other ways to communicate with people,” Holdman says. “I turned to the language of art so I could express myself.
“What I love about glass, and why I have committed myself to that medium, is that you let the glass speak to you as you are creating it, telling you where it wants to go. And when it’s done and you let the light take hold of it, it is a glorious experience.”
Holdman has been working glass in his Lehi studio since 1988, with his brother and other glass artists, and they’ve done large works in churches, on college campuses and in civic buildings throughout the country. They’ve done major installations in all 50 states and internationally, yet it took a few tries before Holdman was accepted into the Utah Arts Festival. His booth will “focus more on glass sculptures, on more intimate, small-scale pieces.” HoldmanStudios.com
27. Joshua Flicker: Industrial clay
Joshua Flicker’s ceramics are a blend of industrial creations made from organic substances. All his works are done with stoneware clay fired in an electric kiln, and when you see pieces with what appear to be steel pipes, nuts, bolts and gas caps, they are actually hand-crafted replicas of those objects made from clay. JoshuaFlicker.com
28. Fictionist: So close to the cover of Rolling Stone
After all the hullabaloo with the band’s run at landing on the cover of Rolling Stone, you probably haven’t seen Fictionist, or heard how the Provo band evolved through that strange, high-stress process. Here’s your chance. Saturday, June 25, 9 p.m., Park Stage
29. Trevin Prince: Bloodshed
Logan artist Trevin Prince puts more of himself into his artwork than any anyone at the Utah Arts Festival—literally. Prince uses his own blood in his paintings, applying it in multiple coats and thin washes to elicit a wide range of hues. Those colors change as his artworks age, and the white surface and clear resin he paints on allow light to shine through his blood, illuminating it a la stained glass. It’s kinda creepy, but kinda cool, too. TrevinPrince.com
30. Teresa Jordan: Western tales
A fourth-generation cattle rancher, author and visual artist (among other pursuits), Teresa Jordan has experienced the American West like few others, and she shares tales from her life on the range with enthralling storytelling performances. I’ve seen her in action, and you’ll leave wanting to run away and live on a ranch somewhere. Sunday, June 26, 4:30 p.m., Big Mouth Café
31. Jimmi Toro:
Pencil me in
Fest-goers who come across Jimmi Toro’s paintings will undoubtedly be drawn in by the anatomical studies presented via pencil, charcoal and paint (above). The multitalented artist also delves into music and fashion in his day-to-day artistic life, but it’s his eye-catching paintings that got him selected for this year’s festival, and they are like nothing else you’ll see on the festival grounds. JimmiToro.com
32. Numbs: Utah rappers
There is a fair share of hip-hop among the music acts this year, including Kiliona and Pigpen & Pat Maine, and I’m particularly stoked on the return of the Numbs, who just finished recording a new album, Soulburn, with Linus Stubbs providing the beats. While the album won’t get its “official” release until August, the Numbs boys are planning to have it on hand at the Utah Arts Fest for an unofficial sneak peek. Sunday, June 26, 6:30 p.m., The Round
33. Mayor’s Arts Awards: Scenemakers
The public rarely gets to thank the people who make the artistic life of Salt Lake City so rich. The Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office uses the Utah Arts Festival each year to honor some of those people and organizations, and if you’re at the festival on Friday, June 24, you can take part in letting these folks know what they do touched your life in some way. This year’s honorees certainly fit the bill: artist Trent Alvey, Charles Lynn Frost, better known to many as Sister Dottie S. Dixon, folklorist Carol Edison (see p. 8), Art Access Executive Director Ruth Lubbers and the Book Arts Program at the U’s Marriott Library (above). Friday, June 24, 8:15 p.m., Festival Stage
34. Rick Pieros: Snapshots from the road
Park City photographer Rick Pieros’s travels around the West made him realize there was more to document than nature, from ghost towns to abandoned cars. Sure, you can take pictures of those things yourself, if you have the time to travel, the eye for detail and the right equipment. And your shots still won’t end up looking as good as Pieros’s. RickPieros.com
35. Alex Caldiero:
Never seen the poet, writer and performance artist Alex Caldiero do his thing live and in-person? It’s something to behold, and the idea of his incendiary performance style erupting at the arts fest while unwitting attendees stroll by is just delicious. He’s the kind of guy who makes poetry come alive in the best way. Saturday, June 25, 6 p.m., Big Mouth Café