Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dogwood Festival: The Best of 75

Ferris Wheel & Carousel
The Atlanta Dogwood Festival, in its 75th year, was the best I’ve attended since my first in the late 1980s…they totally outdid themselves. 

From the daily live music to the incredibly popular Ferris wheel, from the talented and very personable artists to the over-the-top food vendors, from the disc dog tournament to the animated clowns, this Festival was…well, it was very festive!

I tried to convince several friends to come along but heard the same story multiple times…“It’s all the same artists year after year,” as if that was the only thing this Festival is about. The friends who opted to not attend totally missed out because it was so much more. Next year, guys!

Yes, it’s true, there are some artists who are there year after year, many of which I welcome back with open arms…there’s some amazing talent at our festivals. Actually, I have several personal favorites that I’ll mention in just a moment.

The Dogwood Festival indeed has an artist market (similar but not the same as our annual Arts Festival later in the year), but it doesn’t stop there. There are numerous special events for adults and lots of children’s activities and programs…there’s more going on than most realize and more than any one person can possibly do in a single day…it’s a good thing it’s a three-day festival for us festival-lovers.

The Rides

Shark Slide
There were rides! The most popular was the antique Ferris wheel…and for good reason. From the top, you could see the Atlanta skyline…a unique and rare view of the Atlanta skyline at that. The line to ride was a little long, but it moved relatively quickly, so the wait would definitely be worth the view. Consider doing this first so you can enjoy the rest of the Festival at leisure, assuming the Ferris wheel returns next year.

There was also a shark slide, rock climbing, and a bungee jumping contraption with  trampolines that allowed riders to do mid-air somersaults…it looked like way too much fun!

The Artists

Greg Stones
The Dogwood Festival, in addition to its many other activities, is an opportunity for artists, local and from around the country, to showcase their work…and sell it. Some of my favorites are not local so I like it when I see them return so I can see their newest work in person.

My favorite artist this year, by far, was Greg Stones. Why? From the moment I stepped into his booth, and many times since, I was laughing out loud. I had to ask Greg where he got his inspiration…

From watching too many B-rated films,” Greg told me, totally reminding me of my friend Daved in Washington, D.C., who also has a great sense of humor and a writing style I can only aspire to. I have to admit that I do believe I’m developing a new respect for B-rated movies.

I asked Greg if I could take a photo for tourATLANTA and he agreed. He stood up and I immediately felt short…even at my 6’2”! Greg had to squat for the photo so that the background didn’t split his head, which he would have made a grand joke of, I’m sure.

Keep it coming, Greg…I’m in love with your humorous, clever work, also known as Gouache Paintings by Greg Stones.

Elaine Rader
The first artist I met at this year’s Festival was Elaine Rader, a Georgia resident. If you met Elaine anywhere else, chances are you would guess that she’s an artist of some kind. Well, she is…and a splendid one at that. Elaine was one of the artists in the “Georgia Artists” section of the Artist Market. 

I’ve heard of attorneys becoming chefs (on several counts), but I’ve never heard of a professional ballet dancer turning jewelry artist…that’s just what Elaine did. She studied at Julliard and performed as a member of the New York City Ballet. Her transformation is to our benefit…Elaine’s organic, sculptural jewelry is unique and sophisticated, as is she.

I also had the pleasure of meeting artist James LaCasse who does fantastic work based on the human form. An annual favorite of mine is artist Beau Tudzarov…his digital chess pieces and martini glasses are mind-bending phenomenal. And artist Maria-Louise Coil encapsulates Atlanta landmarks in a beautifully artistic manner the likes of which I’ve never seen…I foresee one of her pieces joining my art collection in the not too distant future.

The Events

In addition to the peripheral activities around the Festival, there were several more prominent events taking place. The one I found the most entertaining was the dog disc exhibition, which was a qualifier for a national competition.

Customer & Artist
The dog disc exhibition, held through Woof Sports USA, basically entailed playing catch with dogs using Frisbees instead of a stick. By the way, the competing dogs were the only canines allowed in the Festival.

During the tournament, the master of ceremonies conducted a trivia contest for all the nearby kids, which was just as entertaining as the dog disc exhibition. 

She would ask a question while the kids waited on the sidelines. As soon as the trivia question (such as “What kind of dog is commonly seen at fire stations?) was answered, all the kids had to run to the MC and shout their answer. The kids had a blast running and winning prizes and the parents undoubtedly enjoyed the guarantee that the kids got a good night’s sleep that evening.

La Fete, an event celebrating the international diversity of the Festival, was conducted on the first evening of the weekend in the Greystone event facility. Honored guests included councilman Kwanza Hall & Consul Salvador de Lara Rangel of Mexico, as well as Miss Georgia, the beautiful and radiant Christina McCauley. I didn’t get to go to La Fete this year, but it’s definitely on my calendar for next year! 

The Clowns

Clowns! No, I’m not talking about some of the festival attendees…there were real clowns there, round red noses and all, to entertain the masses.

If nothing else can garner a smile from the kiddies, a clown can. Whether by engaging them in colorful conversation, creating a balloon art hat, or sweeping the grass floor of Piedmont Park with a rainbow broom, these brightly colored animated artisans are a festival favorite…for kids of all ages.

I’ve loved clowns since my first visit to a circus as a child…and the Dogwood Festival clowns deliver every promised smile and a few giggles, too.

The kids have an opportunity to somewhat be a clown as well via a visit to the face painting booth…with lots of options to choose from, they can spend the day roaming Piedmont Park as a lion, a princess, or a clown. 

The Photos

I also saw more cameras this year than I’ve ever seen at the Dogwood Festival…and for good reason. The day I went, the weather was perfect…blue sky, moderate temperature, lots of color. 

People were snapping shots with the Atlanta skyline as a backdrop (Piedmont Park is excellent for those shots). They were making photos of the artwork (except in the booths with signs posted prohibiting photography). And many photos were made of the various attractions throughout the Festival, including the Ferris wheel, the dog disc competition, and of course other festival goers.

The Recycling 

3D Metal Art
Even a week before Earth Day, the Dogwood Festival was very environmentally conscious. There were recycling bins throughout the Festival and even the cooking oil being used by food vendors was designated to be recycled into bio fuel.

I find myself impressed with these endeavors. They’re not easy and they take time and money to conduct, so kudos to the Festival organizers for making the effort to do it and for helping to increase awareness of the necessity to recycle.

The Pop Art

Coke Dragon
There was more art at this year’s Dogwood Festival than what was in the artist booths. One of the pieces that you totally couldn’t miss was the Coca-Cola bottle dragon…yes, a car-size dragon made entirely of Coke bottles and cans. Talk about recycling!

There was also a fleet of decorated golf carts ranging in theme from tropic island to frat party. I wasn’t able to determine what they were for, but it looked like, based on signage on the carts, that there may have been some kind of parade or they may have just been used as transportation for Festival dignitaries.

And probably the most unique pop art item was a decorated port-a-potty artistically crafted to resemble a country out house. Oh, the things you see at festivals!

There’s More

Yes, there’s still more! One of the coolest things I saw was a Dogwood sapling giveaway. Atlanta already has more Dogwood trees than I could count, but I find it exciting to know there will be even more next year.

Chevrolet was onsite conducting a promotion (and giving away bags to those who completed a quick survey) and had quite a few cars on display…some sporty, some more family oriented.
Radio stations were out in force entertaining the Festival-goers adding to the music from the several live music stages throughout the Festival.

Food Vendors
And the food vendors…anyone would be remiss for not giving a nod to the food vendors at a festival of this nature. We had a grand choice of every kind of festival fare you can imagine. 

From funnel cakes to…wait for it…deep fried pickles? Yes, deep friend pickles (fondly called Elvis Pickles at one of my favorite dining establishments here in Atlanta).

I know we Southerners are famous for deep frying anything, but deep frying pickles surprised even me. I refrained from indulging, but many treated themselves.

The Challenges

Ok, so any festival this size will have its challenges and the Dogwood Festival did too, but they were not detrimental to ones’ having a great time.

Glass Art
Telephone reception was definitely an issue and I’ve heard the same complaint from people who have attended other festivals or large gatherings in Piedmont Park…so, City of Atlanta and cellular providers, listen up! We need more bandwidth in Piedmont Park! 

These festivals and gatherings are great for the local economy. Please don’t make visitors determine they can’t attend because something as simple as a phone call or a text message won’t go through.

And that’s not all…the bandwidth is also needed for vendors. Their mobile credit card machines don’t work if the transmission won’t go through. The vendors miss a revenue opportunity if they can’t conduct transactions and visitors miss opportunities to make a purchase if they don’t have the cash on them (and I know quite a few people who purchase a piece of art at these festivals on an annual basis).

Getting There

The Dogwood Festival takes place throughout Piedmont Park, which has several entrances…any of which can be used to immediately access the Festival. 

Parking during any event of this size can be a challenge, but not impossible. I was parked within three minutes of arriving, but I also have a small car. Many of our suburbanites, especially those with families, drive larger vehicles which can add to the time it takes to find parking.

There are a few pay parking lots in the vicinity of Piedmont Park, including the relatively new one shared by Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which went back and forth between lot full and available throughout the weekend.

The Return

The next Atlanta Dogwood Festival is a year from now…is it on my calendar? You’re doggone right it’s on my calendar. I will definitely be back…and I plan to take full advantage of all the events being offered, especially the La Fete event and I do hope they bring back the Ferris wheel—a sentiment many others have expressed!

Attending the Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Date toured: Sunday, April 17, 2011
Location: Piedmont Park (directions and map)
Parking: Piedmont Park parking deck or nearby street parking
MARTA: Taking MARTA to the Dogwood Festival
Cost: Free (with some ticketed events and rides)

Bring Back the Ferris Wheel!

1 comment:

Elaine Rader said...

Travis, thank you so much for including me in your blog!! It was good to meet you too, although briefly.
Love your report on the festival. Keep up the great work!
Take Care, Elaine