“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” — Jane Wagner, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”
There are just some people who can’t help but complain.
They love it. They thrive on it. They simply can’t help themselves.
Steven Uhles, the guest entertainment columnist for The Augusta Chronicle, just might be on of those people.
Last week, Uhles provided Augustans with another one of his lecturing columns called, “Westobou wheel yet unbalanced.”
“Since its inception, the driving ethos behind the Westobou Festival’s booking policy has been to present a festival that, over time, will instill into its audience a sense of trust,” Uhles wrote in his October 7 column.
While Uhles acknowledged that he praised last year’s Westobou Festival for “successfully booking five days’ worth of acts” that he believed would “go a long way” toward establishing that trust, he proceeded to say that this year’s festival still did not develop the “level of trust” with its audience that the organizers are so desperately seeking.
“I do not believe this year’s event can be considered an unmitigated success, or even as successful as last year’s event,” he wrote. “The problem was a musical one.”
Uhles wrote that, while the festival’s opening acts were a hit, the musical shows on Thursday and Friday (specifically Johnnyswim and T. Hardy Morris) did not receive the same enthusiastic response.
“No multi-day event can be considered successful when two days have to be even partially written off,” Uhles stated.
Here’s a little friendly advice for Mr. Uhles: Lighten up.
The fact that Augusta is fortunate enough to have a multi-day event like the Westobou Festival that was created by the Porter Fleming Foundation and artist Shirley Fleming’s estate is truly a miracle.
Let’s say that again: A miracle.
A lot of folks love to trash Augusta, but the Westobou Festival is an amazing event that puts a spotlight on the city through a celebration of national and international talent. It’s not something you would automatically expect to see in a mid-sized city like Augusta.
The Garden City is not Portland, Oregon, or Austin, Texas, or even Charleston, S.C., but it is seriously trying to bring quality performances to this region with the Westobou Festival.
Now, does Mr. Uhles have a right to his opinion? Sure he does. But how many years in a row can he complain about the Westobou Festival not doing enough?
Even his 2012 column that he claimed “praised” the festival started out talking about how he thought it was going to fail.
“I was wrong,” Uhles wrote in 2012. “I thought this year’s Westobou Festival had too much working against it. I thought competing events — Border Bash being the most notable — acts with suspect marketability and a foreshortened schedule and tight budget would prove insurmountable. I thought the festival might fail. I hoped I was wrong but felt pretty sure I was right.”
Boy, nice backhanded compliment.
A couple of years before that column, Uhles wrote in 2010 that Augusta was frequently plagued by the problem that many people still weren’t familiar with the Westobou Festival.
He said people were having “trouble defining, explaining or discerning” exactly what the Westobou Festival intended to be.
“I can’t say I blame them,” he wrote in 2010. “Westobou has been and has aspirations to be a lot of very different things. By that I do not mean diverse in its offerings, although that is true. I mean something much more problematic.
“There are certain factions that hope to see this festival focus more on popular music, replacing traditional fine arts performances with a series of concerts. Bad idea.
Others hope it will follow the Spoleto model, becoming focused on the finest of fine arts and dismissing more popular fare. Another bad idea.”
Does anyone else see a running theme here? Bad, bad, bad.
But the kicker was the first year Augusta announced the festival in 2007.
Back then, Uhles wrote a column called, “Don’t squander Westobou Festival.”
“When it comes to arts events in Augusta, more is, in fact, more,” Uhles wrote in the beginning of his 2007 column. “I do not believe that it is possible to oversaturate the market with dance, music, art or acting. Even if it is possible, the local community is so far from reaching that point that discussion is senseless.
“So I am, in theory, excited by the prospect of the Westobou Festival.”
Wow. Don’t get too enthused over a brand new festival in the Garden City.
“Still, I have some early misgivings,” Uhles wrote.
What a surprise.
“The first is the name,” he stated. “Although I recognize the historical significance — Westobou is the Indian name for the Savannah River — my feeling was that it sounded less like a fine arts festival than a summer camp.”
The name just didn’t work for him. Apparently, the Porter Fleming Foundation should have consulted him before choosing the name.
“I’m pretty sure the application of a festival label — particularly one that sounds like summer camp — isn’t the sort of maneuver that will elevate these productions from local favorites to regional success stories,” Uhles wrote in 2007.
But, of course, Uhles still had to play both sides of the fence.
“The good news is that the inaugural Westobou is still a year off, giving plenty of time to make tweaks, focus efforts and truly determine what this potentially fantastic celebration can be,” Uhles wrote at the end of his 2007 column. “Perhaps, and I hope this is true, my naysaying will be for naught, and Westobou, as planned, will be an important and significant success.
“I just don’t think I’ll ever get used to that name.”
The Augusta Chronicle should seriously think about changing his title from entertainment columnist to entertainment critic because criticizing is what he seems to do best.