Celebrating its eighth year, Westobou has become known as Augusta’s “ever-evolving multi-arts festival” dedicated to building this region’s cultural community, while also helping to strengthen the local economy.
“Westobou has changed quite a bit over the years,” said Executive Director Kristi Jilson, sitting in Westobou’s new office and gallery at 1129 Broad Street. “We went from something like 200 events over 10 or 15 days to taking a step back and asking, ‘How do we make this work for our community? What is a new platform that we can use for this festival?’” As a result of those discussions, Westobou transformed into a more customer-friendly, five-day festival running from September 30 through October 4 that focuses on the five different genres of music, dance, film, spoken word and visual arts.
“Reducing it down to five days and focusing on the five genres I think was a very smart move because we are now building a much stronger foundation for the festival and for the arts in Augusta,” Jilson said. “We have evolved in many ways and I think we are getting more sophisticated and more savvy in the planning process and the fundraising process, so we will have a better foundation to grow from.”
And the excitement over this unique arts festival continues to build as this year’s lineup features shows by incredible artists such as musician Ben Folds.
Probably best known for the piano-driven music he wrote and performed as both a solo artist and with his former band, Ben Folds Five which disbanded in 2000, Ben Folds will be performing at Westobou with the Symphony Orchestra Augusta on October 1 at the Jessye Norman Amphitheater.
“Ben Folds’ work right now with chamber orchestras is really pretty phenomenal and I am really looking forward to seeing our symphony play with him,” Jilson said. “I just can’t imagine what this night is going to be like. We are all going to be sitting there at dusk, the stars are going to start coming out, there is going to be boats on the water and this 80-piece symphony is going to be playing with Ben Folds on a piano, basically, two feet away from the first row of patrons. I mean, it is going to be so fantastic.”
The festival will also feature several shows at its new Westobou gallery on Broad Street including the exhibit, “Story Line: Wiley, Howard and Moneyhun.”
“This exhibit features three female artists — Pam Wiley, Stephanie Howard and Hiromi Moneyhun — from different areas of the Southeast. They are from Jacksonville, Savannah and Greenville, S.C.,” Jilson said, adding that the show will open on September 30 and run through November 20. “All three women create work based around line, and they all tell a story, hence the name, ‘Story Line.’”
Jilson said she is thrilled to be able to feature these artists for a more extended period of time in Westobou’s new gallery in downtown Augusta.
“I’m most excited about the space we are in now,” Jilson said, looking around the new gallery at 1129 Broad Street. “We are very excited to have a year-round space and a year-round presence on Broad Street and in downtown Augusta. In the past, we were at the Old Academy of Richmond County, so that exhibition was five days and five days only. This year, our exhibition will open the first day of Westobou, but it will go until Nov. 20, so we will be able to show to the public for a longer period of time.”
In fact, the Westobou Festival this year has become much more centrally located to the downtown area, Jilson said.
“Another big move this year is we are moving from the Parade Grounds at the Old Academy of Richmond County to the Common,” Jilson said, adding that Westobou has nicknamed the Common as “Westobou Central.” “We are saying the Common is sort of Westobou’s creative playground. We are turning that area into a really fun place to meet, greet and gather and get to know other people in the community.”
By centralizing the festival in the Augusta Common on Broad Street, Jilson hopes more of the general public will feel comfortable exploring all that the festival has to offer.
“This year, we will be much more visible to walking traffic,” she said. “Also, the ferris wheel is coming back again and you will be able to see that from Broad Street and we are going to add a live music stage and a food truck court to the Common.”
Many of these aspects were included in previous Westobou festivals, but much of Augusta wasn’t aware of them because they were located at the parade grounds.
“Everything will be much more visible this year,” Jilson said. “And I feel by using the Common, people know where that it is, what happens there and what to expect. Before, people were like, ‘The parade grounds? Where is that? What is that? How do I get there? Where do I park?’ The Common is easy to digest.”
But many of the shows and performances will still be featured in a variety of venues across Augusta, including “Play and Play: An Evening of Movement and Music” performed by internationally recognized Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company on October 3 at the Imperial Theatre.
“There will be live musicians on stage, a string quartet, along with the dancers,” Jilson said. “So, there is an interesting play on stage between the live music and the dancers and how intimate that performance becomes between the two art forms.”
On September 30, the GRU Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre will also feature the Augusta premiere of the documentary, “Listen to Me Marlon,” by director Stevan Riley.
The film focuses on the life of legendary actor Marlon Brando.
“Stevan Riley is a filmmaker that is currently living in London, but he will be here in Augusta for the premiere,” Jilson said. “His documentary, ‘Listen to Me Marlon,’ we anticipate it will probably win the Academy Award for documentaries. There is a lot of buzz about it because it is just sort of a new take on the documentary film.”
When filming “Listen to Me Marlon,” Riley did not take the usual approach of simply interviewing people, Jilson said.
“It is not a bunch of talking heads and lots of interviews,” Jilson said. “It is very much Marlon Brando’s voice and even his digitized head, which is really incredible. So we are very excited about having Stevan Riley here in conversation to speak about the process of making that film and the research that he did on Marlon Brando and digging up all the old footage and finding his voice recordings.”
For lovers of graphic design, Westobou is also featuring the work of Savannah-based comic book artist Jarrett Williams.
“Jarrett Williams does a great wrestling comic book called ‘Super Pro K.O.,’” Jilson said. “He is probably the biggest wrestling fan I’ve ever met. But he will be signing his comic book at The Book Tavern and he will be at the Common several days during the festival doing caricatures, just saying hello to people and taking in all of what’s happening.”
On Sunday, October 4, the final day of the festival, the Westobou gallery will feature An Evening with Nellie McKay.
“Nellie McKay is an actress, comedian, spoken-word artist and musician. She plays the ukulele and piano,” Jilson said. “We are very excited to have her here at the Westobou gallery for an intimate performance. We can fit about 130 people in here, so it will be an up close and personal experience.”
For Jilson, that’s really what Westobou is all about.
“We have seen that intimate sort of experience as a theme this year,” Jilson said. “With many of these events, you are able to get really close to these artists. Like, even with the Jessye Norman Amphitheater, where you can fit about 1,600 people in there, I think ultimately it feels very intimate because we are all experiencing this very romantic, magical moment together as a community.”
The following are a few of the many events featured during the 2015 Westobou Festival. For a complete list, visit westoboufestival.com:
Ben Folds with Symphony Orchestra Augusta
Jessye Norman Amphitheater
Thursday, October 1
Tickets: $35 and up; $10 students and military tickets available
Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company
Saturday, October 3
Tickets: $45-$65; $10 students and military
Celebrating the Life & Work of Marlon Brando
GRU Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre
Wednesday, September 30
Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 on the day of the show, $45 VIP; Free for students, $5 for military
An Evening with Nellie McKay
Sunday, October 4
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 on the day of the show; $5 for students and military
Jarrett Williams: Super Pro Fun
The Book Tavern
Saturday, October 3
Savannah-based comic book artist Jarrett Williams will be signing copies of his wrestling-themed comic Super Pro K.O. and applying his distinct style to caricatures at the Augusta Common.
Late Night Series: All Vinyl Everything
Hive Growler Bar
Thursday, October 1
Established in 2012, this Atlanta-based enterprise doesn’t believe there should be any digital in DJ. These crate-diving, record-playing turntable experts spin and mix nothing but the very finest songs, beats and grooves pressed into vinyl. Laptops and iPods need not apply.
Starts at Westobou Gallery
Friday, October 2
A free trolley hop showcasing Downtown Augusta galleries and exhibitions.
The Band: Concord
Friday, October 2
The Virginia-based Band Concord melds elements of folk, rock and string band music into a sound that is reminiscent of acts like the Decemberists, Fleet Foxes and the Avett Brothers.
Late Night Series: Funky Good Time
Friday, October 2
Case Bloom, one of Nashville’s finest record slingers, will present his popular Funky Good Time blend of funk, soul, and party favorites.
Story Line: Wiley, Howard and Moneyhun
September 30-November 20
10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Story Line: Wiley, Howard and Moneyhun, brings together three artists working in very specific – and very different – media to the new Westobou Gallery.
Perlow: Live Painting with Jay Jacobs
JB White building
September 30-October 4
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Originally the name for a hunter’s small game potluck stew the artist’s grandfather would often contribute to, Perlow is about living off the creative land. Drawing inspiration from his surroundings, Jacobs works the sights, sounds, textures and characters he finds in his immediate environs and translates them into his distinctive style.
Pollination: The Work of Staci Swider
Jessye Norman School of the Arts
September 30-October 4
Noon – 6 p.m.
Aiken painter Staci Swider’s work reinterprets the patterns and textures found in function-driven objects such as quilts and baskets as dreamscape imagery that straddles the line between figurative and abstract.