Black Swamp Arts Festival rocks Bowling GreenWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
A blend of visual arts, music and family entertainment will once again take over Bowling Green with the 19th annual Black Swamp Arts Festival.
The free Sept. 9-11 event features arts and crafts from national and area artists, an eclectic mix of blues, rock, folk, jazz and zydeco tunes and hands-on creative opportunities for children.
Found in booths set up in the middle of Main Street, the festival’s juried art show features more than 100 artists in mediums ranging from watercolor, jewelry and sculpture to photography, multimedia and glass.
More than 40 local artists will also display their work in the Wood County Invitational Art Show, which will include students from Bowling Green State University as well as Artists at Work, a demonstration/participation area. All art shows are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The festival features a mix of returning and new artists in an attempt to keep the event both fresh and familiar to the public, according to Linda Brown, chairperson of the festival’s visual arts committee. She said the festival is an appealing one to the artists, many of whom apply to return after their initial visit.
“Part of it is sales, because if they don’t sell well, they’re not going to come back,” Brown said. “As much, if not more, is the way they’re treated by the volunteers at the festival and the public coming to the festival. Even if the sales are not as high at this show as they might be at some other big city show, it’s a show they enjoy because of the community.”
In fact, the Black Swamp Arts Festival is ranked No. 61 on a top 100 list of arts shows in the U.S. by Sunshine Artist magazine, which uses show ratings from artists to compile the list.
The festival is known for bringing a wide range of music to the 60,000 people who flock to the event, from Chilean folk music to zydeco to sweaty garage-rock.
This year is no exception, as the lineup features a number of up-and-coming bands from the national and international music scenes.
Saturday’s headliner is Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, a James Brown-inspired blues band that has graced stages at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Wakarusa, as well as appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
The band was actually scheduled to appear at Black Swamp last year, but an opportunity to play some large shows interfered with the Bowling Green appearance. Since then, the band’s status has steadily grown, playing last fall at Austin City Limits and this summer at Bonnaroo.
“We felt very fortunate that after that didn’t work out, we were able to get him back this year, because he has been on the rise, for sure,” said Kelly Wicks, chair of the festival’s performance committee, said.
Preceding Black Joe Lewis is Eli “Paperboy” Reed & The True Loves, who Wicks labels “another young, super-cool soul singer. … Whereas Black Joe Lewis is more on the James Brown side of R&B and soul, Eli Reed is more on the Rat Pack side of it. Both are young, hot, up-and-coming artists with full bands and horn sections. It should be a really cool, double punch of soul, R&B and rock.”
As usual, musical diversity reigns supreme at the Black Swamp Arts Festival.
“One of the hallmarks of the festival really is that no matter when you come to watch the music, you’re going to like it,” Wicks said. “We always try very hard to represent a lot of different genres of music. There’s rock, blues, jazz, zydeco, Saharan African blues. There’s just a great diversity of musical styles, but all the players are top-quality representations of those genres.”
The quality extends to the performers playing earlier in the day as well — not just the headliners.
“Take Howard Fishman, playing at lunchtime (12:20 p.m.) on the main stage,” Wicks said. “Go to his website and look at the reviews of him in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the awards he’s won and the people he’s played with. We’ve been able to, over the past couple decades, build good relationships with artists and agencies that allow us to really bring in some nice people.”
One of the other cornerstones of the festival is the youth art area, where children get the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to their creativity. The area is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
“What makes that area so unique for festivals is that it’s about kids creating art, about being artists,” Wicks said. “It’s not one of those things you go to where they hand you a balloon and paint your face. You leave with something you’ve created, something’s that’s a piece of art.”
The family entertainment stage is located nearby, with performers gearing sets toward kids.
“The majority of the main stage artists are doing additional sets on either or both of the family or acoustic stages,” Wicks said. “It’s a really great opportunity to see a band on a big stage with full production and lights and the whole nine yards, and then later in the afternoon or the next day, you get to see this person in an acoustic setting or on the family stage in a completely different environment.”
An acoustic stage is also set up along Main Street at the Huntington Bank courtyard, with performances scheduled throughout the day Saturday and Sunday.
The food at the festival is nearly as varied as the music. Edibles this year include fried crawfish, jambalaya, pad thai, sirloin tips, veggie lo mein, elephant ears, ribs, perch, fried Oreos, worm buckets and pie on a stick. An assortment of beers and wines will be available at the beer garden, set up near the main stage.
Through its nearly two-decade existence, the Black Swamp Arts Festival has built a reputation among art fans, music listeners and families in general as a destination, Wicks said.
“The mantra for the entire event is quality, from the selection process for the visual artists to whittling bands down from literally hundreds of applicants,” Wicks said. “It’s very rigorous, but at the same time, you’ll see that we work very hard to have the local talent that exists in our backyard featured — the BGSU Vocal Jazz Ensemble, BGSU Jazz Combo and BGSU Faculty Jazz Quartet — are performing at the event.”
Another reason to head to the Black Swamp? The cost — or lack of one.
The musical performances are free, as are many of the children’s activities.
“It’s free and accessible to all,” Wicks said. “The festival committee is very proud of that.”
Brown said the festival is a chance to bring the arts-loving community of Northwest Ohio together.
“The festival itself is a party for Bowling Green and all of our guests from out of town,” she said. “It’s a wonderful time to celebrate music and the arts.”
For more information, visit the website www.blackswamparts.org.