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Festival In the Park To Be Re-envisioned

Executive Director Larry Landolt outlines future plans.

by Gene Marrano

Larry Landolt said it started with CityWorks, the symposium that took place several months ago. The event, conceived by Ed and Kathryn Walker, focused on small cities and dwelt quite a bit on the need for collaboration; getting more groups to work together. That struck a chord with Landolt, executive director for Event Zone and its capstone event, Festival in the Park.

Landolt came away wanting to invite more groups – artists of all stripes, civic organizations and the like – to participate at Festival in the Park, which takes place on Memorial Day weekend this year. Landolt said earlier this week, when he announced a new vision for “Festival,” that he wanted the event, now in its 43rd year, to take full advantage of “the urban creativity that we have. We will build on Festival’s long tradition and create a new layer.”

Landolt now envisions taking Festival in the Park well beyond the borders of Elmwood Park, to the streets of downtown Roanoke, perhaps all the way to the Taubman Museum.  “[We want] to engage and invite the community to participate,” said Landolt, who expects the newly envisioned Festival in the Park to roll out over the next five years or so.

That doesn’t mean the old favorites are going away – there will still be concerts in the Elmwood Park Amphitheatre, still a corral full of soap bubbles courtesy of the Roanoke City Fire and Rescue Dept., still the arts and crafts vendors. But, there will be different types and venues for music, maybe even street musicians, and more varied types of art. This year, the Gin Blossoms (May 25) and country singer Craig Morgan (May 27) are the musical headliners. (see for more information)

“We’re overwhelmed with the interest and response so far,” said Landolt, who asked some of the potential collaborators from groups that have shown an interest to step forward at a news conference. The group included Brian Counihan from the Marginal Arts Festival, the Blue Ridge Blues Society, Mike Conner from Fiddlefest (which will give a sneak of sorts at Festival in the Park), the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, the Henry Street Festival, the Square Society and Roanoke Children’s Theatre.

Fiddlefest, which has moved from late July to June this year at Hollins University, in part to avoid conflicts with other bluegrass festivals, will supply musicians to Festival in the Park and will benefit from cross-promotion. “They came to us,” said Mike Conner, the founder of Fiddlefest, about overtures from Festival in the Park. “I think it’s a great thing for all of the organizations that are savvy enough to participate.”

“We’ve had the seed of this idea for some time…but it hasn’t had the primary focus it does now,” said Landolt, who remembered walking away from the CityWorks Expo thinking, “look at all the cool, neat things and all the fun ideas going on in this city.” He wanted to find a way to get some of those cool things – and people – incorporated into Festival. “People just said yes.” Look for graffiti artists and members of the local biking community to take part as well.

Landolt looks at the new vision as an enhancement of what Festival in the Park has been, and the changes coming to Elmwood Park – like a new amphitheatre and terraced seating – that are part of the equation. He’s hoping for a mild winter later this year, to keep renovations on track before Festival in the Park 2013. “If it’s not completely done we’ll figure it out. Festival in the Park will continue,” said Landolt, but if his visioning process takes hold it may continue in somewhat of a different form. “People have caught on to this. We’re motivated.”

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