Arts festival has found its niche County's 2nd-biggest draw for tourists begins Friday


The Columbia Festival of the Arts may not have the fame of Tanglewood or the decibels of Lollapalooza, but after eight years of presenting an eclectic blend of international and local performers, the festival that begins Friday has reaped an annual harvest of arts patrons.

"I feel like we arrived. People are calling us. We already have four sold-out events," said Lynne Nemeth, managing director of the festival since its establishment in November 1988. "It's nice. All of the work of all of the years has paid off."

The festival has grown from three days to 10, has a $415,000 annual budget and draws about 23,000 people, putting it second only to the Howard County Fair as the county's biggest draw for tourists.

Headliners this year include jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, jazz singer Joe Williams, Grammy-winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and poet Mary Oliver, along with free performances at Lake Kittamaqundi by the Blue Steele blues band, the Gizmo Guys jugglers and Theatricks, a vaudeville-style act.

Nemeth -- who will step down this year to take a hiatus and travel -- said festival-goers should expect no major change from the offerings of past years: visual and performing arts blended with food and crafts.

But there will be some minor adjustments to the Lakefront Festival. "There are more activities for children and a wider variety of food choices, more of a festival atmosphere," Nemeth said.

As of Friday, five performances had sold out: Brubeck; the poetry workshop with Oliver and her reading; classical musicians Fred Sherry and Carol Archer; and the folk group the Foremen.

Tickets remain for the a capella group Toby Twining Music, Anita Feldman Tap, hammered dulcimer by Maggie Sansone and Music in Common.

Music in Common -- established to create the kind of informal atmosphere in which chamber music originated -- will perform twice. The first of those performances is a June 17 concert that will focus on composers such as Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahms, who quickly were recognized as prodigies in their time.

The second, on June 22, is titled "NQTD" -- No Question Too Dumb. Pianist Eric Conway, a professor at Morgan State University, will perform, discuss musical composition and field queries from the audience.

"It's a very informal concert that involves interaction with the performer," said Daniel Malkin, a member of Music in Common and a cellist with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. "There will be a give and take between audience and performer."

Despite this level of talent throughout Columbia for the next few days, the bigger draw at the festival will be the 40 acts at the Lakefront Birthday Celebration Friday through June 16.

That celebration will have diverse performers, from the acoustic rock of Love Riot, to rhythm and blues singer Eva Cassidy, to the "Godfather of Go-Go," Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers.

The lakefront event also will have workshops from Abu the Flute Maker, a tap dancer and cloggers. Fight choreographer Lewis Shaw will teach how fight scenes are staged for theater, television and film.

The celebration also will offer community exhibits, a craft show and a food court with traditional and exotic choices.

One important component of this event is the army of more than 250 volunteers who fill roles such as staffing the box office, answering phones and ironing costumes.

Part of Ian Ferguson's job is artist transportation. The former Marriott executive and current travel agent has ferried pianists Marian McPartland and George Shearing, and percussionist Max Roach from airports to Columbia.

As a jazz aficionado, it is a treat for him to chauffeur artists he has listened to and whose music his wife, Jacque, has on 78-rpm records in her collection. "I've enjoyed doing it. It was fun to meet some of the people I've listened to over the years," Ferguson said.

While the artists are in town, Ferguson is a local contact who can be called for any reason. When Max Roach had an emergency in New York and needed tickets, Ferguson made the travel arrangements.

"They kind of like a little conversation," the former restaurant and hotel executive said. "They seem to be impressed when you produce for them early recordings and request that you get their autograph on the record."

The Columbia Festival of the Arts will be held Friday through June 23 at nine locations throughout Columbia. The free Lakefront Birthday Celebration will be Friday through June 16. Information: 715-3055.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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