Here comes the deluge

Aug 29, 2001 at 12:00 am

Your ear pulls to the right, toward that sassy Latin beat that’s forcing your head to bob like a maraca … but your eyes jerk left to drink in the kaleidoscopic visual array of imaginations turned inside-out in every color, shape and hue … yet your nose finally wins, turning you completely around toward that barbecue-saturated saucy scent sent down from heaven and onto slabs of juicy, luscious ribs. You reach deep into your pocket to fetch the necessary tickets and get into line like a Pavlovian slave to tangy satisfaction.

Once again, Chrysler Arts, Beats and Eats will permeate downtown Pontiac, unleashing a barrage of musical acts amid delicacies to flavor and savor, all built on a foundation of fine art. Organizer and producer Jon Witz’s vision was to create a world-class arts-and-entertainment festival for Oakland County, and for the fourth year in a row he’s cooked up a bombardment of sensory activity and culture with essentially three festivals in one: a perpetual, multistaged spectrum of music, eatables to accommodate and delight all possible tastes and palates, and an art exhibition consisting of 200 juried artists.

If it’s the Beats you’re after, this festival doesn’t seem to discriminate against any musical tastes, staging bands that play a virtual zoo of musical species: Celtic, urban folk, blues, pop, alternative, funk, country, jazz, fusion, R&B and, of course, good ol’ rock ’n’ roll. See anything from the rock-a-billying Twistin’ Tarantulas to the funk-tastic Ohio Players on their “Love Rollercoaster.”

The Detroit-based Brothers Groove is one of the many groups who plan to whoop it up out in the open air and under the sun (we hope). As a veteran of Arts, Beats and Eats, Brothers Groove bass player James Simonson is excited and ready for another go: “The festival is just fantastic. It brings life to Pontiac.”

No tickets necessary for this musical smorgasbord, and it’s a prime time to shake it to bands that usually perform on smoky Detroit bar stages. Playing past festivals allowed Simonson to realize the vast appeal his band’s music has to audiences of all ages, and he looks forward to cultivating new fans of all generations. The Brothers Groove’s high-spirited fusion of funk and Zappa-esque pop with an improvisational free-form jazz style feeds on group interaction.

“I like the setup, because there’s not a lot of cross-talk from bands. Sounds cool. Food’s great,” enthuses Simonson. It’s a perfect venue for a band whose performance thrives on variation from show to show, with the players influenced by each other and the energy from their audience.

“What is that thing?” A couple in matching T-shirts and Tiger caps walk by, arms filled with a twisted metallic mass that sort of looks like a cat swallowing itself. It’s an impressive enigmatic sculpture, and they carry it with victorious grins. You don’t know what it is, but you have to have one.

“We have something for everybody,” exclaims Lisa Konicow, art director for Arts, Beats and Eats. Every year she pulls together art vendors and local galleries, but considers the unique collection of juried fine-artists’ booths the jewel in the center of this urban festival. Konicow is thrilled with the festival’s success: “We’ve gone from being relatively unknown to being one of the top 30 arts shows in the country” (according to Sunshine Artist’s Magazine). Ceramics, painting, computer art, drawing, fabric and fiber, glass, graphics and printmaking, jewelry, metalwork, photography, sculpture and woodworking — whatever you’re looking for, it’ll be there ready for you to carry to your car.

If there’s one thing you can count on in this fast-changing, Internet-engulfed, cable-ready world, it’s that artists and musicians are always hungry, so Arts, Beats and Eats makes sure that it takes good care of them and festival-goers with plenty of good eats and drinks. Witz says, “As with the whole event, we look for a unique presentation of food items, and I think our restaurant lineup reflects that. We’ve got everything from beans and cornbread, to Rosie O’Grady’s to Benihana to Mackinac Island Fudge Company.” Your mouth is guaranteed to water when you’re tempted by every spice, sauce and sweetener under the ozone.

And Witz hopes that the ever-expanding event will continue to increase in attendance: “We’re expecting a legitimate one million people this year.” Which is reasonable, considering last year’s attendance hit 800,000.

In addition to the eats, arts and beats, Witz has two community missions on his agenda, one being to support community organizations. This event has given more than $450,000 to 21 Michigan-based nonprofit organizations in the last three years and is proud that this was done without charging any admission. In Pontiac alone, several community groups have benefited from the festival’s food and beverage sales, such as Haven, the Boys and Girls Club of North Oakland, Habitat for Humanity and Oakland Family Services.

“The other aspect to our vision is to make sure that we have all members of the community represented. We want to appeal and have activities that are interesting to anyone in metro Detroit.”

That’s a tall order, but Witz is determined to cover it all, making sure that the little ones are not forgotten. Magic, illusions, storytelling, juggling, and Roscoe the Clown, will animate the Yak Kids Stage to wow all the little eyes and ears, causing laughter, applause and maybe a couple of stray screams from Mom.

Expect a few extra surprises too, such as a 25-foot-high rock-climbing tower for the young and limber, a 30-foot-high Pringles can that pops open and transforms into a full-tilt, high-powered mobile dance club, then watch the Phoenix Center Plaza morph into the Blue Light Plaza as 10 blue beacons illuminate the crowds to create a sea of cobalt smiles, glowing and grooving into motion with rhythm, blues and heartbeats.

With each year, Chrysler Arts, Beats and Eats keeps creeping up and into more and more streets and businesses in downtown Pontiac, physically and financially expanding out into its community in many ways. There’s a very good reason why this is happening. Somewhere between all the beer-foam mustaches, tired and achy dancing thighs and art-filled SUVs, it’s doing something right.

Anita Schmaltz writes about theater and art for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected]