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Fest has bits of art for everyone

Downtown Main Street in Bowling Green will be abuzz with both art and music enthusiasts today, tomorrow and Sunday, when the 12th Annual Black Swamp Arts Festival is in full-swing.

The festival features both an invitational art show for area artists from Wood County and a juried art show showcasing 100 artists from across the nation. The art exhibits will be on display tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The art shows will provide festival-goers a chance to experience a wide variety of art media, including ceramics, painting, glass, jewelry, sculpture and photography, just to name a few.

Kelli Kling, Co-chair of Public Relations and Marketing for the festival, stressed the festival’s tendency to have art for everyone.

“You can pick up a piece of jewelry or a small drawing for $5 or $10, or you can spend as much as $1,000,” Kling said. “It depends on what you want.”

The musical arts will also be on display this weekend with a combination of well-known bands and up-and-coming artists. The festival kicks off today at 4:30 p.m. with the world beat music of La Revancha presented on the Main Stage, to be followed by the eclectic sounds of Donna the Buffalo. Today’s headliner is 1999 Grammy-winning polka band Brave Combo.

Brave Combo is described as “not your father’s polka band” on the band’s Web site, The band, which has been featured in an episode of “The Simpsons,” combines world music with jazz, rock and roll and a Latin orchestra. Brave Combo’s music has even been referred to as “mosh pit polka” by the Washington Post.

According to Kling, some of the bands are not in the mainstream but maintain a cult following.

“They are fun, unique styles of music,” Kling said. “Part of the purpose of the festival is to expose the public to new things.”

Tomorrow night at 8 p.m., the southern soul of The Gamble Brothers will fill the Main Stage, followed by Southern Culture of the Skids, the “walking, talking, storybook of Southern folkways.”

In addition, an Electronica Stage will host a variety of performers inside the Cla-Zel Theater. Howard’s Club H will also feature local performers throughout the weekend.

A Youth Art Stage will host a variety of activities for youngsters including face-painting, rain stick-making and necklace-making. Musicians will also be performing on the Youth Stage, which will be located on Main Street near the public library.

Entrance to all events throughout the weekend is free.

“You can just walk down Main Street and check stuff out,” Kling said.

In addition to diverse art and music, the festival will provide many unique cuisine options. Some of the more popular vendors, according to Kling, are Po Mo’s Ribs and the New Orleans Cajun Cookin’. Po Mo’s showcases Jamaican ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, while Cajun Cookin’ offers the chance to sample fried alligator, crawfish and other Cajun specialties. Mexican and Greek cuisine will also be showcased, along with a variety of other foods.

The concessions area will also feature two beer gardens with ample seating and views of the Main Stage.

With so many events taking place throughout the weekend, festival organizers anticipate approximately 60,000 visitors–both local and national–to the downtown area throughout the three-day event. The weather will hopefully cooperate, Kling said.

“I think a lot of people living out-of-state use the arts festival as a sort of homecoming,” Kling said. “Sororities, fraternities and families use the festival to reconnect, hang out for free, listen to some great music, and eat some pizza or fried alligator.”

Earlene Kilpatrick, Director of Main Street BG, emphasized the importance of the Black Swamp Arts Festival to the downtown area.

“The festival highlights the art in the community and highlights the downtown, both architecturally and commercially,” she said.

By showcasing the downtown area, Kilpatrick said she hopes the festival will prompt attendees to revisit Bowling Green and the downtown in particular.

“I truly am pleased at the amount of visitors who actually shop and dine in the downtown during the festival,” Kilpatrick said.

The festival would not even be possible, though, without the countless hours of work put forward by volunteers who help plan and staff the event. Most of the organizers of the Black Swamp Arts Festival also work full-time jobs at the same time, Kling said.

Kling estimates that approximately 100 volunteers help put on the event.

“There’s about 20 committee chairs, and each chair has a committee with two to 10 volunteers,” Kling said.

Through the hard work of volunteers, the festival has grown exponentially since the first festival was held in the Fall of 1993. Each year the festival has grown, both in number of people attending the event and the number of volunteers helping to run the event.

The Black Swamp Arts Festival recently received a national ranking of 78 in the Sunshine Artists Magazine Top 200 festivals, 100 in best fine art, and 100 in best contemporary craft. The rankings are based on festivals across the United States, including many in the Michigan and Ohio area.

The festival is sponsored by Sky Bank, with many other additional businesses and organizations also contributing.

For more information on the Black Swamp Arts Festival, visit the web site at

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