Closing time for the Black Swamp Arts Festival was near to hand under bright blue skies Saturday
A crowd of people were milling through the art exhibits on and off Main Street in Bowling Green.
Kids were putting the finishing touches on their own creations in the Youth Art Area.
The Ben Miller Band wailed away on the Main Stage complete with wah-wah trombone.
Standing back stage Kelly Wicks, who chairs the festival’s performing arts committee said: "This
doesn’t look like an event that people want to end in 45 minutes."
Maybe they just wanted to make up for a storm shortened Friday night.
The festival started in the heat that led to a powerful thunderstorm that dumped as much as four inches
of rain on the area. But after some drizzle Saturday morning as artists set up, the weather smiled on
The event rebounded, said Roger Shope, who chairs the committee of volunteers that runs the show.
That rebound culminated in a stage-to-Clough-Street crowd for headliner Robert Randolph and the Family
Band’s show at 8 p.m. Saturday.
"I don’t know that I’ve seen a crowd as big as that night for Robert Randolph."
Bowling Green resident John Kosicki, who has been going to the festival for 17 years, said the crowd was
"bigger than I’ve ever seen," he said.
"Wall-to-wall people," Bob Dorn, who’d been at the festival throughout the weekend, said.
Festival organizers were inclined to agree, though getting a head count for either the music or the art
fair is always a guessing game.
Shope said he’d taken some photos from on top of the trailers that serve as dressing rooms for the bands,
and he’d like to try to do some calculations.
Wicks attributed the "perfect weather" and the draw of Robert Randolph, "a real artist of
Steel guitar virtuoso Randolph and The Family Band – several band members are actually related to him –
delivered a 90-minute rousing set of music influenced by the charismatic church he grew up in, shot
through with funk, rock and blues. Listed by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 guitarists in rock
history, Randolph’s pedal steel was the musical equivalent of a blow torch.
The band had the audience on its feet throughout the set.
The size of that crowd was good news for the festival committee.
Its concession sales, a major source of the more than $180,000 needed to fund the festival, took a bath
Friday. Amy Craft-Ahrens, who chairs the concessions committee, said sales were down 40 percent from
last year. But Saturday’s show made up about 30 percent of that loss. Though she didn’t have numbers for
Sunday, she was encouraged by the size of the crowd both in the stage area and on Main Street.
Brenda Baker, who chairs the visual arts committee, said overall artists were happy with their sales. She
was especially pleased that artists who were new to Black Swamp reported good sales. "The new
people reported really strong sales when they didn’t know what to expect."
They also spoke glowingly of the town and plan to apply next year.
That was the case for Mark and Katie Farrell, who came from Buffalo, N.Y. They’d heard good things about
the festival from customers and fellow vendors at other shows, and it lived up to its reviews.
They see themselves as part of a youth movement, of people in their 20s and 30s. These are inspired by an
increased DYI aesthetic and buy local mindset.
Now Mark Farrell said, students get out of art school, and "if you have an idea, you can do it. …
If you want it hard enough you can do it and there are people out there supporting it and want something
hand made and unique."
Ceramicist Elaine Lamb, a veteran exhibitor who has shown for many years at Black Swamp, said late
Sunday. "The crowd was here, that’s for sure, and they were buying, today and yesterday."
Painter Douglas Fiely has been exhibiting at the festival almost since its inception in 1993. He enjoys
the fact that it draws crowds that span the generations.
Baker said that she heard many compliments on the art, and comments on the number of new artists.
"The community is happy with the mix of new artists and returning artists."
Maggy Dorian, a Bowling Green State University junior from Lewiston, N.Y., had already made a purchase as
soon as booths opened on Sunday. She liked the festival because it reminded her of those back in her
This was bigger, she said. "Festivals bring a community together," she said. They give artists
a way to share their art, she said. "People can buy stuff here and cherish for a long time."
Earl and Joy Morse, of Risingsun, were considering lunch in a local restaurant after having purchased a
painting by Viola Freeman in the Wood County Invitational Show.
They said they tried to buy local art. They enjoy going to art fairs in the areas and consider Black
Swamp "to be the best."
"A lot of time you see stuff that’s just amazing," Joy Morse said. She especially likes looking
at ceramics, a craft she’s active in herself.
Ken Bielen, a music writer and former Bowling Green resident, said he comes back for festival weekend,
drawn by the variety of bands. "It always surprises me. You never know what you’ll hear."
Many times the bands are new to him, but always enjoyable.
He also appreciates the variety of venues, noting that Patrolled by Radar was ready to play on the
acoustic stage just after noon Sunday. They’d played a late night show at Howard’s Club H, until the
early morning hours.
Drew Gonsalves, of the calypso band Kobo Town, said he was impressed that after a festival all day,
people were still out on the streets until the early morning hours.
He played the festival last year and was happy to be back.
"It’s such a warm and welcoming place."
Those who sell concessions are "always pleased," Craft-Ahrens said. This year was no different
despite Friday’s rain.
Late Sunday, Lori Hanway, of the Amish Deli in downtown Bowling Green, said "I’ve been too busy to
count my money."
And the festival gives a boost to her year round. She first had a stand at the festival last year, a few
months after she’d located to downtown from the Woodland Mall.
The festival helped get the news of her new location out.
This year, Hanway said, she’s expanding delivery service, and was able to promote that.
Matt Reger, who chairs the Youth Arts Committee, said that area also had a mix of old and new. In
addition to tie-dyed shirts and fanciful paper hats, several crafts projects were spearheaded by
academic units from the university.
The School of Art had kids making mosaics and painted eggs.
The construction management did wood working projects. The Department of English had kids writing poetry.
Reger admitted he wasn’t sure how that would work, but said it was a success.
The area was busy throughout the weekend. It did start a little slow, but picked up, and based on the
stock of supplies on hand appeared to get more kids than last year.
Youth art like the rest of the festival depends on hundreds of volunteers.
Shope estimates about 800 volunteers are needed over the weekend, and after a last minute call the week
of the event, the quota was met.
The festival may be "a victim of our own success."
"People want to come and enjoy the festival," he said, making them more reluctant to spend a
few hours pouring beer, selling tickets or picking up trash.
Like those who attend the festival, those volunteers cover several generations.
Shope said his own elementary age daughter worked the whole day with her pal Lily Parker-McLaughlin in
the artist hospitality area.
"It’s great to know we have another generation of kids" willing to volunteer and "spend
long days on Main Street."