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A Night Slingin’ Drinks at Wonderball

by Matt Monta


Sometimes the best way to get in is through the backdoor. That, or volunteer. I did both in order to experience the third Wonderball event, a semi-exclusive fundraiser to support the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) that encouraged its attendees to “dress up, dance, and party for creativity.” From what I had heard and seen about the past two events, Wonderball is kind of a who’s-who of Columbus. A quick glance at the lengthy sponsor and committee list is enough to confirm that.

I was instructed that the dress code was “black and white” but not “black tie” so I scrounged out the embroidered cowboy shirt and pinstripe pants I only wear for rare occasions like these. Though it was a thrift outfit, I felt kind of like Johnny Cash if he were a tired, no-name 33-year-old musician from the Midwest.

Things were hectic as I checked in through the unremarkable linoleum tiled staff entrance. Student musicians from ACPA and Musicologie, museum staff, and Cameron Mitchell servers huddled under fluorescent lights and dispersed as they received marching orders.

I was shepherded, with a group of young ladies in strappy black cocktail dresses, to the cavernous main atrium, where DJs and food vendors were hurriedly perfecting the finals details to their displays, their chatter rebounding through the hall. Amidst the din, we learned we would be serving the “Cheshire’s Smile”, this year’s signature cocktail comprised of OYO Vodka, Stone Fruit Vodka, Earl Grey Tea, Blueberry, orange juice and a dash of lemon that mixed as a mysteriously murky purple, not unlike its namesake.

Soon, Wonderball would come to life as the atrium swelled with a Gatsbian assortment of early-comers, donning much sharper fashions than mine, ranging from classic black coats and cocktail dresses, to Masquerade themes, a full magenta paisley two-piece, and even an immaculate and daring all-white suit.

My station was the Sponsor Lounge, which sounds like a glamorous, low-lit, plush-couched speakeasy, but was actually just the museum café, which contained two cocktail bars and had the exclusive benefit of doors to set the permitted patrons apart from the chaotic atrium. I stood, welcomed, and offered the Cheshire’s Smile. Most of the time my offer was accepted (even twice!), some of the time it was declined, a couple times I was outright ignored.

During my shift, I served Randy Malloy, owner of CD102.5 FM, a Media Sponsor for Wonderball. He enthusiastically accepted the cocktail, tasted it, and told me what was in it, almost as if he’d mixed it himself.

As the mass of attendees settled into their party groove, my shift ended and I was free to explore. Surveying the scene from the first landing of the open stairwell, I caught the lens of Megan Leigh Barnard, a popular Columbus photographer who was capturing the spectacle. She shared a photo of me serving drinks. “Oh, but it’s the back of your head,” she apologized. I laughed, “You got my good side.”

I moved upward into the socially central Derby Court, which was decked out with neon green under-lighting, creating the atmosphere of a supernatural rain forest. Here, I sampled a fried Chicken with Mole from the Broke Johnny Food Truck. In the Court, I came across a sharply-dressed Jon Elliot, crooner in the Floorwalkers and Popgun, an all-star party band who would perform later; Mike Brown, VP of Strategic Development at Experience Columbus, who shared thoughts on Columbus’s music scene; and later, I would receive a cheerful embrace from WCBE’s Jim Coe who was celebrating with a playfully outlandish black-and-white wig, striped socks, and light mime-ish makeup.

Leaving the court, I connected with my friend and Wonderball Committee member, Bryan Kossmann, who highlighted some of the finer, interactive points of the event on the first floor.

Through the corridors, I had the chance to create a 3D Virtual Reality art piece courtesy of Ray Li at Soundspace. Down the hall, I contributed to the live “mural”, a delightful mishmash of Burberry, yarn, pine cones, and police caution tape threaded through square-inch netting. Next, we hit the “smash car” which would cause a displayed CGI Cadillac to crumple and dispense Mario coins. Lastly, we stopped to admire in awe (and envy), the Columbus city Lego display.

Returning upstairs, we ventured into Bodies @ Work: The Art of Ruben and Isabel Toledo occupying part of the new wing. The exhibit was an inspiring blend of two story paintings and rolling surreal sketches from Ruben, replete with impeccable female fashions and visceral mixed-media sculpture by Isabel. Here, we had the chance to admire the work with Marti Babcock, entrepreneur and co-owner of local event/party planning company All Together Now, and Hilary Buchanan, co-founder of the formidable female arts collective, the Creative Babes.

Making a final loop around, we stopped in the Special Events Pavilion where DJ Charles Erickson had been spinning a set earlier, but was now filled with the sounds of 70s hits courtesy of Popgun. Young ladies costumed as faeries flittered amongst the dancers and casual listeners with ribbon wands, giving the dark-lit party room a touch of whimsy.

At this point, I realized I lost my coat check ticket and decided that maybe I should go make sure my keys, wallet, and Dentyne Ice were still within my possession. They were. The coat check team was on top of it. And with a harshly fresh, minty mouth, I bid farewell to the wondrous Wonderball and shuffled off to the mundanity of Ohio’s midnight winter.

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