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Seldom Scene: Small Fests

Seldom Scene: Small Fests

J.R. McMillan

Capital city summers offer an onslaught of festivals. It’s an impressive and impossible schedule, though every year seems to be the same old thing. Not that it’s a bad thing. We celebrate and explore art, music, and food unlike any other Midwest city throughout the year, so why would the warmer months be any different?

But Columbus is always looking for something shiny—that new gallery, basement band, or intriguing eatery everyone will be talking about next. The same is true of summer festivals. With well-established events already getting all of the ink and attention, here are a few new under the radar festivals that are obscure, original, and unexpected.

Flyover Fest

May 10-12 •

Columbus doesn’t need to apologize for anything to condescending coastal elitists, and The Flyover Fest puts a fine point on it by flexing our own creative and cerebral street cred. Events are still anchored in the Old North neighborhood with a stretch down to the Wexner Center for film and stage. But the relocation of the founding folks at Two Dollar Radio to the emerging eclectic enclave of Parsons Avenue allowed them to kick off the festival in their new digs with a free performance from Yowler, the latter-day stage name of former All Dogs frontwoman Maryn Jones. The weekend returns to old haunts for the rest of the fest with lyrics and prose from local musicians and writers (like Interview Issue cover boy Hanif Abduraqqib) at Ace of Cups, Spacebar, and Bossy Grrls Pin-Up Joint, as well as black box performances at the Wex and an appearance by Guy Maddin presenting his artistically inventive The Green Fog, a signature reimagination of Hitchcock’s Vertigo told through iconic and inventive film and television footage of San Francisco.

Columbus Podcast Festival

May 10-13

Podcasting is equal parts pervasive and isolated art. But within the easily intimidating audio confines of the format are an imagery and intimacy unmatched by more traditional media. It’s perhaps the only art form we can all carry in our pockets. The Columbus Podcast Festival bridges the digital divide between creators and audiences with a long weekend of performances from a mix of “nationally known and locally grown” early adopters of the popular platform, including True Crime Garage and The One You Feed. Celebrating its second year, the Short North Stage becomes an on-air studio with podcasters selected through an open submission process, then narrowed to those that best demonstrate the clever content and notable novelty for which the format has garnered a fast and fierce following. Though this isn’t a pros-only event. The mission is also to put the Columbus podcasting scene on the map by empowering new creators through networking opportunities and hands-on workshops that connect industry innovators with aspiring audio auteurs.

Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival

May 17-22 •

Comedy can be collaborative, and cutthroat—which is why a bunch of wise acres conspiring to make the city a weekend destination for astute consumers of all things funny is decidedly Columbus. That’s also why it should come as no surprise this year’s venues include a pizza joint, a brewery district bistro, a tattoo parlor, a bank-turned-bar, a campus coffee shop, and a former adult tree house. (No kidding.) Whiskey Bear’s organizers host monthly shows and one-off performances throughout the year, but this is the annual event for everyone who thinks they’ve got the snarky remarks and sublime timing to standout on stage. Performers are selected festival style from video submissions that are winnowed down to a winning few. No sketch or improv here. It’s stand-up only. Backed by comedians and audiences through Indiegogo, the go-to crowdfunding site now for more than just filmmakers, the laughs are long, deep, and often steeped in inappropriate innuendo. Other times, it’s more on the nose—like the festival headliners The Reformed Whores.

Brews Over Beats

May 18 •

The best beer festivals aren’t highbrow gatherings by design. Though the format can quickly become pretty flat between fancy flights and would-be beer snobs trying to turn them into a wine tastings. Organized as an alternative to that sometimes stuffy scene, the courtyard next to Fortner on South High will become a one-night-only, craft beer/hip-hop mashup bringing together more than 20 local and regional breweries and artists including Envelope, Mistar Anderson, Cas Metah, Senseless, and DJ Pos2. Seventh Son is a sponsor, but taps from Land-Grant, Four String, Yellow Springs Brewery, and Jackie O’s are also among the mix. Admission includes eight drink tickets, with additional tickets available at the show for those hip for more hops. The 5pm to 11pm festivities may not leave enough time to try everything, even if you pace yourself. But billed as an “inaugural” event to close out Columbus Craft Beer Week, you can probably come back next May and pick up a pint where you left off.

Columbus Taco Fest

May 19 •

There’s always time for tacos, but almost too many places from which to choose. It’s a shame someone hasn’t wrangled the best foldable fare and invited the whole city to partake. Well, some enterprising folks finally did. This year marks the inaugural Columbus Taco Fest, with food trucks and restaurants from throughout the city converging on Genoa Park to celebrate the beloved import than has become a local standard. Coupled with plenty of tequila and a bunch of bands, it’s the annual fiesta we didn’t know we were missing. And what’s a festival without a little competition, if by little you mean a Chihuahua costume contest to benefit Rescue Me Ohio, an animal advocacy and adoption nonprofit. (Other breeds are also eligible.) If you’ve got the gullet, gut, and gumption for it, there’s also a taco-eating contest. Humans only, though you’re welcome to wear a costume as well if you think it will help. 

Chicken and Beer Festival

6.2 •

As unpretentious urban festivals go, Chicken and Beer is exactly as advertised. What started last year in the rough and ready lot next to Land-Grant Brewing Company has evolved into a “Columbus Family Cookout” with card tables, oversized outdoor games, and live local music to complement the working class version of fine dining. From giant dice and corn hole to makeshift mini-golf and a “Rock Paper Scissors Arena,” it’s as friendly as fried chicken and uncomplicated as cracking open a cold one. A caravan of food trucks offers a wide choice of chicken and several sides to complete your plate. Cast a ballot for your favorite bird and grab a seat next to the neighbors you never knew you had. Beer is sold by the token and the can, to keep things simple and safe. Chicken and Beer supports the students and staff of Franklinton Preparatory Academy, so no need to feel bad if you eat and imbibe from noon until nightfall.

Midwest Burlesque and Rockabilly Festival

6.7-10 •

Add some sizzle to your summer with the only weekend more clothing-optional than Comfest. Burlesque puts the tease in striptease, a nostalgic seduction of coy choreography and revealing revues guaranteed to titillate. Paired with the honky-tonk tunes of local and regional bands whose cuffed jeans and coiffed curls pay homage to hot rods, hairdos, and youthful rebellion, don’t miss the Rockabilly Prom, a vintage inspired evening for couples to cut a rug in retro style complete with spiked punch and the swing of the Wailin’ Elroys from Athens and Cleveland’s own Bomb City Royals. Wrap up the weekend with a Pinup Brunch at the Big Room Bar and the crowning of this year’s Miss Turbo before an afternoon photo shoot with Columbus Pinup Studio. Tickets are available for individual events or the whole shebang. Classes and workshops throughout the four-day festival offer amateurs a hand at getting their fishnets to fit and tassels to twirl just right.



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