Here’s that rainy day, & night, theme for Black Swamp Arts Festival


BG Independent News

This is what legends are made of — blues star Samantha Fish laying down the blues to a packed Howard’s Club H for closing set of the rain-soaked Black Swamp Arts Festival. 

Samantha Fish

She delivered assertive blues with no holds-bar vocals and searing electric guitar to listeners happy not to standing outside in the rain.

From the time her festival appearance was announced in June, fans have buzzing about Fish’s appearance. She delivered.

Fish delivered more than a powerful set, she delivered a lift to a festival bedeviled by constant rain. The weather, though, never got as severe as expected. That forecast of heavy rain and a series of thunderstorms, led the festival’s organizers on Friday afternoon to cancel the outdoor activities for Sunday.

The music was moved inside at Howard’s and Grounds for Thought to salvage most of the music.

Bill Donnelly, chair of the festival, stood by the decision Monday. It was made with the safety of everyone involved — patrons, visual artists, performers, and volunteers. 

The festival committee had been watching the weather, and consulted with the Wood County Emergency Management Agency and National Weather Service. On Friday, there was a 70 percent chance of heavy rain, strong wings, and lightning on Sunday. “Probability is probability.”

Umbrellas were a common accessory at the Black Swamp Arts Festival

That led the committee after meeting with fire, police and public works officials to cancel all outdoor activities on Sunday.

He praised the site and logistics team, chaired by Alex Hann, site and logistics team for being “responsive, flexible and focused on protecting the safety of everybody” as well as the festival’s marketing committee for keeping the public informed throughout the weekend. 

Cutting the art show short meant the tents in downtown disappeared Saturday evening, leaving Main Street feeling haunted and bleak on Sunday.

Donnelly noted that even before the decision was made, artists were contacting the festival saying they would not come because of the weather. About 20 artists scheduled did not show up, he said, though how many because of the weather is not known.

Others asked about the possibility of leaving on Saturday, Donnelly said. Having a scattershot exit of artists would have been  logistical nightmare.

Karen Kelly chats with artist Mike Grau in his booth.

Though they lost a day of sales, most artists on Saturday were understanding. They appreciated the decision being made earlier enough so they could plan accordingly.

One woman whose husband is an artist said that he has lost hundreds of dollars worth of work at shows that refused to cancel, Donnelly said.

Though the catastrophic weather did not hit, even the weather that did arrive, cold, rainy, and blustery would have resulted in few patrons and fewer sales, artists told organizers.

The rain out was rare this season on the art fair circuit. Artist Mike Grau was one of several who noted high temps, topping 100 degrees at some shows, were more of a problem. People don’t show up when it’s that hot, he said.

But Grau and others said that Saturday’s business was brisk.

On Facebook, Stacy Poca, co-chair of the visual arts ,said many artists reported good sales, while a few did not do as well.

”It was pretty consistent for what I’ve done on a Saturday, “ said JBird Cremeans, an artist from West Virginia, who won best of show honors.

Kevin Russell of Shinyribs performs Saturday night.

Cremeans and others said they found people more willing to buy on Saturday rather than following the common pattern of looking on Saturday but deferring purchases until Sunday.

One of those was Liz Menard, of Bowling Green. She was walking away from the festival with her arms full of purchases. She buys Christas presents at the festival every year. “They’re such wonderful gifts.”

She had family in town. Usually they cruise the art show on Saturday and return to make purchases on Sunday, Menard said. This year, however, they made their decisions more quickly. “I feel sorry for the artists,” she said of Sunday’s cancellation.

Menard said after a day of shopping they planned to head down town to listen to the music.

The Saturday night show continued as scheduled despite a steady rain during the two headliners’ sets. Both Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Shinyribs delivered the kind of performances that drew their fans to the show.

Saxophonist Karl Denson in full flight.

Denson and his sextet delivered a high-energy selection of jazzy funk. Shinyribs came through with a highly theatrical performance, that hopped, skipped and jumped genres just as frontman Kevin Russell literally hopped, skipped and jumped, and swooned to the moon on stage.

By the time Shinyribs was wrapping up the crowd had dwindled to a few hundred stalwarts crowded toward the front of the stage or huddled under tents in the beer garden.

Some went home but many sought refuge in downtown bars, including Stone’s Throw and Howard’s where festival performers were booked to do after-hours shows.

On Sunday the festival faithful got out of the rain inside Grounds for Thought where community stage acts performed and Howard’s where the Main Stage acts had been moved.

At Howard’s, Nikki D & The Browns took the audience to church with a rousing set of gospel music played on steel guitar. 

Kittel & Co. fiddled through a set reflecting a variety of string music genres.

Tim Tegge (right) at Howard’s with Matt Webb (left).

Local singer-songwriter Tim Tegge and his band the Black Swamp Boys who had been slated to open the Main Stage at 11 a.m., played a set on the side stage at Howard’s between Kittel & Co. and Fish.

Though he’s played the festival before, this was to be his first Main Stage appearance.

His set at Howard’s got the show an unusual plug. The Rev. Mark Davis, the pastor of St. Aloysius, noted during services that morning that Tegge, who is a parishioner as are a couple of the Black Swamp Boys, would be playing at the club. 

Concessions co-chair Amy Craft Ahrens said the weekend was not a financial wash out.

According to Donnelly, Friday beer and wine sales were better than about half the previous Friday nights, and may have been a little better. “Saturday sales were lower than most years, but not the lowest.”

The people who stayed were enthusiastic, but not drinking as much.

On Saturday afternoon, Neil Kemarly, a woodworker who won best of show in 2017, commented on the weather. Hope for the best — “that’s all you can do.”

(BG Independent News collaborates with the Black Swamp Arts Festival, and David Dupont serves as chair of  marketing and advertising for the festival.)

Nikki D and the Browns at Howard’s


JT Nero of the Birds of Chicago with Allison Russell


Dustin Galish of Tree No leaves opened the Saturday she on the Main Stage.


Saxophonist Mark Wilson and trumpeter Daniel “Tiger” Anaya perform with Shinyribs.