Oxford hits a high note
● By Steven Hoffman
The Connective Festival brought thousands of people together to celebrate art and music in downtown Oxford last Saturday. The day-long debut event included music on three different stages, a gallery row of artists, numerous children's activities, and plenty of food and family-friendly fun.
The festival was well-received by art enthusiasts like Jamie Corbett. Corbett was one of the artists who took part in the Clash of the Canvases competition where different artists completed a painting during the day and festival attendees had the opportunity to vote for their favorite.
“I think it’s an amazing event,” Corbett said as he took a break from his work. “Oxford is a great community.”
One of the goals of the festival was to create an interactive experience for attendees. One illustration of this was the giant, three-sided interactive public art mural that was set up in the middle of Third Street so that people could use chalk to add their own personal touches to the impressive piece of artwork. Two of the people who contributed to the mural were Sam and Sophia. Sam added their initials to the mural, while Sophia added her own creative touches to some of the flower pots.
“It’s a very cool idea,” Sam said of the interactive mural.
“I think the interactive mural attracted a lot more attention than anyone would have thought,” said Ed Rahme, the vice president of the Oxford Arts Alliance board. Rahme partnered with local artists Susan Melrath and Dan Meixell on designing the interactive public art mural.
The Oxford Arts Alliance partnered with Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. on the planning of the Connective Festival, and organizers spent more than a year plotting out every detail of the event. The planning showed—everything ran smoothly and there were a wide variety of activities and attractions for people of all ages.
There were more than a dozen vendors selling their arts and crafts. Children could enjoy building their own musical instruments or balloon animals in the kids' adventure area. There was also rock painting, watercolor, and face-painting activities.
The artwork by youngsters at the Lighthouse Youth Center was featured in the Oxford Arts Alliance gallery. The gallery has a strong following year-round, so there was a steady stream of visitors during the festival.
In the Brandywine Conservancy Art & Nature Experience, children had the opportunity to learn about different aspects of science while they also had fun. Steve Mohapp, an environmental educator with Stroud Water Research Center, said that one of the things that they were teaching youngsters was how to use live bugs in a series of tests to scientifically determine the health of a creek that they had been in.
“It’s really great to have the opportunity to get children interested in science and nature,” Mohapp said.
Another attraction along Locust Street was the Oxford Area Historical Association's exhibit on “Music In Oxford’s Past.” Memorabilia from Sunset Park was featured.
Nearby, the “Armstrong Presents Kids Adventure” was also filled with children like Isabella Thompson having fun throughout the day. Her father John, who serves on Oxford Borough Council, said that it was great to have so many different activities, including things for children to enjoy.
“It’s amazing how this event has been put together,” he said. “Oxford Mainstreet and the Arts Alliance did a phenomenal job. I don’t know how they could have done it better.”
Carlson Cultural Trust sponsored the gallery row of more than 20 artisans with sculptures, printmaking, fine arts, pottery, fiber art, jewelry and so much more. Some of the artisans did demonstrations of their work.
Charlie Kain, for example, was doing a demonstration of spoon carving throughout the day. The Rising Sun, Md. resident said that spoon carving is fun because a project can be completed in a few hours, unlike some larger wood-working projects. As Kain carefully carved a spoon, he explained that it is a skill that takes a lot of patience and practice.
He said that he enjoyed the festival, and interacting with all the people who would stop by and talk to the artists on gallery row.
“It’s a great festival,” Kain said, “good food and beer, and I like all the different types of music.”
Not far from Kain was Dave Keefer and Brice Wonders, who were demonstrating how to spin wool.
Keefer agreed with Kain's assessment of the festival, saying that it was a great event.
Wonders explained that Keefer was once his teacher in kindergarten, and years later Wonders asked him to teach him how to spin wool.
“It’s very relaxing,” Wonders said. “Some people like to read, and this is my book. This is what relaxes me.”
Wonders added that a lot of people at the festival were asking questions about how to spin wool. Many people enjoyed learning from the crafters and artisans along gallery row.
Another important part of the festival was food and drink, and in addition to Oxford favorites like the Sawmill Grill, Wholly Grounds, Octoraro Hotel and Tavern, the Bog Turtle Brewery and La Sicilia, there was also more than a dozen food trucks that included offerings as varied as The Polish Connection, Natalie’s Fine Foods & Catering, and MnM Catering with barbecue and smoked meats.
Music of all kinds was on display throughout the day. On the World Stage, which was sponsored by Lincoln University, there was a drum and dance ensemble, a performance by the Opa Band, and a mariachi performance.
Jac Conner, a young musician, was assigned a great spot next to the Oxford Arts Alliance building to perform an impressive mix of classic rock songs, singer-songwriter tunes, as well as a few original songs as people strolled by on Third Street.
Conner, who counts Eric Clapton, Ed Sheeran, and Bob Dylan as a few of his musical influences, is about to enter the ninth grade at Oxford Area High School. He was excited for the opportunity to perform at the festival.
“It’s awesome,” Conner said. “I’m very happy that they have this.”
Tony Derrico, the director of education at the Oxford Arts Alliance, has seen the music program expand greatly through the years. So seeing Oxford develop a vibrant musical community is heartening.
“The Arts Alliance started with just a single class, so thinking about that, and now seeing all of this today, it’s really beyond my wildest dreams—this is a dream come true,” he said.
Throughout the day, a series of local bands took part in a Battle of the Bands competition. Half Past Seven earned the right to perform on the main stage to start the evening show by winning the Battle of the Bands. Better Ducks captured second place and Hour Glass took third place in the competition.
Performances on the main stage that was set up at the bottom of Market Street near 4th Street included Blades of Grass, the DuPont Brothers, the Wallace Brothers, and John King.
When the evening rolled around, Half Past Seven took the stage to serve as the opening act for Eve 6, delivering a triumphant set (please see sidebar) to pump up the crowd for the headliners.
Monty “Moe Train” Wiradilaga introduced Oxford Borough mayor Lorraine Durnan Bell, who shared a few comments with the audience. “Look what this town did!” she said proudly. “This is amazing! It has been an amazing day!”
Bell thanked the volunteers who helped to make the Connective Festival an enjoyable event, and also thanked the police department, the fire department, the emergency responders, and the borough employees for all their hard work during the event.
Finally, at 7:47 p.m., after a full day of activities leading up to the big moment, Eve 6 took the stage, promptly launching into the song, “Leech.” It was the start of a high-energy performance of such hits as “Inside Out” and “Here's to the Night” that brought the festival to a successful conclusion.
Brian Wenzka, the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., said that it was great to see a diverse group of people coming together to enjoy art and music.
“It’s been a great day,” Wenzka said. “The weather has been great. Every tent and every activity looked great. The kids’ activities that we had were busy all day. Everything worked as planned.”
Volunteers like Eric Maholmes played a big part in staging such a large event. Maholmes, the president of the Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce board, said that his day began at 6:30 a.m. when he was part of the team helping to set up for the festival. He also volunteered at various places throughout the day. There were dozens of other people who helped all day long, too.
“We couldn’t have done this without the volunteers,” Wenzka said. “And our volunteers did a great job of getting other people to volunteer. It really says a lot about this community to put on an event like this. There is a big sense of community tonight.”
The business community played an important part in the planning and staging of the festival. Landhope Farms was the main sponsor for the event. Oxford Feed & Lumber presented the lineup of country music throughout the day. Herr Foods was a major sponsor, as was the Oxford Foundation and Oxford Plumbing and Heating. Numerous business owners in town helped out in a variety of ways. Some businesses, such as the Oxford Feed and Lumber and Oxford Plumbing and Heating, had booths set up at the festival. Oxford Plumbing and Heating is a third-generation business that has been serving the area since 1951.
“I think it’s a great event,” said owner Ryan Edgington. “We’re kind of behind the scenes, usually. But it’s great to be out here and to be able to see all the people. It’s great to interact with so many people.”
Edgington, whose wife works at Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., even had a hand in designing the logo of the festival. He used his knowledge of graphic design to come up with a logo that features a fox and a finch.
“I made a few designs using their ideas. I take no credit at all,” Edgington said.
According to interim police chief Scott Brown, the event took place without any major incidents. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and the atmosphere was very family-friendly. The borough police department was assisted for the event by the Chester County Sheriff's Office.
“This was very well-planned and well-coordinated,” said Brown, who served on the Connective Festival Committee that led the effort to plan for the event.
Not only did the Oxford Borough Police Department provide safety and security for the festival and the downtown area, they also provided coverage for the entire borough.
“The entire police department was involved in one way or the other,” Brown said.
Having the entire community come together to plan and stage an event that showcased Oxford was, in itself, a success.
“This showed that we can do something like this event and the community will support it,” Maholmes said.
Most of the social media posts immediately following the Connective Festival referenced how much fun it was for those who attended. There were also a lot of comments about people wanting the Connective Festival to become an annual event.
While there has been no official announcement yet, Wenzka said, “After a little rest, we’ll regroup and plan for next year.”