Connective Festival 2019
By Steven Hoffman
Lorraine Durnan Bell could hardly contain her excitement.
The Oxford Borough mayor had just met Keith Hession and Bill Lamon on Third Street last Saturday afternoon, and their story about how far they had traveled to come to Oxford on a sunny, humid day in August made her feel very proud of her hometown.
Hession lives in Westminster, Maryland. Lamon lives in Fort Myers, Florida. They’ve been friends since college, and they decided that they would meet up and travel to Oxford to see Blind Melon headline the second annual Connective Art & Music Festival. As longtime fans of the band, they were excited to see Blind Melon perform. Bell was equally excited to have them in Oxford.
Hession and Lamon were among thousands of people who visited downtown Oxford for a day filled with family-friendly activities, art, music, food, and fun. PhillyBloco had people literally dancing in the streets with the high-energy performance on the World Stage, while the popular Trout Fishing in America delivered a wildly entertaining show on the Main Stage. There were wood carvers and chainsaw artists. An expanded Gallery Row showcased the work of approximately 40 talented local and regional artisans. There were plenty of activities for children, ranging from the Nature Connection interactive experience to kids’ yoga to a performance by the Oxford Library Summer Camp. In the Art Experience tent, children could work on a community art project or interact with famous paintings, while anyone could enjoy a series of workshops on painting, wood carving, pencil drawing techniques and phone photography. The festival included more offerings for teens this year, including games like corn hole, henna tattoos by Helix Tattoo, and a selfie station.
If the first Connective Festival in 2018 brought the community together to celebrate art and music, the second event doubled down on the fun, establishing it as a regional event that will continue to get bigger and better.
Early in the day, Bruce Mowday, Jr., the community relations director for the Connective Festival, was smiling brightly as he dashed along Third Street on his way to take care of the next festival errand—the next on a long list of things to do. Mowday took a moment to look around. The weather was sunny, everyone was having a good time, and the crowd was starting to grow as the morning turned to afternoon.
“This is beyond our expectations,” Mowday said.
He explained that one of the things that he liked about this year’s festival was the increase in the number of artisan demonstrators who were displaying their talents during the event. The Connective Festival isn’t just about the art, but the work behind the art, and respecting the talents of the many artisans who reside in the area.
Mowday said that there are a lot of artists who live in the countryside of southern Chester County because of its inspiring, natural beauty, and the festival is a good way to showcase the talents of these artists in the downtown. Oxford Borough is a natural hub of activity in southern Chester County, and art has played an important part in the Borough’s revitalization efforts. The Connective Festival is a part of that.
With so many activities planned for people of all ages, the festival attracted a very diverse group of people not just from the Oxford area, but throughout the region.
Jac Rust, a resident of Millsboro, Del., is an artist who took part in the Clash of the Canvases Competition this year. She said that she was really enjoying the experience at the festival.
“It’s my first time coming to the festival, and this is a nice little town,” she said.
Dan Choden, a resident of Lancaster, was one of the hundreds of people who stopped by to add their own bit of artistic creativity to the three-sided interactive public art mural that was set up in the middle of Third Street.
“It’s a great idea,” Choden said of the public art mural. “It’s changed a lot a lot since the first time we walked by.”
Michael McGarvey was at the art tent with his daughter, Addison. Like a lot of families, the McGarveys have made the festival a part of their summer plans because it’s an opportunity to enjoy art and music together.
“We came last year and really liked it, and we came back this year for all the children’s activities that they have,” Michael McGarvey explained. He added that it’s important to introduce children to music and the arts, and to support the community, too.
What is the favorite part of the Connective Festival for the McGarveys?
“Everything,” McGarvey replied with a grin.
Mary Prettyman Stafford was enjoying dinner with family and friends outside the Sawmill Grill on Market Street. Originally an Oxford resident, Stafford traveled up from North Carolina to enjoy the festivities.
“This is a great event to bring people together,” she explained. “I like the music and the art, and it’s a great opportunity to spend time with family. I’m glad that it’s an annual event.”
Shianne Ladale and Daille Kettrell really enjoyed their first visit to the Connective Festival. They stopped along Gallery Row to talk to Alina Grozav about her beautiful clothing on display. They’re already planning on coming to the third Connective Festival.
“We’ll definitely be back next year,” said Ladale.
For people who like art, the festival was a good opportunity to not just see a lot of it, but to talk to the artists and artisans as well.
The Clash of the Canvases Competition featured four artists with varied backgrounds and talents: Brandon Cahill, Mikaela Hall, Fred Osborne, and Jac Rust.
Hall is a recent Oxford Area High School graduate who will be attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, incorporated colors to illustrate the concept of connectivity in her bright painting.
Cahill described his entry in the Clash of the Canvasses Competition as an example of dark surrealism. A resident of West Chester, Cahill liked the challenge of completing a painting during a festival.
“It’s a great event,” he said. “For this being just the second year, I think it’s very well put-together. It’s great to see so many people coming together in the community.”
Fred Osborne was the winner of the first Clash of the Canvases Competition in 2018. He said that he wanted to return for this year’s event and participate again because it’s an opportunity to practice his art. His painting this year featured a black bear.
“I do it for fun,” Osborne said. “This is my passion.”
Osborne offered some encouraging words for aspiring artists, explaining that when he first started out, he had to learn how to improve his artistic abilities one step at a time.
“Anybody can do it,” Osborne said. “You just have to have a passion for it.”
Rust also incorporated the theme of connectivity for her painting, which she said included a little bit of surrealism. The painting featured an older woman sitting on books that were connected to a tree.
“I usually have a lot of trees and nature in my paintings,” she explained.
With the festival taking place right in the downtown, the business community played a pivotal role in the festival, with the shops and restaurants right in the middle of all the festivities. A number of merchants set up booths on the street. The Octoraro Tavern, Avocados of Mexico, The Bog Turtle Brewery, Sawmill Grill, Flickerwood Wine Cellars, Wholly Grounds, Pizza Hut, and China House, among others, were selling food and beverages to attendees. There were also numerous food trucks like Kilby’s Ice Cream, Kona Ice, The Polish Connection, Rita’s Water Ice, M n M Catering, and more.
According to Susan Hamley, the executive director of the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau, the Connective Festival was even better than the first year.
“The Connective Festival completely outdid themselves this year,” Hamley said. “I wasn't sure that could be possible after last year's immense success, but as soon as I walked through the entrance the air was electric. This festival is different than other festivals because it does a great job of marrying both art and music together in a unique way. This event draws thousands of people from all over to a hidden treasure in Chester County. The Connective Festival is a prime example of what a town can do when they all pull together and put their creativity to work in the spirit of a great event.”
For people who see Oxford on a regular basis, it’s an impressive sight to see so much activity centered in the business district of a charming small town.
“I was impressed walking around and seeing all the vendors and the food trucks. It’s a very nice festival,” said Ron Hershey, a member of Oxford Borough Council.
Mayor Bell commented on the number of musicians, artists, and artisans in the area who turn out for the festival.
“The amount of talent coming through Oxford is amazing,” Bell said. “It’s amazing how this town comes together.”
“What I love,” said Ed Herr, the president and CEO of Herr Foods, “is the idea of bringing people together. It’s such a nice family event, too.”
Brian Wenzka, the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. described the festival as “a perfect day.”
The weather was fairly typical for August in Pennsylvania—hot and a little sticky, but the thunderstorms that were in the forecast never materialized. It was a great day for a community event.
“We’re ecstatic about the turnout,” Wenzka said. “There really is something here for everyone. All the acts have been great. It’s been a great day all around.”
John McGlothlin, who owns the Sawmill Grille and the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern, said that the Connective Festival brings the community together in a way that few other events can.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s such a community event. You see parents walking around with their children. You see grandparents walking around with their grandchildren. It’s just an amazing day for everyone.”