“Mothers of Invention” is the theme for this year’s O+ Festival, and accordingly, some of the murals, performances, artworks and music will have a strong feminist bent. Performance artist Anna Hafner is curating a series of performances at the new Broadway Arts space in which 12 performers, each sequestered in her or his private spaces, will invoke the Divine Feminine on Friday night; the artists will also pose for an impromptu drawing session by visitors, according to Kathleen Murray, the Festival’s chief storyteller. A mural by Jess X. Chen will commemorate women immigrants and refugees, while musicians, artists and writers will trade stories about their mothers at a story slam at BSP hosted by Martha Frankel on Friday night. There will also be a screening of a documentary titled Feminism’s Two Futures, by Rebecca Rojer, at Seven21 Media Center late Saturday afternoon.
But the theme also underscores some fundamental aspect of the Festival itself, which is in its seventh year and will run from Friday morning through Sunday afternoon, October 7 to 9. The Festival, which began in Kingston and has since spread to several other cities, began as an answer to the health-care crisis confronting the many artists lacking health insurance. Obamacare hasn’t quite solved the problem – huge deductibles and pricey premiums for those making more than a minimal salary have continued to put much of the burden of paying for this country’s expensive health-care system on citizens – which may be one reason why the Festival continues to attract noteworthy performers and artists in ever-expanding numbers. This year, it will feature 65 bands and more than 30 artists, and the venues will extend from Uptown to Midtown. But another explanation for the Festival’s popularity, which is put on with the help of 100 volunteers and attracts 2,500 visitors, is that it’s a fantastic time.
The solid programming of three days of performances, music, art shows, mural-making, wellness classes and lectures and bike rides happening in Kingston’s streets, parks, bars, restaurants and theaters is accompanied by a clinic set up in the Old Dutch Church, where MDs and alternative health practitioners treat participants for free or at greatly reduced rates; several dentists will also participate, treating patients in their offices. O+ thus combines creativity and caring in a unique paradigm, at least for this country.
It kicks off on Friday at 5 p.m. with a New Orleans-style parade leaving from the Kingston Library. Percussionists from POOK, hornblowers from the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band, tumblers, swing dancers, goddess impersonators and bicyclists riding elaborately decorated bikes will wend their way to Wall Street. Mayor Steve Noble will be cruising along in a convertible, accompanied by local drag queen Lady Estrogen.
Nurturing goes hand-in-hand with imaginative excitement; and the way that care cycles back into creativity, and vice versa, is one of the Festival’s fascinations. For example, two of the wellness events – a talk, “Wild Gather: Connecting with Plants for Self and Societal Care,” by Claudia Abbott-Barish at the LBGTQ Center, and a demonstration of pole dancing as a viable fitness choice by Sarah Jacoby, at the Kirkland Hotel, both at midday Saturday – address health issues in surprising ways, by appropriating aspects of botany and the strip club. The health practitioners include experts in Reiki, massage, energy healing and psychotherapy, as well as engaging one of Kingston’s newest businesses, Zephyr Float, in which you meditate in a pool of salty water for an hour, in an industrial building off Greenkill Avenue. That type of business suggests that O+ itself is not only putting out the word about Kingston as a hip place to live and do business, but also helping remake the city by actually bringing people here. The theme was suggested by one of those creative-class newcomers, Carolita Johnson, a cartoonist for The New Yorker who moved to Kingston two years ago and designed the Festival’s signature tee-shirt.
Some of the artists, for their part, also address the psychic needs of visitors – chief among them alumnus Linda Marie Montano, who will be offering art/life counseling all day at Tech Smith’s or online on AskYourGuide if they don’t live locally and wish to continue. O+ continues to expand into little-known corners of the city, with 12 performance artists, called the Rosekill Activators, stationed at various points around Uptown, including Frog Alley, Academy Green and the space behind BSP on Crown Street, becoming known as the “Somewhere Alley.”
Musical headliners include Norwegian Sondre Lerche, based on Brooklyn but often on tour in Europe, at the Old Dutch Church on Saturday night; guitar virtuoso Kaki King, whose multimedia show at BSP on Saturday night involves her manipulation of projections off her instrument; Meghan Jean and the Klay Family Band, self-described as “a metal band from 1927,” a demented blend of punk, Americana, dance and avant-garde, in Murray’s words, at the Stockade on Friday night; Tela Novella, an Austin-based band with “a groovy, 1960s sound,” according to Murray, at BSP on Sunday; and Loch Lomond, from Portland, Oregon, known for their terrific harmonies, at BSP on Saturday night.
Lady Pink, who got famous in the 1970s for her bright-colored wall art and tagging and now resides in Gardiner, will be making a mural at Express Latinos, on Broadway, which will reference her Central American heritage. Will Lytle, who won the O+ design contest for Best Can of Old Capital, held last spring at Keegan Ales (Lytle’s design, which decorates cans distributed locally as well as in the Tri-State area, depicts the Burning of Kingston), will be exhibiting his wry, self-reflective drawings at Keegan’s. There will be a display of flags and banners honoring local drag queens in storefront windows at 56 John, 31 North Front and 311 Wall Streets by photographer Ocean J. Lofgren; an installation of road signs at the BSP parking lot by artist Chris Victor; ongoing performances and workshops at Peace Park by the Green Palette Puppet Theatre; and a crochet workshop at the LBGTQ Center on Friday and Saturday afternoon. A Literary Salon at Outdated on Saturday night and at ArtBAR on Sunday morning and afternoon will feature readings by Ali Gharib, who contributes to The Nation, Daily Beast, Al Jazeera America, Salon and other well-known online publications, as well as Jacob M. Appel, Sari Botton, Sara Eckel, Jane Liddle, Julie Novak and Eva Tenuto.
On Saturday there will also be a leisurely bike ride touring Kingston’s proposed Greenline and the just-completed murals, leaving from the YMCA at 10 a.m. (registration starts at 9 a.m.). On Sunday, dedicated cyclists can sign up for a 50-mile, 25-mile or 20-mile gravel ride, all of which leave from Keegan Ales at 9 a.m.
Following the precedent established last year, the price of the Festival wristband will be “Pay What It’s Worth to You”; visitors paying $50 will get a donor card with discounts on local businesses for a year, the same plus a signature tee-shirt if they pay $75 and the card, tee-shirt and a bag of Gimme! Coffee Espresso if they pay $100. Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.opositivefestival.org or at the MO+thership headquarters, at Wall and North Front Streets.
O+ Festival, Friday-Sunday, October 7-9, Uptown/Midtown Kingston, www.opositivefestival.org.