This year’s Apple Harvest Festival transformed downtown Ithaca into one giant stage for local artists eager to showcase their respective creative disciplines. From hypnotists to the amazing acrobats of the iCircus to street musicians with open guitar cases filled with all the Ithacan population’s loose change and single-dollar bills, performers lined the streets and brightened the atmosphere with a vivid stratum of sound and color.
The String Snappers, an all-student string ensemble, brought folksy tunes into the vicinity which may not have been so well-received if not for the fact that the performers were all baby-faced. The show featured a group of youths drawing sounds from their fiddles and mandolins with trained wrists that coursed with budding expertise and tremendous focus. In all, it’s pleasant to see Ithaca’s rural culture being so acutely preserved through talented whipper-snappers like the String Snappers.
And let’s not forget Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy on his Seneca Street stage. Donning an untucked button-up shirt beneath ridiculous discolored suspenders, he worked spectators into hysterics with his unruly charm and delightful diabolo tricks. Even high-tosses gone wrong — picture a stray plastic hour glass taking wing over the white tent-tops and grill smoke — spread laughter like a genial contagion. A riot of unicycle-bound goofiness, hand-eye coordination, and shameless humor kept crowds attentive until Hilby’s time in the bustling intersection came to a close.
Mid-Saturday, the jazz expressions of Fe Nunn split the drizzly afternoon sky. After beginning his music career in bustling Buffalo, New York and contributing to the Ithaca music scene for three decades, Fe Nunn and company warmed the Commons with golden tones, creative harmonies and an evident passion for their work. Here’s how it was: one man arching into his saxophone in soulful homage to John Coltrane, Fe Nunn’s long-standing inspiration; rich brass and fluid keyboard, layered with soft percussion and a strolling base line; an audience swaying in the cold for warmth and for rhythm with hot one-dollar cider in hand; a soothing energy flowing out of compositions that were both avant-garde and reminiscent, a surge of electric euphony. And suddenly, it didn’t seem so cold outside.
The weekend’s a cappella scene was enhanced by Cornell’s own Chordials. Ithaca College’s Premium Blend and its male counterpart, Ithacapella, also raised the Bernie Milton Pavilion Roof. Sunday saw the fleece-clad gentlemen of Ithaca College performing their traditional closing, an animated rendition of “Coney Island Baby.”
Meanwhile, in the amphitheater, the women of the Chandani Belly Dancing troupe swiveled bare stomachs in mid-50 degree weather. Their vibrant silhouettes and the shimmering cadence of their costume fringe brought a taste of the Orient to modern downtown walkways. For doo-wop and dancing, for jazz and laughter, the Apple Fest certainly proved to be a worthwhile outing.
Off-stage and into the Arts and Crafts Fair, there was plenty of eye candy to behold in the form of handmade jewelry and stalls filled with artwork and prints, which, though a little pricey for the average college student, were nonetheless something to ogle. An abundance of Bohemian-style winter wear and messenger bags and handcrafted stationary tugged at the wallet, as did the many sterling silver chains strung with pendants of tinted glass, which entrapped organic wisps of color like dragonflies in amber.
S.D. Huntington’s watercolor landscapes were bold and simple, with trees that curled into fuschia and cobalt skies like white vapor wafting up from a dream. Visiting artist Pat Eckstrom mounted great canvases over which she had pushed layers of acrylic and gel medium through a sort of cross-hatched stencil; the result was countless cubes of color that appeared to have been raised from the original surface.
“I wanted to create a mosaic without having to endure the process of creating a mosaic,” said Eckstrom; indeed, she had created unique faux-mosaics covered in sheets of cosmic colors. Adjacent to these textured galaxies, she had on display a variety of small dioramas housing autumn leaves arranged in such away that they looked as though they had been captured in mid-descent. Other works held delicate-looking fish that had been cut and scored from translucent craft paper, then made to appear suspended in faintly colored aquariums. Through her innovative usage of everyday mediums, Eckstrom continues to add an unexpected dimension to the common canvas.
It was the sheer variety of visual and performance artists that contributed to a well-rounded program spanning the course of three days and sparked a collection of creative dipole moments. Nearly everywhere you looked, there was an arrangement of space and an accompanying sound that worked to brand the image into memory. A long list of vendors and an array of musicians is to be credited with the live soundtrack for a sensory, culture-packed weekend that was not so much apple-themed as it was a great exhibition of local talent and quirky fun.