The ‘Almost Fringe Festival’ Comes to the Valley

by Thom Elkjer, April 19, 2017

If it’s spring the calendar must be bursting with local events. Every organization with a festival to put on, or funds to raise, or things to exhibit seems to seize on the fine weather and the visitors it brings. Despite the oft-heard lament that all the good weekends are taken, a new event is fitting itself in. This one’s a little different, starting with the name: the “Almost Fringe Festival.”

This appears to be a play on the Fringe Festival in Scotland that features relative unknowns alongside the big-name acts playing the famed Edinburgh Festival. It got started back in the 1940s, and now touts itself as the biggest arts festival in the world. Our “almost” version comes thanks to funding from the Mendocino County Tourism Commission, Inc., which was created by the Board of Supervisors in 2015 and funded by taxing county inns and hotels.

The Commission got the idea to advertise three Almost Fringe Festival weekends for artists, artisans and food-shedders in different parts of the county, provided those local communities were willing to organize events. They were, and the first two weekends were set for the coastal towns and the “redwood corridor” from Hopland to Ukiah. The weekend for Anderson Valley and Yorkville is coming up April 21-23, and it looks like a winner.

The best thing about it is the variety. Three wineries are hosting exhibits and “experiences” by local talents: Navarro has Denver Tuttle, Julie Beardsley, and Anderson Valley High School (AVHS) senior Chris Espinoza; Yorkville Cellars has Sonia Gill, Adrian Card, and Curtis Frost; and Phillips Hill offers a “multi-sensorial exhibit” about Anderson Valley. Popular resident artists are opening their studios (Jan Wax and Chris Bing, Colleen and Marvin Schenk, Rebecca Johnson), and Charlie Hochberg is showing his photography. The Bewildered Pig is bringing in a ringer, artist Juli Adams from Seattle.

You can also eat (Penny Royal), absorb history (AV Museum), learn botany or husbandry (Unity Club’s annual Wildflower Show and the Third Annual AV Goat Festival, both at the Fairgrounds), and be entertained (Mendocino Museum’s “Museum Road Show“ comes to the Grange.)

What appears to be the most Fringe-like experience will take place in Boonville, where Antoinette von Grone will be painting live in her studio and showing a multimedia video she created with two emerging artists from the valley, Julia Brock and Cozette Ellis. The mix of generations, talents, styles and voices is one of those only-in-AV experiences that should appeal to locals of all ages.

Ellis and von Grone originally met through the Anderson Valley Education Foundation, which has been placing students from AVHS into internships with valley businesspeople, artists, and artisans since 2001. (This year’s list includes 33 internship opportunities; check ‘em out at http://www.andersonvalleyeducation.org.) During the 2015-2016 school year, Ellis got a Foundation grant to work weekly in von Grone’s studio and developed a set of large, striking images of iconic kings and queens. When the local Artists Guild Open Studios weekend rolled around last Memorial Day weekend, Ellis and von Grone exhibited together. It was quite the visual feast.

When local artists got the word about the Almost Fringe Festival, von Grone decided to embrace the original Fringe philosophy, which is to present material that’s more political and edgy than the main festival. She will open her studio for the weekend, but visitors will not find it all cleaned up and turned into a temporary art gallery. Instead they will see her working on a powerful piece about endangered species and fighting humanity’s willingness to look away from environmental disasters.

To heighten the effect, von Grone imagined creating a multi-media piece that visitors could watch any time during the weekend. “The painting has a strong message, but it is a work in progress, not a finished statement,” she explains. “Also I won’t be able to stop and talk about it much because I have to keep painting while the colors are wet. So I wanted something else that people can watch, and learn from, and be inspired by.”

To pull it off, she called Ellis, now a senior at AVHS and headed to art school for her college years. Ellis agreed to the collaboration, and immediately recommended they engage Brock (aka “JuliaEditz”), a fellow senior who is headed to film school next fall. Both young women discovered their visual story-telling talents in elementary school and have been developing them ever since. They worked together with von Grone for months to combine poetry, images, video and music into a moving paean to extinct and endangered species. For the close of the video, Brock set up her camera and shot acclaimed actor and part-time Boonville resident Rene Auberjonois (M*A*S*H, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and more than 200 other Hollywood credits), as he delivers an extraordinary benediction.

Like I said, only in AV. Outstanding local artists, spanning three generations, joining together to fuse multiple arts into a powerful environmental statement … for us. Yet another reason to be grateful for where we live.

For complete information on the Almost Fringe Festival, fire up your browser and head over to https://www.visitmendocino.com/fringe/.

Times and dates vary; some events are one day only while others run from 11:00 to 5:00 pm Friday through Sunday, April 21-23.

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