The 36th Annual Downtown Festival and Art Show returns this weekend to take over Gainesville.
“The positive energy that surges through the downtown festival and art show is one of those untouchables that people are just drawn to,” event coordinator Sunshine Andrei said.
The Downtown Festival and Art Show, which is put on by the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, is set to sprawl across the downtown area on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This year, there will be more than 60 community groups, 19 food vendors and 240 artist booths, including a few dozen new artists and many returning. One hundred and ninety artists will compete for a total of $20,000 in cash prizes, with the highest prizes going to 2D and 3D Best in Show awards of $2,000 each.
“We have a lot of artists that people come and look forward to seeing each year,” Andrei said.
Planning an event with the magnitude of the Downtown Festival and Art Show is no small undertaking. Andrei said it takes a full year, and this year will see the expansion of some community favorites and the introduction of new ones.
Down the street from Bo Diddley Community Plaza, the Downtown Festival and Art Show will introduce its first 352ARTS area. This area will showcase local artist groups which Andrei said “bring arts and culture to our community.”
This year’s festival will also see an expansion of the Young Artists’ Courtyard. There will be 17 local artists, ages 7 to 18, displaying and selling their original work in front of Gainesville City Hall.
Four stages will showcase live entertainment throughout the weekend, featuring concerts, performances from local dance companies, aerial performers and interactive shows at the Children’s Imagination Stage.
Musical performances will feature genres ranging from pop to blues. From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday night, the stage on Bo Diddley Plaza will hold a free blues concert with headliner Gracie Curran & the High Falutin’ Band.
While the majority of musical performances will be by local bands, Gracie Curran is a Boston native with powerhouse vocals and a legendary stage presence that have welcomed her into blues clubs across the country.
Curran, a new face to the Gainesville music scene, grew up in a home inundated with music. Her mother was their church choir director, while her father worked as a bouncer for the local blues club. Curran, however, found her personal love of blues from digging through her parents’ records, inspired by sirens like Etta James and Sharon Jones.
Struggling as a secretary, sometimes spending the Boston winter without heat or water, Curran wrote her first album, “Proof of Love,” with the words that spoke to her life: “Even with the rain pouring down on me, I know the sun will come out eventually.”
Since the release of “Proof of Love,” Curran has been overwhelmed by the connection fans have with her music and is preparing to release her next album. Curran said it’s the honesty of blues music that resonates with people.
“Blues is such an honest expression of yourself. It’s such an honest art form, in that it’s yourself and your feelings completely unfiltered,” Curran said. “We forget sometimes that we all go through the same s---, excuse my language; we really do, we go through it all.”
Curran, in her thick Boston accent, promises to make the audience “feel everything” through her performance.
“It’s like, we cry and get upset and then say ‘Hey! We got past that, and now we’re just shaking our a--,’” Curran said.