Arts & Music Festival: A sense of normalcy in Goodland

Lance Shearer

Unlike a host of other events and art shows, the Goodland Arts & Music Festival was not canceled, in 2020 or this past weekend in 2021. Apart from the face masks worn by some but not all, and the hand sanitizing stations, it was like a return to the pre-pandemic world.

“We were the last thing that happened last year before everything was canceled, and we are one of the first to be able to do it this year,” said artist and organizer Tara O’Neill. “We brought in fewer artists, and we are spacing the booths apart to encourage people to social distance. People are dying for something to do” – although she didn’t mean that literally.

They kept the number of exhibitors down to 20 to allow more space, along with booths for the Supervisor of Elections and the Goodland Civic Association bake sale. The beer tent across the street was not inside the county park, so they could sell alcohol. Brenda Stiles’ hot dog cart did a steady business selling bratwurst and Italian sausages.

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Turnout was strong on Saturday, with at one point over 70 people sitting listening to Raiford Starke perform at the stage outside Chuckles Bar, with an assist from music impresario and Florida fiddler JRobert Houghtaling. Houghtaling put together the music lineup, playing his own set Sunday as well as backing up several of the other musical acts. On Saturday these included Bob Williams, Billy J & the Big Easy, Martin Love, and Reckless Saints. Entertainment on Sunday included John Butler, the Allen Brothers, and Tim McGeary, in addition to Houghtaling.

While not taking in the music, patrons wandered the artists’ booths, “exposing themselves to art” and occasionally taking out their wallets to make a purchase. At their booth, artists Doug and Tiffany Smith, the “artsmiths” as they called themselves, had a sign encouraging people to pick up their creations, after they took advantage of the provided hand sanitizer.

“We want people to touch the art – there’ a tactile quality you don’t get otherwise,” said Doug.

Paul Gillmette’s creations moved on their own if the wind was blowing. His mobiles featured sailboats – he and his wife Chris are longtime sailors – and as the boats circled, they set in motion other action below, such as a copper shark, its jaws opening and closing, perpetually chasing a scuba diver who beat fins just ahead of it.

Artist Judy Wittwer displayed a selection of the colorful parrots she makes from stone crab claws, after first eating the meat inside, but said she is moving on artistically, devoting more of her efforts these days to creating clay mermaids. Popo Flanigan showed her local scenes, rendered in a riot of psychedelic colors.

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Photographer Jim Freeman featured large prints of the nature scenes he finds on his boating expeditions, while his wife Sherri Morrison, the graphic designer who put together the posters and collateral for the show, helped at the civic association’s bake sale. John Cartwright sold crystals and stones, some incised with inspirational messages.

With the offbeat surroundings of Goodland, the gumbo limbo, sea grape and banyan trees, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it harbor behind the kayak dock, it was a beautiful weekend for an art show, and just maybe, a sign that life might be starting to return to normal.