Old-Time Family Fun

   The Americana Folk Art and Music Festival will usher in old-time family fun to downtown Ellicottville on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21 (with a special fundraising function Friday night at the Gin Mill). The annual celebration showcases the talents of local artists and musicians, portraying the true wholesomeness of Ellicottville’s spirit.
   The event stems very much from the personality of its creator, Robert McCarthy, who boasts the tranquility and quaintness of the event.  “It’s about seeing Ellicottville,” he says. “It’s about memories and children and people coming together.  It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.  It’s an opportunity for families to come down, wander around as they please, and experience all the different art forms, the music, and demonstrations that will be going on.”
   According to Bob, there are no bad artists. If someone has the ability to see and to bring something to fruition, then it is brilliant. An avid woodworker, McCarthy demonstrates impeccable skills at repurposing, a trend that has taken off on the west coast.
   Over a dozen years ago, the Ellicottville Historical Society’s furnace broke, and there was not enough money to install a replacement. Roger Mercer, a member of the Historical Society, approached McCarthy with the problem. Being the gregarious gentleman he is, McCarthy offered to throw an auction to raise money for a new furnace. The original event was billed as the Antique Farm Fair and Tractor Auction.
   For the event, McCarthy purchased “old, broken down junk” from the Springville auction, repaired it, and offered his creations for auction and enjoyment. He also asked friends of his to bring their old tractors and cars. During the event, Mercer, with his wealth of historical knowledge, told the story of Ellicottville’s past. 
      “Had I known how much it was going to cost to put on this kind of event, I might have just written a check,” Bob quipped facetiously.  However, McCarthy - a former schoolteacher - couldn’t help but notice the sheer joy the children experienced from “helping” to drive the tractors.  That joy, coupled with the number of farmers interested in bringing their equipment, inspired him to continue the event the following year, and each year thereafter, with the main goal being to give kids a fun and entertaining weekend (and totally free) that they’ll never forget.
   McCarthy joyously recounted several past events. “Many years ago, children were paired off and assigned to create a house out of logs, as if building a Lincoln Log fort. Those children are now grown, yet they still remember it well.  Another year, some philanthropic residents offered flying lessons, where the children were allowed to steer the plane once the pilot had ascended to an altitude safe for cruising. The experience left such an impression on one of the participants that he grew up to become a commercial pilot.
   Previous events have kicked off with many hilariously creative fundraisers. One was entitled Hillbilly Roulette. For the festivity, a game of roulette was played with twelve eggs, eleven hardboiled and one raw. Participants drew a number, which correlated with an egg to be smashed against the player’s head. Obviously, someone discovered he or she had picked the raw egg! Other events have included a Hillbilly Wedding and Hillbilly Bingo.
   On the eve of this year’s Americana Folk Art and Music Festival (Friday, July 19 at 7pm), the Americana Folk Art and Music Festival will commence at the Gin Mill with a fundraising function based on James Joyce’s 1939 work (and Irish ballad), Finnegan’s Wake. Shenanigans are sure to ensue when an old jalopy proceeds down Washington Street, coffin in tow, and male and female pallbearers to each side. Attendees will be surprised at what lies inside the coffin.
   Those unfamiliar with the story of Finnegan’s Wake are encouraged to research it on the web.  Although the original story includes a fight scene, the Ellicottville rendition will instead feature dueling bands battling for the crowd’s attention. A limited number of tickets for this special event are available for $40 apiece and can be purchased at the Gin Mill.  It’s sure to be interesting, to say the least.
   Saturday and Sunday will spotlight a variety of artists and live music on the lawn in front of Town Hall.  (No worries - the music will not dominate the festival grounds; it will be soft enough for conversations to abound.)  A few antique cars and tractors will also be present, keeping with the event’s originality.
   Featured artists committed so far to this year’s festival include painter Barbara Fox, potter Elliot Hutton, stained glass creator Mat Snyder, native-clay potter Ann Daniels Ulmer, birdhouse maker Lisa Hitchcock, woodcrafter Emily Arena, woodcarver Doug Stein, furniture maker Hugh Dunne, beach artist Verna Bauers, wool spinner Annie Widger, weaver Jenny Acklin, metal worker Walter Widerick, jeweler Megan Pheland, photographer John Metz, child beading prodigy Elsa Widerick, the Frederickson twins selling lemonade while clad in Little House on the Prairie garb, and young psychic Natalie Lynch offering readings in one of the event’s many cottages, which McCarthy has built over the years. Other artists have expressed interest as well. 
   Any individual who creates is welcome to attend and set up shop. However, as McCarthy explained, “Although artists may offer their works for sale, the idea behind the event is for artists to come and display their work as extensions of themselves and as a gift to children and the community.”
   Any individual or artist interested in participating should contact McCarthy.  He can be found most mornings chatting amongst the locals at Katy’s Café in downtown Ellicottville.  Of give him a shout at 716-378-0916. 
   The auction part of the event will take place on Sunday at 2pm, and will include a special cottage built by McCarthy himself, which is currently displayed on the event grounds in front of Town Hall.  Additional works of art - both professional and amateur - are still being accepted for the auction.  (Contact McCarthy if you would like to donate an auction piece.)  Funds from the auction will benefit the Ellicottville Historical Society. This year, they will be used to construct a memorial for 18 unmarked pauper graves located in the Route 219 Jefferson Street Cemetery.
   The event (one of Ellicottville Mayor Charlie Coolidge’s favorites), is all free!  And those interested are welcome to attend for a few hours, or better yet, the whole weekend!
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