It’s golden: Blair County Arts Festival celebrating 50 years

Courtesy photo / Many people take advantage of the festival’s food court.

The food alone will be enough to keep you full, and the visual and performing art will more than satisfy cravings for entertainment at the Blair County Arts Festival, organizers promise.

The 50th annual event, scheduled this year for May 20 and 21 at the Penn State Altoona campus, has grown over the years to include a juried fine art exhibit, a student art exhibit, children’s activities, live entertainment, a food court and a crafts market, said Karen Volpe with the Blair County Arts Foundation, festival sponsor.

“Everything has grown, but it keeps that comfortable feeling and community tradition going,” she said.

The juried art exhibition has 163 pieces this year and will be judged on Monday. Another 500 pieces of student art from the area will be in the Slep Center on campus during the festival.

“It’s going to be cool,” Volpe said. “Some people really come every year to add to their own personal art collection. For others, it’s like going to an art museum.”

This year, organizers are going for a vintage feel.

“Hopefully, the first thing I hope festival guests will notice is the ’60s vibe,” Volpe said. “All volunteers will be wearing tie-dyed shirts with peace, music, love, straight out of 1967. That’s very fun.

“I also wanted to do a then-and-now thing with the performers.”

The Saturday festival will close out with a performance at 7:15 p.m. by a young, local alternative music band called Walkney, to celebrate “the up-and-coming generation,” Volpe said.

The Sunday festival will close out with a performance at 5:15 p.m. by the U.S. Sound Theatre, which first organized in 1971 and was a popular local group for a time.

“Everything we’re doing is going to be horn-related,” said band founder Ric Criste.

He said U.S. Sound Theatre was mostly known for its music by the band Chicago and had about 40 different members over the course of its run, which officially ended in 1992. Different band members, some of whom still play on their own or with other groups, have reunited for various special events, including the arts festival.

“We’ll be doing a lot of Chicago, also some Tower of Power and Edgar Winter songs. All from the ’70s,” Criste said.

In between the new and old sounds will be the Hollidaysburg-based 18th Infantry Division Band, playing at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday to celebrate Armed Forces Day.

Festival music headliners will include Felix and the Hurricanes, Mama Corn, Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Born and the Beanstalk, Keystone Society of Swing, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band and Project Blues Book. Several community bands and choruses, as well as musical ensembles from area schools, will be featured along with area dance studios.

“It’s free, live entertainment, it’s continous, and all weekend long in four locations,” Volpe said.

She noted that on Sunday, the Altoona Area High School Marching Band will march around the pond and perform a concert on the Slep Center portico at 12:45 p.m.

“I love that visual, the whole marching band,” Volpe said. “It’s very exciting.”

All weekend, festival goers can visit the craft village, which is bigger than it has been in years, with 85 vendors, Volpe said. Artisans will be selling jewelry, jellies, sauces, jams, herb-infused oils, fabric art, painted signs, pottery, tie-dyed shirts and more.

Youngsters will be able to create their own art in the Children’s Village, as well as try various musical instruments in the Altoona Symphony Orchestra’s “instrument petting zoo.”

For the second year, a scavenger hunt is scheduled and the award ceremony for the juried art will be open to the public.

Another first this year will be gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches, said Volpe. Other food selections will include Greek choices, ice cream from the Penn State University Creamery, crepes, roasted nuts, sticky buns, and usual festival fare such as cheese steaks, sausage, funnel cakes, cotton candy, kettle corn and more.

“All your favorite festival foods will be there,” Volpe said. “You can spend the whole weekend eating if you so choose.”

The festival is held rain or shine and averages 10,000 attendees during good weather, she added.

“I was amazed at how many came last year,” she said. “It rained every second and we still had a nice crowd.”

Volpe and other organizers are celebrating the festival’s 50-year relationship between Penn State Altoona and the arts foundation. It evolved from the Downtown Arts Festival which began in 1965, when all of the festival events took place in downtown Altoona’s Mishler Theatre. In 1967 the festival moved to the Altoona Campus of Penn State University. That first year at the campus was described by organizers as “a new and refreshing means of involvement in arts,” Volpe said.

The festival has grown to accomplish two missions for the arts foundation, according to Volpe: It offers a venue for visual and performing artists and a gathering place for community members to share artistic experiences. It also is the major fundraising event for the historic Mishler Theatre, which is maintained and operated by the arts foundation.

While admission to the festival is free, a $5 per day parking fee is charged to help in the fundraising endeavor.

For a complete schedule of festival times and locations, see the festival guide in the Altoona Mirror’s special section distributed on Thursday, May 18, or log on to www.Blair Flyers will be available at the venue, as well.

“Art, music and food. What more can you ask for. It’s golden,” Volpe said.

Mirror Staff Writer Cherie Hicks is at 949-7030.


If you go:

What: Blair County Arts Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 21

Where: Penn State Altoona campus

Admission: Free admission, $5 per vehicle to park per day

More info: