Artists working in different mediums can often exist in silos: Visual artists, musicians, comedians, actors, filmmakers, etc., each tending to stay, understandably, within their own field.
GEM Fest is a way to bring them all together. At least that’s the way Erin Coon sees it.
As artistic director of Art in the Public Eye, she runs well over 20 annual events that bring the arts to the public and the business community.
GEM Fest, perhaps one of the nonprofit’s largest events, is no different, offering chalk artists, comedy kings (and queens), musicians, thespians, filmmakers and other creators at venues throughout downtown Glens Falls.
It began four years ago under the leadership of Brian Michael, a musician, and producer Anthony Richichi, also a musician who is currently artistic director of the festival.
“As musicians, we saw a need for a platform in which original music could be heard in our area, because many locations catered specifically to bands which played covers/Top 40 [songs],” Michael said in an email to The Gazette.
Both were inspired by festivals such as Mile of Music in Wisconsin and SXSW in Texas, and started out with a small event called “Rock Gallery,” which combined professional art and original rock music from local bands.
“Me and Anthony sort of had a moment where we thought, ‘What if we did this in three venues at the same time?’ ” Michael said.
In 2016, they found an investor, and on a budget of $1,000 they put together the first Glens Falls Entertainment and Music Festival, or GEM Fest.
“Glens Falls is a wonderfully artistic town and we turned some heads that first year,” Michael said.
The Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council got involved in the second year, as did Art in the Public Eye. While Michael remains the festival’s director, there’s more of a team organizing it.
“Our budget and investors have grown by over 10 times our first year and we have fully integrated into Art in the Public Eye,” Michael said, adding, “We now have a board of directors and committee for GEM Festival.”
That’s meant quite a few changes, including turning it into a two-day event rather than just one.
“It came together because those downtown vendors asked,” Coon said.
With the additional day comes more music, more activities and more programs. Theater and film have become a big part of the festival as well, with Short Stuff (a series of short plays) and a film festival hosted by The Park Theater; “21 Chump Street,” a work of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s, will be performed during the Short Stuff session among many other pieces, from 7:30-10 p.m. on Friday.
During the film festival, juried selections from various genres will be shown, including music videos. Organizers encourage audience members to vote on their favorite music video and the winning entry will be screened at the Adirondack Film Festival in October.
Just as the festival brings artists of different mediums together, Coon hopes it will bring families together, too.
“In the past it’s been more of an adult [event]. This year, we’ve decided to expand that,” Coon said.
Thus, from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, GEMbouree and Chalk Fest will take over the Glens Falls City Park, bringing yoga, music, face painting, a bounce house and, of course, chalk art.
Much of the other programming, including live art by Corey Pitkin, Hannah Williams and Rodney Allen Bentley, will be kid-friendly.
The comedy performances, however, don’t fall into that category. Comedian Brian Barganier’s brand of humor is “planned carelessness,” sometimes verging on crude. Fellow comedian Kate Clancey will host the show, which starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Park Theater.
Of course, the festival wouldn’t be complete without music, the medium that sparked the event in the first place.
“This year, we have over 25 bands … and the city of Glens Falls is allowing us to utilize its City Park and is closing down Glen Street,” Michael said.
Organizers are bringing in an outdoor stage to host bands such as Safety Meeting, Peter Annello, Timbre Coup and others.
And there’s more. Venues like Mean Max Brew Works will host Candy Ambulance on Friday night, along with No More Death Stars and Anamon. Several others take to the stage on Saturday. Davidson Brothers Brewing Company will host Brain Medicine, Ugly Muppets, Lollygagger and Arch Fiends on Saturday, while Downtown Social will bring Chestnut Grove, Switch Mob, Zach Matari, Sly Fox and the Hustlers and more to the stage.
“This is a unique endeavor and is mostly of no cost to patrons. We want to support our artistic community and help to inspire the next generation of musicians, artists, comedians, actors and actresses, etc.,” Michael said.
WHEN: 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Glen Street in Glens Falls and venues around the city
TICKETS: Some events are free; Short Stuff and the comedy show range from $20-$25
MORE INFO: artinthepubliceye.org