Inside a smoky San Francisco lounge, several avant-garde poets and artists gather together over jazz music to share a cup of coffee. Sipping their caffeine, they brought along something else more important to share – their passions and creativity. Having turned their backs on the mainstream media wanting to profit off of their craft, these rebels clutched onto their expressionism and changed 20th century American culture forever, cementing their place in history.
This weekend, the John Natsoulas Gallery will be partnering with the Downtown Davis Business Association to pay tribute to the spirit of the Beat Generation. Featuring 20 jazz bands, performance artists, poets and jazz painters, this free three-day event is a must-go for anyone interested in the Beats or curious to learn more about them.
The mastermind behind this multi-faceted arts festival is John Natsoulas, owner and operator of his eponymous art gallery on 1st Street. A tenured jazz saxophonist, Natsoulas has a long history of interest in the Beat Generation, jazz music and how exactly the beats have influenced modern art forms.
“The whole feeling of this festival is to recreate the ambiance of what [the Beats] had in San Francisco in the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Natsoulas said. “Currently, there is a huge amount of musical talent in the Valley and no real venue for it. Not only is this festival an outlet for the music … but for the collaborative spirit this era demonstrated.“
The festival kicks off Thursday evening at six with poetry readings from up and coming poets set to live music. Taking place on a stage inside the gallery, this event is co-sponsored by KDVS Radio.
“What’s interesting about these poets reading to live music is that many of them have never done something like this before,” Natsoulas said. “It takes the reader out of their element and places them in an inter-disciplinary collaborative experiment.“
Part two of Bay Area filmmaker Mary Kerr’s documentary Swinging in the Shadows will premiere Friday at 7 p.m.
“The Beats were sort of an underground culture that was never very well documented … My film fills in the gaps a little bit,” Kerr said. “These were people who kept to a certain artistic standard; they were completely anti-commercialism, didn’t sell out – they did art for art’s sake. It’s that kind of authenticity that I think is a wonderful legacy and story worthy of sharing.“
Thursday and Friday’s events are only precursors to the big day of the festival on Saturday. Beginning at 11:45 a.m. and going until 9 p.m., two different stages in downtown Davis will feature live jazz music accompanied by performance painters.
What exactly are performance painters? Imagine a large blank tapestry hanging on a stage, next to it a jazz quintet getting set up to play some music. In half-hour to 45 minute sets, one could observe artists creating improvisational jazz music and beautiful paintings side-by-side. Painting on Saturday will be amateur artists from all over the Davis and Sacramento area, as well as some seasoned veterans including performance painting pioneer, Nancy Ostrovsky.
Throughout Saturday there will be additional events that are fun for all ages. A Kids N‘ Clay workshop will be held from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. where kids and adults alike are welcome to come sculpt and mold clay with the help of acclaimed ceramicists. There will also be hands-on painting activities with professional artists as well as a raffle whose proceeds benefit the Davis High School Jazz Band.
Marly Young, a director for the event, said “this event is free and will be a lot of fun.“
“Davis students have no excuse not to attend,” Young said. “Whether you’re interested in arts, culture, history or music, there’s going to be something at this festival for you.“
ANDREW ALBERTS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.