Now entering its 18th year, the Ford Arts, Beats and Eats festival is no spring chicken. But there’s still plenty of fresh local talent among the event’s expansive offerings of art, music and food.
Among the youthful newcomers to the festival that runs Friday through Monday in downtown Royal Oak is 19-year-old Royal Oak sculptor Austen Brantley. Brantley, who grew up in Detroit, began seriously working with clay just three years ago. His work has already appeared in five solo shows and he now works out of a Royal Oak studio.
Brantley says he had no interest in art until age 16, when he became fascinated by the way sculpting “freed [his] mind.” He will begin a new piece live on Friday afternoon at Arts, Beats and Eats as part of a new series of artist demonstrations sponsored by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Brantley says working in front of an audience doesn’t bother him.
“Whenever I’m sculpting I’m kind of in the zone,” he says. “You call my name 10 times and I might not hear it.”
On the music side, festival newcomers include the Normandies, a five-piece folk band fronted by Detroiter Kaylan Waterman. Although Waterman, 26, says she grew up singing in a church gospel choir, she developed a fascination with the Beatles and Bob Dylan as she grew older.
“I’ve always been interested in vocal restraint and not just going crazy like Beyoncé just because you can,” she says. “I always loved the simplicity and restraint of folk music.”
The Normandies formed in Waterman’s parents’ home in 2010 and has been stepping up its concert and recording schedule over the past two years. Waterman says Arts, Beats and Eats marks the band’s “big festival debut.” “We’re really excited about it,” she says. “In the life of a band we’re kind of like in middle school or freshmen in high school.”
On the “eats” side, the festival will feature one familiar business in a very fresh incarnation. Bigalora Wood Fired Cucina, which has locations in Royal Oak, Southfield and Ann Arbor, is providing its new food truck, equipped with a wood-fired oven. Bigalora and Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort’s Cuisine Machine will be the first food trucks ever featured at Arts, Beats and Eats.
Bigalora chef Luciano Del Signore says he’s enjoyed working in front of “new scenery, different climates and different faces” every day since debuting the truck this summer. He’s considered bringing Bigalora to the festival before, but until recently he was unable to replicate his specialty — wood-fired pizza — in that setting.
“I can’t really take (the pizza) to a booth and reheat it and get good results out of it,” he says. “This is the first year I’m going because it’s the first year we can showcase ourselves in the way we want to be showcased.”
This year’s new crop of performers and vendors can look forward to one longtime experience of the festival, says one veteran performer. Guitarist Bobby East and his band the Reefermen played at the very first Arts, Beats and Eats, and have returned every year since.
“If people come to see us once a year, that’s the show they come to see,” the St. Clair Shores resident says. “It’s a special event for us to play for them, and we look forward to it every year.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Ford Arts, Beats and Eats
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday
11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday
Downtown Royal Oak
Michigan Lottery National Stage
5:30 p.m.: Beatlemania (Tribute)
8 p.m.: Cheap Trick
10:15 p.m.: Puddle of Mudd
5 p.m.: Stewart Francke
6:15 p.m.: Big Pappa & The Machine
7:30 p.m.: Sean Forbes
8:15 p.m.: Gin Blossoms
10 p.m.: Neon Trees
4:45 p.m.: Lucy Angel
5:45 p.m.: James Otto
7 p.m.: Kip Moore
9 p.m.: Kaleido
10 p.m.: Young the Giant
3:15 p.m.: Chit
4:30 p.m.: Your Generation in Concert
6:45 p.m.: The Guess Who
8:30 p.m.: Salt-N-Pepa