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Artown returns with in-person performances, new venue (photos)


Story by Maria Palma | Photos by Ty O’Neil

Artown kicked off its 26th festival season Thursday night with a sold-out opening night concert by the self-proclaimed “mischief-makers of hot jazz,” New York’s critically acclaimed The Hot Sardines. It did so at a new venue for the festival, Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, intended to support social distancing in a post-COVID festival environment.

“It’s so relieving to be back to these kinds of festivals, the freedom you experience,” said Lea Moore from Grass Valley, California, one of the approximately 2,000 concert attendees. “I brought my two kids, who have stayed home for almost two years, so it’s been great.” 

After a COVID-19-related pivot to virtual events last year during the height of the pandemic, Artown is roaring back this year with 400 events by artists and community organizations. This year, the festival has moved many events from its traditional home at the Wingfield Park Amphitheater to the Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Artown officials said the festival needed much more room than the smaller city park could accommodate under COVID-19 conditions.

The new venue affords Artown the luxury of erecting a much larger, 1,600-square-foot stage, with state-of-the-art lighting and sound on 4.5 acres of festival grounds. The audience is spread across more than 500 6-foot square socially distanced seating pods, which can comfortably hold four people with chairs, blankets and food. These pods can be pre-purchased and assigned, or purchased on-site the day of the show. 

To comply with the current COVID-19 regulations, the festival is encouraging people to wear their face masks if they haven’t been fully vaccinated.

Another thing that is different this year is food and beverage concessions at the park. In addition to its regular on-site offerings, the festival worked with local foodie bible Edible Reno-Tahoe Magazine which curated “grab-n-go” picnic options from 16 participating restaurant locations. Attendees can also bring in outside alcoholic beverages to the Rancho San Rafael venue, but not in glass containers.

“We are thrilled to be able to present Artown in a way that respects what we all have gone through the past year, by instituting protocols that allow for the safe attendance and participation in all of our festival mainstage events,” said Beth Macmillan, who has been at the helm of the instrumental arts organization for nearly two decades.

The festival that defines summer in the Truckee Meadows for 31 consecutive days in July will showcase events in Reno, Sparks, Carson City and North Lake Tahoe. Families can take art classes and enjoy arts activities across the artistic spectrum, from textiles and pottery, to slam poetry, workshops, literary events, life drawing, oil painting, sculpture, hip-hop dance, burlesque, modern dance to ballet.

Here are some of the Artown 2021 festival highlights:

  • The Reno Philharmonic’s production of “American Salute” – (7/3 and 7/4)
  • Las Vegas-based Cirque Zuma Zuma (made up of acrobats and dancers from 14 African nations) – (7/6)
  • AJ Croce – Plays the songbook of his legendary father Jim Croce in Croce Plays Croce (7/8)
  • The Sextones – High desert retro soul (7/9)
  • Inner Monster: The Space Between Reno’s own Dancers of Moderngram and Sound Artists of Hivemind Collaborate to bring to Artown a journey of the Space between Seconds and the Time between Heartbeats – (July 11)
  • Kronos Quartet – The most critically-acclaimed string quartet on the planet. (7/15)
  • Sierra Nevada Ballet’s production of “Giselle” comes with a stellar cast of 30 highly skilled and accomplished dancers (7/17)
  • 5-time Grammy award winning Americana icon Keb’ ‘Mo (7/22)
  • Blues Hall of Fame Inductee Ernie Johnson performing with Cliff Porter’s Full Blast (7/24)
  • Electric violin virtuoso Tim Snider (7/25)
  • World-renowned ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro (7/27)
  • Quincy Jones protégé the dynamic soul songstress Sheléa (7/29) 
  • Closing Night features Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie (7/31)  

For tickets and more information, visit www.artown.org

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