As evidenced by last year’s installation, the festival, unique in its urbanized, laidback setup, collaborative programming, and all-ages offerings, continues to live up to its mission statement: to foster greater appreciation for the arts – especially of the non-traditional variety – spur innovation among local talent, and ultimately improve our quality of life.

I spoke with UAF Performing Arts Coordinator, Steve “Doc” Floor, who with his keen ear for sounds across genres has been enlisting musicians for the festival circa 1999. While the program is still in its finalizing stages, he gave me the scoop on confirmed acts. With returning and debuting artists, the eclectic roster is sure to satiate goers’ specific palates.

CHARISSA CHE: What does the UAF has to offer that makes it unique from other summer arts festivals in SLC (i.e. the annual DIY Festival)?

STEVE “DOC” FLOOR: I think that at the Utah Arts Festival we bring together more forms of art and fun during the annual four-days than any other event… I only handle the performing arts portion (classical, folk, rock, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, bluegrass and electronic music; modern dance, multi-cultural dance and ballet).  But we also feature over 100 visual artists booths full of traditional 2-D and 3-D works, not to mention a festival-long program of literary art and film.  We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this summer, and we still provide a great opportunity for this community to come together to celebrate how art makes our lives better.

CC: Tell me about some of the confirmed acts for the upcoming festival. What might be particularly exciting for first-time goers?

SDF: It’s still very early in the game and I’ve barely made a dent in scheduling the 90+ performances for this year.  But at this point, I can release the following list of artists who are confirmed to perform at the Festival: The Utah Symphony Orchestra; haven’t had ‘em in over 20 years, Steep Canyon Rangers– Steve Martin’s back-up band; Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio – Elvin was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Cimarrón, from Colombia, and about 86 more still to be named.

CC: What do you look for when you review artists’ applicants?

SDF: Several factors are considered when reviewing artists’ applications.  While certain time slots are reserved for music schools and “young” musicians, for most other time slots, I personally look for experienced, professional performers.  That doesn’t mean that all of the band members are full-time musicians…we should present seasoned players that can perform with at least a minimal amount of competency, professionalism and have the creativity and energy that all performers should demonstrate… I have recruited 25 persons to serve on five separate music-genre committees to help me review the 300+ acts that are considered every year.

I can safely say that the only acts that perhaps might not be appropriate for the Festival are those that present gratuitous sex, violence or profanity.  I think that when so-called artists rely on such superfluous displays, it’s actually a sign of artistic weakness, and is therefore contrary to our overall mission.

CC: For those who may be too late in applying for a slot in the program: how might they still get involved in the Festival’s cause?

SDF: The Utah Arts Festival depends on more than 1,200 local volunteers every year and volunteering is a great way to be involved.  Members of the set-up crew, face painters, beverage servers, Earth Team recyclers; we need help with all of it! (Find out more and sign up to volunteer here.)

CC: What has been one of your most memorable experiences at the UAF thus far in the time you’ve been involved?

SDF: I think the one that stands out the most was in 2007 when I performed at the Festival.  The band, Zion Tribe, had been together for 20 years by this time, and we had played the Festival several times. For whatever reason, this show was one of our best ever…the crowd was big and appreciative.

This is what many other acts have experienced at the Festival and the main reason so many local bands really want to be accepted to play the event. We provide a big stage and a big, top quality sound system with professional audio engineers. This is the sort of technical production that provides a rare opportunity for local bands. For most groups, it’s sort of a once in a lifetime experience and the chance for their fans, friends and family of all ages to see them in a professional and fun setting.

In addition to the above, here’s a sampling of confirmed acts that Floor is personally excited to see, and bookings in progress: 

A collaboration between RDT Dance Company and 3hattrio, a country/folk/jazz group out of southern Utah.  I saw the two groups perform together and it was an absolutely unique pairing.

A Dutch woman who now hails from Portland, Oregon and performs under the name Jet Black Pearl, does amazing things with her voice, her accordion and some electronic devices.

The Phoenix Jazz and Swing Big Band will make their first appearance ever at the Festival and will feature California based vocalist, Jack Wood.  They will present an evening of music in tribute to Frank Sinatra entitled “A Sinatra Centennial Salute.”

For the past few years, we’ve presented artists submitted by the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation.  The pianists they’ve brought to us are always world-class.  At this point, we don’t know who they’re going to feature, but it will be high-caliber piano artistry.

I’m currently in the process of booking a musician to be featured as soloist with the Salt Lake Jazz Orchestra.  I don’t have confirmation as to who it will be; I’m exploring several options.  But whoever it is, will be a world-class player.

Beginning last year, we presented the Salty Cricket Composers Collective, who will again premier original music written by Utah composers. Their repertoire consists of classical music written for the piccolo, clarinet, and piccolo trumpet, played by a handful of Utah Symphony Orchestra musicians.

From Great Britain, we will have Neighbourhood Watch Stilts International, a group of larger than life, colorful street theater performers. They’ll be on site, roaming throughout the festival at various times during the four days and nights.

For more information on the Utah Arts Festival, visit its official website.

Photo cred: Austen Diamond