As they celebrate 10 years of chalk (and its fourth in Venice), it’s no wonder the festival’s organizers chose "Evanescent/Everlasting” as its season theme. The art at this pavement fest is temporary in its external presence, but lasting in the minds of those who stop by the Venice Airport Grounds to view debut art installations by artists such as Kurt Wenner and Leon Keer, and perhaps to give the medium of chalk a go themselves.
A museum space this year showcases the event’s history, with a select group of artists invited into a curated section of artwork and special events planned around it. Of course there’s also music, poetry, magic, refreshments and even hot air balloons. Nov. 10-13; chalkfestival.org
Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage
Venice Theatre’s Stage II frequently presents offbeat productions that don’t turn up elsewhere, and this season’s Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage certainly fits that bill. It’s billed as a “bodacious and farcical” tale centered on a lusty rodeo competitor named Big 8 who’s facing foreclosure on her Wyoming ranch where she “rehabilitates” injured cowboys. She’s probably not the wildest character onstage, though; that honor might go to sexpot Shedevil or one-eyed Ukrainian biker Black Dog. It’s a mashup of classic and contemporary Western movies written by pseudonymous playwright Jane Martin that’s being directed by Kelly Wynn Woodland, Nov. 2-19. venicestage.com
Venice Blues Festival
The organizers of the fifth annual fest snared a big name for their headliner this year: none other than Blues Hall of Famer Elvin Bishop, an original member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. You may think of Bishop first for his hit “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” but he’s been playing the blues with artists like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, the Allman Brothers and many others all during his long career, employing his famed Gibson guitar nicknamed “Red Dog.” He’s here with his Big Fun Trio. Also in the fest line-up: Texas blues guitarist-singer Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, vocalist and keyboards player Eliza Neals, blues/jazz/rock/funk musician Tommy Z, and Florida-born CeCe Teneal, dubbed “The Voice of Neo-Blues.” 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Maxine Barritt Park. visitvenicefl.org
3X Holiday Fun
They may be lining Venice Avenue already with chairs to nail the best viewing spots for the annual downtown Holiday Parade, Nov. 25, set for 6 to 10 p.m. (visitvenicefl.org).
For sure boat owners are already planning their light displays and decorations for the festive boat parade, Dec. 2 in the Intracoastal Waterway, starting at 6 p.m. (venicechristmasboatparade.com).
And let’s not forget the popular Christmas Walk, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. in downtown Venice (visitvenicefl.org), filled with entertainment and shopping opportunities.
Asolo Repertory Theatre kicks off its season with this Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice hit about the controversial but charismatic first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, personified here by Puerto Rican-born singer-dancer-actress Ana Isabelle (cited as “An Artist to Watch” by Billboard magazine). And she’s throwing herself into the role—working with Ariana Grande’s voice teacher, monitoring her diet and sleep to preserve her energy, and even visiting Argentina to soak up the atmosphere of the streets Eva walked. Josh Rhodes (who helmed last season’s Guys and Dolls), directs and choreographs; show dates are Nov. 18-Dec. 30. asolorep.org.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a production of The Nutcracker, so Venice Performing Arts Center delivers with the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School’s version of the famous story of Clara and her magical present―a first time for the school to perform in Venice. The school has won raves locally for bringing the athletic, graceful Cuban style of dance to students and audiences alike. This Nutcracker, conceived and choreographed by school founders Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez (who both trained at the famed National Ballet School of Cuba), with master teacher Delia Ballart Arcia and resident choreographer Tania Vergara, should provide an exciting introduction to the distinctive approach. Dec. 17 at VPAC; veniceperformingartscenter.com
3X Food and More
We all know Venice is a town that loves a festival, especially when the celebrations benefit a good cause. So get ready for these annual treats.
The Italian Feast and Carnival, Feb. 22-25 at the airport grounds, helping to provide scholarship money (italianamericanclubofvenice.com).
The Rotary’s 10th annual Toast to Venice, March 24 at Maxine Barritt Park, promising wine, beer and food and likewise benefiting scholarships (venicenokomisrotary.org);
The Shark’s Tooth Festival, April 13-15, delivering arts and crafts vendors, plentiful food and drink, a shark’s tooth dig, fossil tents and more, while helping Special Athletes of Sarasota County (sharkstoothfest.com)
Kotler-Coville Glass Pavillion Opening
The grand opening of this 5,500-square-foot new pavilion at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is slated for Jan. 22. The pavilion, designed by Lewis + Whitlock, fittingly uses glass as a principal material, so you can see inside the gallery from the outside. It will house the Ringling’s growing collection of increasingly popular American and European studio glass, including major gifts from Nancy and Philip Kotler and Margot and Warren Coville. Can’t wait to sneak a peek.
Venice Symphony: Emotional Landscapes
Venice Symphony fans know this is a season of visiting conductors, each of them a contender to fill the role permanently. They should also know that the season’s concert selections highlight the talents of visiting artists like soprano Angela Brown, who will perform Richard Strauss’ haunting Four Last Songs under the baton of Stilian Kirov, Jan. 12 and 13. Brown made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the title role of Aida, garnering accolades from The New York Times and CBS Weekend News, and although she doesn’t confine herself to opera in her career (she sings pops and gospel, too), her soaring vocals and larger-than-life personality make her a true operatic sensation. At the Venice Performing Arts Center; thevenicesymphony.org
Venice Symphony: A Symphonic Journey
Romanian violinist Irina Muresanu’s playing has been acclaimed as “irresistible” by the Boston Globe, which has also praised her as “not just a virtuoso, but an artist.” She’s performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia, in addition to recording extensively, and now she brings her 1849 Giuseppe Rocca violin to Venice to render Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto―an oft-performed and recorded piece featuring a lightning-fast finale―with the symphony and guest conductor Janna Hymes, March 16 and 17 at Venice Performing Arts Center. thevenicesymphony.org
Venice’s own Dick Hyman, a piano legend showing no signs of slowing down in his 90s, is one of the masters we’re talking about here; the other is his longtime friend and collaborator, clarinetist Ken Peplowski. They’ll combine their talents with a 40-plus professional orchestra (including a featured string quartet) conducted by Yakov Bergman to bring a “Symphony of Broadway” to VPAC on Feb. 24. Expect traditional Broadway hits, jazz faves, and an east coast premiere of a new work by composer Hyman. Presented by the South County Jazz Club and VIPArts. veniceperformingartscenter.com
Motown the Musical
Who doesn’t love a good Motown hit? So imagine dozens of them, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Brick House,” “Stop in the Name of Love” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” all assembled in this big, high-energy Broadway production making its debut locally at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, for eight shows March 27-April 1. Along with all of your favorite songs from the Supremes, the Temptations, Michael Jackson, etc., you’ll get the true story of the record label’s founder, Berry Gordy, and his journey from featherweight boxer to heavyweight mogul. vanwezel.org
The Grapes of Wrath
Kelly Wynn Woodland (Flaming Guns) is also at the helm of this sweeping adaptation (by Sarasota’s own Frank Galati) of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era masterpiece about the Joad family, on the move from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to a hopefully better life in California. The 1990 Tony Award winner is a demanding piece technically (think of that battered truck loaded with Joads and their belongings heading West) and musically (with an original score by Michael Smith that usually features musicians onstage), but if the 20-plus cast and crew can pull it off, it’s one that will stir a plethora of emotions. On Venice Theatre’s mainstage, April 10-29. venicestage.com
Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash
One of the most popular events along the Suncoast, the bash continues to please attendees with its mix of great food (sizzling barbecue from top teams from around the country competing for a $20,000 purse and a spot in the World Food Championships, plus a chili cookoff), great music (from bluegrass aces The Boxcars, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, and the Lonesome River Band) and participatory events like a cornhole tournament, kids’ games, and this year’s classic car and truck cruise-in. All the action takes place April 20 and 21 at the Venice Airport Festival Grounds, and admission is—get this—free. suncoastbbqbash.com
Venice Chorale: Chichester Psalms
A number of musical institutions are presenting works by Leonard Bernstein this season in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and Venice Chorale is no exception. Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, based on several Old Testament psalms, highlights the chorale’s April 8 concert at Venice Performing Arts Center, and should prove a worthy challenge for the performers because of its Hebrew language and demand for an unusually wide vocal range. No word yet on whether a boy treble or countertenor will sing the part of the boy shepherd David; Bernstein made it clear that a woman was not to be used to hit those high notes. thevenicechorale.org