Brickman, Gatlins to perform at Summer Festival

INDEPENDENCE, KANSAS – World-famous entertainers Jim Brickman and the Gatlin Brothers will be headliners at the ASTRA Arts Festival July 3 – 13, a first-time endeavor here that brings together dozens of activities in the visual arts, music, theatre, literature and the performing arts.

Brickman, deemed the most commercially successful pop pianist of the last two decades, will perform July 3 at Memorial Hall. His fame stems from two Grammy Award nominations, the sale of 7 million albums, and an approach to music that blends piano talent with songwriting.

Raised on Texas gospel music and evolving into chart-topping country music, Gatlin Brothers Larry, Steve and Rudy will perform at Memorial Hall July 12. The Gatlins have a storied, 50-year career reaching into packed concert halls and even Broadway and The White House. Their unique style of harmonies and songwriting led to Grammy awards and collaborations with stars such as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand.

ASTRA welcomes a third major music event: Ernie Hasse and Signature Sound.  Forget your normal gospel quartet. Ernie Hasse and Signature Sound have broken the mold.  Their groundbreaking originality in communication the Good News has blazed a trail in gospel music history.  They perform at Independence Memorial Hall on Thursday July 10.

The festival will include additional kinds of arts popping up around the town. In terms of theater, Sunday July 6 is a performance of the show “Say Goodnight, Gracie.”  Alan Safier protrays the great humorist in a much-celebrated and fun production, which was nominated for a Tony Award during its original Broadway run.  Curtain is at 2 p.m. at the William Inge Theatre at Independence Community College.

On Monday, July 7, ride the rails at a performance of “Hard Travelin’ with Woody Guthrie,” a songful creation of the famous folksinger entertaining at a mineworkers union hall in Oklahoma.  The production is 7:30 p.m. at the Inge Theatre.

This is followed on Tuesday, July 8, a production of Leonard Nimoy’s “Vincent.”  The famous actor is also a playwright.  Nimoy wrote this moving play about the famous French artist.  It performs at 7:30 p.m., also at the Inge Theatre.

There will be a writing contest, a book fair, a “literary crawl,” a juried art show and many visual arts events.  These include an exhibit focusing on the residents of Independence by renowned photographer Les Slesnick.  Renowned muralist David Loewenstein, with local artist assistants chosen by application, will transform the north-facing wall of 225 North Penn Avenue into a work of art. There will be additional art exhibits, literary activities and public workshops, most with free admission.

Development of the festival was sparked by a $150,000 grant, titled “Our Town,” of the National Endowment for the Arts, plus $50,000 awarded by the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission. Additional support is being pledged by organizations and individuals who believe in its NEA-stated objective “to improve economic development through artistic endeavors.” The festival is designed to promote economic development, aid community revitalization, engage local and regional residents and attract cultural tourism.

Both grants were the result of efforts by Peter Ellenstein of the William Inge Center for the Arts at Independence Community College. Other partners in the massive planning effort are the Independence Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau, City of Independence, Independence Historical Museum and Art Center, Public Library, Main Street, Neewollah Inc., USD 446, Montgomery County Action Council, Children’s Theatre of Independence, and the Little House on the Prairie Museum.

A 15-member ASTRA festival board is headed by Don Farthing, and there are committees aided by professional consultants to implement the various aspects of the event.
For more information, there is a Web site at astrafest.org and a Facebook page, “Astra Arts Festival.” Updates and details, including a schedule and ticket availability, will be posted.

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