EcoArtFest to highlight river valley artists, musicians

Thursday, September 4, 2008 | 5:44 p.m. CDT; updated 11:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 5, 2008
Bluegrass and folk songs resonated across the Missouri River on Wednesday evening as Pat Farrar, left, and Mark Risch jam at Cooper's Landing, protected from the rain by the porch's awning. On Saturday, the third annual EcoArtFest will be held at Cooper's Landing with art vendors and musical acts.

COLUMBIA — With the Missouri River a close neighbor, Cooper's Landing River Port Marina sits at a hub of river culture.

"The environment is just an obvious part of the character of Cooper's Landing," said Mike Cooper, owner of Cooper's Landing. "It's the perfect place to have an environmental fair and art festival."

If you go

WHAT: EcoArtFest, a celebration of musicians and the environment

WHERE: Cooper's Landing, on the Missouri River near Easley. Take Providence Road, which becomes Route K, south of Columbia, and turn east onto South Old Plank Road and then onto Smith Hatchery Road. It will lead you to Cooper's Landing.

WHEN: From 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday


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The area and its cultural character make the combination boat dock and Thai food restaurant an ideal location for the Missouri River Cultural Conservancy's third annual EcoArtFest this weekend. The marina will play host to musicians, writers, artists and environmental advocates from across the state who are interested in displaying their talent and raising funds for the organization.

The festival honors the memory of musician and conservancy founder Jerome Wheeler, who wanted an outlet to archive the work of Columbia-area musicians for future generations. He died in February 2005, too late to record most of his music and too early to see the festival come to fruition.

"Our role is to preserve the musical heritage, but people bring their other talents," said Doireann O'Brien, conservancy board member and wife of the organization's late founder. "We all kind of share what we have."

Artists participating include state poet laureate Walter Bargen, the DragonFly Dance Troupe, and guitarist and songwriter Naked Dave Bandy. Several artists and environmental groups will have exhibits, each of which will donate 10 percent of sales to the conservancy.

One of the exhibits is from the nonprofit organization Missouri River Relief. The group sponsors river cleanups throughout the year to "connect people to the river through hands-on educational activities," said Melanie Cheney, a member of River Relief and the festival's environmental and arts coordinator.

One mission of the festival is to highlight the musicians' roles in ecology, said Jeff Wheeler, a conservancy member who is not related to the late Jerome Wheeler.

"It's really what we feel is a very important way in remembering those that passed and promoting those that are still with us but at the same time letting people know that we can't let our planet be destroyed, to be able to keep what we have," Wheeler said.

The EcoArtFest will continue its theme from last year, "Our Local Treasures," in commemoration of Wheeler and other well-loved musicians: Forrest Rose, Ken Shepard and Bob Dyer. Conservancy board members chose the theme from Jerome Wheeler's words at their first meeting in December 2004.

"The clock is running out on many of our local treasures, and we are afraid that, if we don't act quickly, several songwriters will be beyond our reach," said Wheeler, according to the conservancy's Web site,

Last year's festival performers didn't particularly incorporate the theme, Cooper said, so he and the other board members decided to keep the old theme in hopes that this year the point of the benefit will be realized.

"It shows that these people were recognized," Cooper said. "It's an important part of the historical record that people can go back and see these people perform."

Randy Bowden, a piano player and long-time friend of both Wheeler and Dyer, echoed those sentiments, comparing the river community to a tribe.

"These people we lost were elders," Bowden said.

Mike Robertson, a conservancy board member and audio editor, ran a professional recording studio in Columbia for three years. When he heard the group's mission, he immediately volunteered to help with the audio. Recording live events outdoors is a challenge, he said.

"This is much more spontaneous," Robertson said. "It's all live. We're capturing the moment."

The festival is a unique opportunity for singer-songwriters to be recorded and exposed on a larger scale. Because of this, O'Brien said the group invites young musicians in addition to those already established in the community.

"It's good for young musicians because they don't have to build their career on playing covers," Cooper said. "They're writing about the people of central Missouri and their experiences."

The festival will see a wide range of styles this weekend, including country rock, folk, bluegrass and mountain music.

In addition to environmental groups and musicians, EcoArtFest will showcase visual artists. Scott Wilson, who is in charge of taking video footage of the event for the archive, said he will concentrate on interviewing artists this year to make up for the lack of coverage at the past two events.

"The stories around here, the energy that you meet and the people you meet," Wilson said of Cooper's Landing, "the possibilities for creating are incredible."

The festival's ultimate goal, Wheeler said, is to make the larger community aware of the area's home-grown riches.

"Not everything is centered around the malls and what's on television," Wheeler said. "There's a real life outside of the city of Columbia all up and down the Missouri River valley, and that's what we're trying to promote."



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