Columbia tries out New Year's Day Festival

Article from Columbia Daily Tribune by Alan Burdziak

Dozens of volunteers, performers and artists came together to entertain about 300 people Sunday for the first-ever New Year’s Day Festival in downtown Columbia.

Organizers decided in early 2016 to start a free event after the cancellation of Eve Fest, a New Year’s Eve festival that took place downtown for more than two decades, said Mary Hussmann, who helped put together the new festival. Pat Kelley, a member of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, asked her to help, Hussmann said, and the group began meeting in March. The main goal was to hold a free event that anyone could attend without worrying about paying for tickets, Hussmann said.

“We thought this would be a good event to have low-income, middle-income, high-income” people attend, Hussmann said. “It didn’t matter. Anybody could come.”

The group secured about $5,000 in funding from various city departments, and the Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St., donated space. Though some people had to decline invitations to help out or perform, organizers still got dozens of artists, musicians, historians and a local radio show to sign on for the event for free or at a discounted rate. Organizers will evaluate how it all went during the next couple of months, Hussmann said, and provide the city with a report on how the cash it provided was spent. After that, they will decide whether to do it again next year.

“It just has been kind of an adventure putting this together,” she said.

Gamal Castile, a former Columbia police officer, gave a presentation about ancient Greek weapons and warfare tactics. A few months ago, when he still was a part of the department’s community outreach unit, Kelley asked Castile to join the festival. He agreed, Kelley said, and though Castile left the department, Kelley still wanted him to perform, so Castile kept his word.

Castile, who said he has been interested in ancient history for his entire life, has collected authentic weapons and armor for years and gives demonstrations to dispel myths about Greek history.

“People see movies like ‘300,’ and they see this cartoonish, completely false image of what Greek warfare was at that time,” he said.

Using historical accounts, drawings and his authentic artifacts, Castile shows people how ancient warriors actually looked and how they used their weapons. He said he hopes to tour the country, giving demonstrations at colleges, universities and museums.

“I think it’s going to really spark an interest in people who otherwise think history is kind of dry or boring,” Castile said.

About a dozen performers from the Maplewood Barn Radio Theatre set up in one of the church’s rooms to live-record a 30-minute serial radio show from the 1950s.

The radio project, which began in 2011 as part of the Maplewood Barn Theatre, recently started live recordings in front of an audience. About 20 people gathered to hear the recording of a November 1954 episode of “Our Miss Brooks,” a CBS radio sitcom about a high school English teacher that ran from 1948 to 1957 and also was a TV show for a few years in the ’50s. The episode is slated to air at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 20 on KBIA.

Byron Scott, program announcer and a member of the theater’s board of directors, said Kelley, an old friend, had asked him whether the group would be interested in recording a show at the festival, to which he agreed a couple of months ago.

“Because it’s a community event,” Scott said of why the group agreed, “and because we felt for the kinds of shows we’re doing that a lot of people here would be part of our target audience.”

This article originally appeared in the online edition of the Tribune on Monday, January 2, at 10:35 a.m.