Sunday, April 2, 2017

Arts and Leisure World

If the town doesn’t start attracting a younger population soon, it runs the real risk of looking like Leisure World in 10 years. --Dennis Lane, Business Monthly, April 2, 2013

Last night at the Rouse Theater felt a bit like Leisure World. It was a sold-out crowd, or close to one, for Judy Collins. The event was a kick-off event for this year's Columbia Festival of the Arts, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary. While I saw a few folks my age or younger, by and large it was a senior citizen crowd.

A brief backstory: My older sister, born in 1950, was a devotee of folk and protest music. We had songbooks for the Weavers, Judy Collins, Joan Baez. She had all of Phil Ochs' record albums. (I had one of Peter, Paul & Mary.)  So I can say truthfully that I grew up on Judy Collins. I wanted to grow up to be Judy Collins. The clear, pure, achingly-resonant sound of her voice was imprinted on me at a very early age. 

Last night I looked around at the silver-haired audience members and remembered my teenaged sister with her long, shiny hair, blue jeans and loafers, and wondered what happened. Middle age does that to you. You look around and wonder how everyone got old. (And then you go home and look in the mirror, but that's a story for another day.)

The president (chair?) of the CFA Board welcomed the crowd with a bit of nostalgic information. Judy Collins had first performed in Columbia in 1973 when "the most expensive tickets went for the outrageous price of four dollars and twenty five cents."

Now, you Millennials out there might be surprised to learn that...

The crowd erupted In mirth. There was a significant buzz in the room, drowning out what he had to say.

You think we don't have any Millennials here?  

Laughter. A lot of it. Maybe some applause.

Okay, if you are a Millennial, please raise your hand. We want to see where you are, so these folks can see what a Millennial looks like.

Nothing. At this point I'm in a full-on social anxiety meltdown and have covered my face with my hands and am shrinking down in my seat.

Not admitting defeat, or perhaps relishing his moment in the sun, the speaker called out,


And somewhere close to the front, on the right-hand side, a young woman stood up, almost cringing, and waved a hand, weakly.

And the awful moment was finally over. 

The concert proceeded and was amazing. It was a fulfillment of childhood wishes and dreams. 

And yet.

They always give you those audience feedback surveys at CFA events. I threw mine in the trash. The arrogance of the MC, his patronizing "humor" aimed at singling out those of a younger generation was so mind boggling that I didn't know where to begin. Do we want the Columbia  Festival of the Arts to survive? Who do we think will bankroll it? Who will come to the events? Who will volunteer?

Probably not someone who remembers when dad or granddad dragged them to some event and they were publicly humiliated and treated like an exotic find in a circus menagerie.

Is it the goal of the founding generation to be buried with all their treasures, like Egyptian Pharaohs? Is their desire to take everything with them and leave nothing behind?

Last night it seemed likely.

I want to be proven wrong. I want to love you, CFA, I really do. But while your fan base may be ready for Leisure World, Columbia isn't. In the grand scheme of things, Columbia is only just beginning. 

So, let's act like it. 

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