Festival of Fools celebrates its 10th anniversary

The Hokum Bros, a Charlotte-based show band, is ready for festival weekend. Courtesy photo.

Twelve years ago, Woody Keppel went to the City of Burlington with an idea that had been germinating since 1982, when, just out of clown camp, he began a 25-year stint as a character clown, musician and juggler at festivals and theaters around the world.

It was 1985, when Keppel began performing at craft fairs in Vermont, where he first shared his idea for creating a circus/vaudeville festival with Craft Producer’s, Charlie Dooley. Out of their collaborative efforts came the “Vermont Comedy Festival,” held in Burlington in 1991, and the Manchester “Festival of Fools,” in 1992. Audiences that experienced the events loved ’em, but “busking” was not yet in the local vernacular, and the cost of running a world-class event, with few sponsors and an unfamiliar public, became prohibitive.

By 2007, street theater festivals were enjoying a surge in popularity across Europe, Asia, Canada and the South Pacific, but were not yet on the public’s radar screen in the U.S. Keppel knew Church Street in Burlington would be a perfect location and proposed his idea, first to the Church Street Marketplace and then to Burlington City Arts’ ED, Doreen Craft, who embraced the idea. Today, the Festival of Fools is widely know as one of the top-five busking festivals in the world, as evidenced by the huge crowds that enjoy these extraordinary acts and reward them with generous tips.

As the Festival of Fools celebrates its tenth anniversary, downtown Burlington will once again provide an ideal landscape for three fun days of music and foolery for all ages! Over the past decade, the Queen City has been the meeting place for some of the world’s most eccentric performers whose collective resumes include Broadway, Vegas, Lincoln Center, The White House, Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros., Big Apple Circus, Monte Carlo and the gamut of late night TV from Carson to Colbert. Over 140 performances will be presented throughout the weekend, so give yourself plenty of time to catch these remarkable acts—pleasure awaits you!

This year’s performance lineup includes New York’s Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Pinky Special and Rob Torres; Canadians John Park, Mike Wood, The Kif-Kif Sisters, and The Matt Velvet & Charlie Show; Strong Woman Mama Lou (Austin, Texas), Brushy One-String (Jamaica), Nigel Blackstorm (England), Kenny Raskin (Newton, Mass.), Mark Hayward (Wisconsin), Snap Boogie (Boston), and The Hokum Bros. (Charlotte).

The Festival kicks off with a parade down Church Street on Friday (5:30) with the cast of Fools, led by Seattle’s Tim Furst (The Flying Karamazov Brothers), and The Drumatics, a marching brass band from Brooklyn. The parade will culminate with performances on Main Street (blocked off), followed by Late Night Foolery in the Metronome, at 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Saturday’s schedule features performances from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. in City Hall Park and on Church Street Marketplace. The John Waters classic Hairspray will be shown on a big screen at the top of Church Street at nightfall.

Sunday highlights include performances on Church Street from noon until 5:00 p.m., and Kids Rock The Park (City Hall Park), featuring Broadway hit, Fred Garbo’s Inflatable Theater Company.

Adults and kids of all ages who want to re-charge their creative clown spirits are invited to take part in “Mr. Woodhead’s School of Foolery,” a four-hour clowning, circus and street performing workshop led by four internationally renowned instructors (free!). The Festival weekend concludes with “The Last Laugh,” highlighting the best of the fest—all on one stage in City Hall Park at 5:30 p.m.

Come witness weird and wonderful scenes of inspired silliness; feed your soul with music and laugh-’til-it-hurts comedy, all served up in downtown Burlington. You’ll be in good company!