One of Westerville's largest annual events returns this weekend, featuring a new wrinkle in celebration of a pair of anniversaries.
Musicians and artists from central Ohio and beyond will gather for the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Westerville Music and Arts Festival. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 14, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at Heritage Park, 60 N. Cleveland Ave.
Matt Lofy, who manages the festival for the chamber, said last year's event drew about 16,000 guests, and he's hoping for 18,000 this year, which would equal the highest attendance in the event's history.
He said in recent years he's seen the event mentioned among the major offerings throughout Ohio, cementing the Music and Arts Festival as a summer staple.
"I never knew we would be considered around a Comfest or a Red, White & Boom," he said. "I think, for a suburban festival, we're definitely getting up there as a strong one."
This year, the festival is taking it one step further with an after-hours concert that will bring alcohol onto city-owned land for the first time during an event.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, technically after the festival closes for the day, a special anniversary celebration will commemorate the 45th birthday of the festival and the 50th birthday of the chamber.
Beer taps from BrewDog and Temperance Row Brewing will be featured, along with the music of central Ohio band Shucking Bubba.
Organizers have been spreading the word about the event, and Lofy said he's been thrilled by the response.
"We've definitely gotten a lot more interaction with individuals at 4th Fridays and on social media," he said. "So many people are used to going to Dublin for a concert and a beer and now they're like, 'Oh my gosh, it's right in our backyard.' "
But the festival isn't just about music.
For artists like Paul Hartong, the festival provides one of the best venues to showcase their work.
Hartong runs Utility with his wife, Kayleigh. The pair turn salvaged or reclaimed wood into wall decorations, tables and other decor from their Sunbury residence, and have been displaying their work at the festival since 2013.
"It's a good environment for us," Hartong said. "We've tried putting things in consignment shops in Uptown and other places, but they take such a big cut that we'd rather do festivals."
The Hartongs also prefer the interaction that comes with the festival, and enjoy talking to people about their work, he said. The favorites at the festival are always the smaller decor pieces, many of which he described as "like a T-shirt on your wall."
"We've taken tables and big coffee tables and we've sold some of that, but the stuff that people want is the (wall art) type of thing," he said.
For Lofy and the chamber, balancing the art and music is key.
"The biggest thing we're trying to do is ensure that if we're a music and arts fest, we're incorporating music performances with the art," he said.
That mindset has resulted in a broad definition of what that art can be. Rather than only inviting woodworkers like the Hartongs and traditional mediums like paint and jewelry, this year's festival features yoga, poetry and storytelling as a way to expand on the art concept.
"We're trying to expand on the idea of 'what is art?' and that's how we got into the storytelling and the poetry readings," Lofy said.
As is tradition, entry to the festival is $1.
For more information, visit westervillechamber.com.