Gathering of the tribes

It takes courage to plan an art happening for the day after Thanksgiving -- a day most folks usually elect to spend at the mall, fighting fellow shoppers for the last Furby, or at home, surrendering to the effects of the last piece of pumpkin pie.

Cheryl Evans had stacked the deck a bit to ensure a healthy turnout for "Artists at the Market," last Friday's show and sale of original works at the Winter Park Farmers' Market. For the public debut of her recently created Studio E artists' cooperative, the interior-designer-turned-framing-specialist had pooled the mailing lists of the 12 participating partners to facilitate direct solicitation of likely customers.

Simply put, it worked. By early evening, the brick building was respectably full of eager patrons, from yuppie couples pushing strollers to a pair of older women sporting shaved heads and matching red sweaters. As seductive New Age music pulsed from the sound system, they perused the tight but carefully arranged display of paintings, sculpture, jewelry and decorative baubles. It was as if Hurricane Mitch had swept through a few Park Avenue galleries and meticulously deposited their contents just one block west.

All the trimmings

This was commercial art, to be sure, more likely to be judged for its room-enhancing qualities than as a stimulus for intellectual debate. The tables in the center of the room were draped in black cloths and festooned with gold trinkets touched by glittery confetti, calling to mind some particularly ostentatious wedding invitations I'd once seen. You know the type: "Dr. And Mrs. Myron Cohen cordially request your presence at the marriage of their darling only son, William, to Susan Cooper, a blond shikseh who frankly doesn't know how lucky she is."

Still, I recognized some of the exhibitors from past showings at various area venues. Patrick Williamson's colorful hieroglyphs had been a fixture at the defunct A Different Perspective galleries on Fairbanks Avenue, and Brenda Heim had long been promoting her abstract calligraphy at a succession of self-staged events.

Heim's large-scale works filled the market's front wall, drawing attention with their swirling, painted backgrounds and Rorschach-like black characters. Nothing at her table, however, turned as many heads as Heim's own striking appearance, her tall, tan frame bedecked in a floor-length animal print and set off by turquoise jewelry. When she leaned forward, spotlights positioned beneath her lit up her face like an otherworldly Native American. I seem to recall Captain Kirk marrying someone just like her in '69 or so.

Less visual but equally visible was gifted Chuluota painter Carl Knickerbocker, who had shown up not only to avail himself of the wine-and-cheese spread, but to "provide a warm body" at an event he saw as important for Orlando's perpetually struggling art community. A commendably supportive attitude, given that CK's own work is clearly superior to anything the Studio E people had on offer.

At the beginning of the evening, Evans had told me that she was concerned about the "drying up" of Orlando art locations, yet had based the roster for her first show more on "the artists' spirit than the actual art." Though she was pleased by the strong attendance, the real test, she said, would be the sight of buyers making a similarly spirited grab for their wallets.

So on my way out, I made sure to stop and ask her how the product was moving. Before she could answer, one of her colleagues walked up and pressed a $20 bill into her hands.

"It's moving," she laughed. Santa, it appeared, had come early to Winter Park. And bless him, he only brought one clown painting.

Thanks for the memories

A holiday of a different sort was being celebrated up the road at Maitland's Copper Rocket Pub, where third-anniversary festivities had been underway since the Wednesday night. Owner Ens Fletcher stood behind the bar, accepting the congratulations of the assembled hell-raisers and making playful fun of their beer choices when he felt like it. It was the surest sign of a business operating in the black: When times are tough, you'll sing the praises of Meisterbraü if it makes you a buck.

Some people look forward to Thanksgiving as a time to catch up with their beloved Uncle Joe, but for me, comforting familiarity came in the form of Gargamel lead shriekster Mandaddy, the Uncle Fester or Orlando rock. As he mounted the Rocket's stage on Friday night, Mandaddy's goatee was hidden beneath the performance mask that makes him resemble a demented refugee from wrestling's NWO. But there was no mistaking his band as it tore through a set of its herky-jerky, fingernails-on-blackboard originals. In keeping with the anniversary mood, a closing medley took us all on a trip down memory lane, as Gargamel mangled -- excuse me, interpreted -- everything from "The Macarena" to Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" to the gonzo chorus chant of KISS' "I Love it Loud."

Shortly thereafter, a two-beat rest in the music allowed Mandaddy to emit an unexpected, plaintive cry of "Bing Futch!" I assumed that he was acknowledging the presence of the notorious Orlando performance artist and "composeur," but a subsequent sweep of the premises revealed the room to be Futch-less. After Gargamel's set, I asked Mandaddy to explain the outburst.

"Oh, I just did it one night in rehearsal, and it kinda stuck," he shrugged.

Not to be outdone, Zoom vocalist Tina Zoom instigated some cheerful lunacy of her own on Saturday, treating the final night of the four-day love-fest to some wonderfully indecipherable banter as her trio of musicians set land-speed records for galvanized pop behind her. Collapsing in a heap near the drum kit, she babbled into the mike some heartfelt accolades for the Rocket's admittedly terrific food menu. Then she turned serious: "It's all political," she sermonized. "If you fuck Bill Clinton, don't tell on the man!"

Actions, however, speak louder than words, and there was no mistaking what was on Tina's mind as she did her best to further her band's "porn rock" image. Basically, she fondled herself the entire time she was on stage, at one point even lifting up her shirt for easier access. If we had been in Casselberry, we'd all be in prison at this very moment.

Now that's what I call moving product. I don't even want to think about what she does on her own anniversary.

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