It was as mellow as jazz, as funky as bluegrass, as exotic as a Mideastern belly dancer.

The third annual Arts-on-the-Green festival in Costa Mesa, a sampler of Orange County cultural offerings, had something for just about everyone.

Thousands attended the free, bigger-than-ever celebration of visual and performance arts Sunday in Town Center Park.

Producer/director Dwight Richard Odle of South Coast Repertory did not cut a corner. The sprawling operation, sponsored by the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, looked great and ran as smooth as silk. One attendee was overheard commenting, “They’ve really gone fancy this year.”


The park was a visual pleasure, with banners, balloons, food concession stands and four outdoor stages, large and small, studding its grassy slopes.

It was a Gershwin, Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein and John Philip Sousa kind of a day.

Opera Pacific, the Pacific Pops Ensemble, the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, the Orange Coast College Big Band, the Master Chorale of Orange County and the South Coast Symphony eschewed the new for cozy selections of well-known classical and popular music.

There was also down-home music with the bluegrass of Country Connection and the Dixieland jazz of Frank Amoss & the Mississippi Mudders. A generous sampling of exotica was provided by the dancing Cairo Sisters, the Nea Ellas Greek Dancers, the Dunaj International Dance Ensemble, the Bengal Artists Group’s dances of Bangladesh and the energetic Orange County Buddhist Church Taiko percussionists.


And it was more.

On SCR’s Second Stage, eclectic offerings ranged from a thoughtful presentation by the Stop-Gap Theatre dealing with rape, readings by the Laguna Poets, dances of India with the Arpana school and adult comedy on the dark side with the Fractured Mirror improv troupe. (A sketch about a New York street punk and a Valley Boy who need a translator to communicate scored big.)

Mime Caprice Rothe, who also performed a clown show outdoors for children, took a chance with a shadowy work-in-progress. She was strongly effective as a bag lady who finds oblivion literally inside a bottle of booze. Her second piece, about a woman undergoing treatment in a mental hospital, seemed less finely tuned.

The intriguingly named Pandemonium Word Ballet & Literary Circus was a pleasant discovery. The four-member ensemble acted out works by several poets, from Carl Sandburg to Richard Brautigan, with elan.


Poetry received a fair share of exposure at the festival. On the “Gallery” stage set up in the Imperial Bank’s underground parking lot, readings were offered by the OC Literary Arts Foundations and the Electrum Foundation.

Odle’s decision to use the parking structure was inspired. Masses of greenery, strategic lighting and a continuous cool, gentle breeze created a relaxing atmosphere in which to enjoy quieter fare.

Rows of white wooden chairs on black matting surrounded a small stage. While the poets’ voices were slightly muffled in the subterranean theater, the acoustics were excellent for the musicians.

One of the finest performances was the skilled and soulful duo of guitarist George Safire and flutist Harold Todd who soothed an appreciative audience with selections by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Earl Klugh as well as their own compositions. (The two, who met at UC Irvine, perform regularly at the Sail Loft in Laguna Beach.)


Other “underground” performers included harpist Kathy Tarr and the crowd-pleasing Golden City Barbershop Harmony quartet. In addition, an exhibit of posters, paintings, photographs and sculpture from several arts organizations was also available for perusal.

Outside, on the Imperial Bank’s plaza, there were demonstrations of printmaking, Chinese brush-painting, stained glass and more. A “Clay Play” table was set up by Artists Helping Artists for children to create their own artwork throughout the day.

The only real disappointment was the all-day festival’s grand finale, which included a performance by the South Coast Ballet, the Master Chorale of Orange County and the South Coast Symphony--it wasn’t long enough to please the huge, not-ready-to-leave crowd.