It's the classic summer quandary. You've finally assembled the whole gang for an outing and nobody can agree on the destination.
The Harvest Festival, running Saturday through Monday at the Long Beach Convention Center, may fill the bill for everybody. The festival, which was founded in 1973 and will visit six Southland cities this fall, is an Americana-themed arts and crafts show featuring more than 200 exhibitors from around the country. It's also a pretty fine source of family entertainment, offering continuous shows, regional foods and live demonstrations by artisans.
Where else, for example, would you meet a fellow like Jim Burke? A soft-spoken kind of guy from the Northern California town of Placerville, Burke calls himself a "chain saw sculptor," and he's one of several craftspeople demonstrating their skills throughout the festival. With his specially adapted saws, Burke turns blocks of cedar into anything from 12-inch statues to a 6-foot-tall grizzly bear. He'll be sculpting inside a plexiglass booth that shields viewers from the noise and sawdust but allows him to describe his work and answer questions.
If, however, you prefer saws with a more lyrical bent, you may want to catch a performance by David Weiss, one of a dozen live entertainers to be featured at the festival. Most days, Weiss is the principal oboist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but put a $7 Stanley Handyman in his grip and he becomes, as he puts it, "the virtuoso saw player."
When used as a folk instrument, the saw makes a sound somewhere between "a soprano voice and a whistle" that works well with some of the more expressive folk melodies, Weiss explained by phone from his West Los Angeles home. Saw playing, he says, dates back more than 100 years and was enormously popular in America's vaudeville days. Although historians differ, some say the musical saw was first developed by lumberjacks as an accompaniment to their working songs.
Weiss, who was self-taught, has performed on "The Tonight Show," Minnesota Public Radio's "Prairie Home Companion" and performed Bach's Prelude in C in the saw's musical debut at Lincoln Center in 1988. He will be performing all three days of the Harvest Festival on small stages, and will be featured Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on the center stage.
Bluegrass yodeler Ken Davis doesn't have a saw, power or otherwise, but he does have a mighty set of lungs. Davis, a Navy aircraft examiner by profession, has been whooping it up at the Harvest Festival for 18 years.
As he explained during a phone interview from his San Leandro home, Davis, who toured for 17 years with Elmo and Patsy (you remember "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"), says his brand of bluegrass yodeling is faster and flashier than its Swiss kin. So fast, in fact, that "sometimes the band has a hard time keeping up with me." He will perform twice daily on the center stage with the Ray Park Rangers, performing such favorites as "Columbus Stockade Blues" and "Cotton Fields."
For youngsters, the popular theatrical troupe We Tell Stories will be spinning American folk tales and other yarns, according to company founder Carl Weintraub.
The only theater company to receive a four-star rating from the California Arts Council last season, We Tell Stories will combine audience participation and simple costumes and props to spin yarns by Carl Sandburg, Mark Twain, and a collection of American Indian folk tales from the Chumash tribe. The group will perform twice daily on the center stage. Other entertainers include juggler Chad Taylor, magician Larry Cason and Jay Reed's "Punch & Judy puppet show."
Craftsmen dressed in 19th-Century garb will offer items ranging from hand-painted scarves and accessories by Laguna Hills artist Siobhan Elder and original children's books by Irvine's Scott and Susie Sutton to handmade brooms with elaborately carved handles patterned after those used in the late 1700s.
What: The 1991 Harvest Festival.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, through Monday, Sept. 2. (The festival comes to the Anaheim Convention Center Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.)
Where: Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
Whereabouts: Exit the Long Beach (710) Freeway at Shoreline Drive, then turn left on Linden Avenue.
Wherewithal: $3 to $6; children under 6 are admitted free.
Where to Call: (213) 499-7677.