2009 PHIL Winners - Tony Pezzo, David Ferman and Will Penman

Lists of performers, sponsors, photos, videos and other details of the festival.

Winners of the coveted PHIL award this year were Tony Pezzo, David Ferman and Will Penman

Festival Report by Charles Shapiro:

Two hundred and fifteen jugglers and yo-yo players from 22 states and Canada came to juggle at the Thirty-First Annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival, held again this year at the Yaarab Shrine Temple on Ponce de Leon Avenue in downtown Atlanta. The farthest travelers were from Montreal, California, and Arizona. Cold temperatures gave way to beautiful sunny days during the festival, which spanned two and a half days of excitement, competition, and learning. Thirty-four yo-yo players also showed up for the Georgia State yo-yo competition, some from as far away as Texas and Michigan.

Many experienced club passers made the festival cook this year; highlights on the floor included a full cycle of a 15-person (45 club!) round feed (2 concentric circles of jugglers passing to each other and moving sideways), an 11-man drop-back feed, and some entertaining work on a 5-man 3-count feast/famine pattern. This festival also saw the introduction of the "right-angle Kenny", a new 3-person pattern featuring a passed back-cross, and much entertaining hula-hooping with giant hoops made from irrigation tubing and duct tape.

On Friday night, the AJA Festival hosted its first wedding as Allison Bailes and Elaine Roberts Tied the Knot on the stage behind curtains. The official Universal Life Church ceremony was followed by the highly traditional run under a 7-club juggle, a feature of most Atlanta jugglers weddings.

The Kelly's Seed and Feed Marching Abominable tried out a brand-new show at the Saturday Competition under our own Bruce Plott; the costume scheme was red and orange, as befitted their upcoming 35th anniversary. Andrew Ford M.C.ed the competition, which featured fourteen competitors slugging it out for the prestigious Phils in front of about 500 audience members. The first competitor, Tom Wall, did some nice 5-ball site-swaps and finished with an 18-throw run of 7 balls.

Other highlights of the competition included The Jeremies (Jeremy Fine and Jeremy Perkins), 2007 Flamingo Award recipient Grace Bidgood, Sam Neimaier, and Andrew Ruiz. The Jeremies had the only partner act of the afternoon, both snappily dressed in white caps and T-shirts. The act featured some interesting 3-club takeaways, several 4-club/2 person moves, and some 5-club side-by-side moves.

Grace Bidgood rolled as many as 9 clubs over her knees and along the floor while seated on the ground, then finished with some 3-club manipulations. Sam Neimaier worked with the (in)famous silicon pizza dough prop for his act, including such rarely-seen tricks as working with 2 doughs and rolling a dough across his back. Andrew Ruiz's carefully themed act included 4 and 5 beanbags, a 7-bag run of 18 throws to a clean catch, some nice 4-club 1-spin work, and a good run of 5 clubs to a clean catch.

Most Stupendous winner Will Penman's act included some nice patter, a clean 3-ball routine, and a balance of a chair on his chin. Tony Pezzo won the Most Wonderful trophy with some unusual ring moves including elbow catches and constructions, a nice 6-ring pattern, and a 5-ring full pancake juggle. David Ferman took Most Phenomenal with a serious routine featuring 5-ball pirouettes and multiplex juggles, a 6-ball neck catch, 28 throws of 7 balls, an 8-ball flash, and numerous 3,4,and 5-club tricks culminating in a 5-club full back-cross.

Mike Garner M.C.ed the 'Midnight' (okay, 11 pm) Cabaret. Judah Andrews opened the show with some haunting contact juggling. Other memorable moments included Dan Grider, who trying to gauge how much height he had under field conditions, threw a club only only to have it stick into the ceiling. He went on to finish a fine act featuring some nice 5-club juggling.

We saw some smokin' belly-dancing with a sword by "Monet", music by Mike and Angelo, diabolos by Ted Joblin (including some 2-diabolo and excalibur (vertex) moves), Katelyn Anton doing double yo-yo moves, and the hysterical Weiner Dog Rap by Julie Ford. Kathy Motti presented Randy Fenster the Mouse award for many years of service to the Atlanta Jugglers. The show ended with a group rendition of "Anybody Seen My Gal" by most of the performers.

Sunday was pretty quiet, as a lot of people seemed to have early flights out. Alas, nobody brought any whips this year, so we weren't able to do the traditional Driving of the Jugglers from the hall at 17:00. The Post-Groundhog Day dinner was once again at Panahar; thirty people showed up to eat delicious Bangladeshi food, drink beer and wine, and try to decompress from the intensity of the weekend. The dinner finished around 9 pm as we all climbed back into our mundane, ordinary lives.

Late Night Cabaret review by Kisha Solomon

Around 10 p.m. on a side street in Avondale Estates, a crowd gathers. Amber light flickers on the faces assembled in the night, and the faint aroma of smoke hangs in the air. In the center of the loose ring of people there is fire. It is leaping and diving, twirling and flipping back and forth. Seemingly wild, yet contained, controlled by the hands of several masters who are demonstrating their craft to the eager onlookers.

One of them skillfully handles poi - long lengths of chain with flames on the ends - whirling and windmilling them about, making him look like the most daring club kid ever. Another, a young woman clad in an all-black, Xena-inspired outfit, undulates slowly around the circle. Her hands are held high, clutching a pair of ironwork fans tipped with fire. At the end of her dance, she shakes her hands to extinguish the fan flames, and utters a single word of satisfaction, “Smoky!”


fire jugglers

These fire performers are known as pyro-jugglers, and tonight is probably the one night each year that they - and their fellow Atlanta juggling enthusiasts - anticipate more than any other. It’s the last night of the annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival, and in a short while, the Late Night Cabaret will begin.

The Late Night Cabaret is 2 parts vaudeville, and 1 part carnival - a mishmash of performers of varying talents and skill. A standing-room only audience packs into the Academy Theater to witness the spectacle. And oh, what a spectacle it is. Included in the lineup are a contact juggler (that cool David Bowie thing from Labyrinth), a diaboloist, a sword-balancing bellydancer, several juggling acts, and a few musical numbers.

The show is not without its glitches, however. The low ceiling of the theater proves to be a challenge for more than one performer (less overhead distance, less time to respond to objects falling toward head), and more than a few times an audience member has to lend a hand in retrieving an errant prop. But since the crowd is peppered with some of the highest-quality hecklers I’ve ever witnessed, even the missteps are comedic and entertaining. Guiding us all through the experience is funnyman Mike Garner. Between performers, Mike delivers his blend of conversational stand-up and musical comedy, including his folk music renditions of Baby Got Back and Ice, Ice Baby which kill with the crowd.

By the end of the show, the time reads well past 1 a.m. The performers pack up their props, the audience disperses, and the magic that is the Late Night Cabaret retires, until next year.