Winners of the coveted PHIL award this year were Chuck Clark, Houston Odum and Brian Koenig.
Two hundred and thirty-four registered jugglers and 10 vendors attended the 40th annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival held at the Yaarab Shrine Center in downtown Atlanta on Feb 1-3, 2018. Atlanta Jugglers Association founders Rodger French and Toni Shifalo both made the scene, as did a number of other prominent members from the 1980s, including Jeff Mather and Cirque du Soleil star Kenny Raskin.
Vendors this year included Ninja Pyrate, Kendama USA and Cathedral Juggling, following their mad plan to conquer the world of juggling rings. Brandon Ross and friends provided some arresting face paintings ranging from subtle highlights to full-face makeovers.
Friday afternoon started quietly. Jay Ko, our official videographer from Philadelphia, set his fortress of technology up just inside the doors. Vendors brought in their stuff and a few jugglers took to the floor or milled around meeting old friends.
By the evening it was crowded and intense, with a lot of technical solo juggling and passing groups. The cool weather kept most folks indoors, and the maté pot saw heavy use. Emory Kimbrough of Tuscaloosa, Alabama snapped still pictures for us. Juggling continued until 11pm.
Saturday morning started early with more of the same. Rick Purtee managed several really fun and complex large-group passing patterns, including the Isla Vista Shuffle, a 5-person weave where the weavers actually move in a 5-ball pattern.
Saturday afternoon games were ably chaired by Spencer Schwab. New Jersey's Andrew Kaefer took the 3-ball Simon Says trophy. Lucian Fuller from Florida was the Blind Juggling winner, after the traditional Deception and Huddle when he became the last one standing. Andrew Kaefer also took home $10 or so in quarters and the trophy in the Quarter Juggling competition. Delaney Bayles of Utah won the 5-ball endurance after a tough competition finally decided by walking around the stage. Lucian also took home the Club Balance trophy. Our own Rachel Stern triumphed in the Club Crown competition -- no walk through the gym required this time. Christian Kloc of Washington DC and Stephen Doutt of Pittsburgh took the 7-club trophy, which requires passing 7 clubs between two random jugglers the longest. Groundhog winner Chuck Clark took trophies in both Club and Ball Combat, reffed by Lao Alovus.
About 650 people attended the Groundhog Day Competitions, kicked off for the 40th time by the famous Kelly's Seed and Feed Marching Abominable Band. New groundhog trophies were designed and created by Asheville juggler Walter Beals, as our revered old trophy maker has retired from the business. At the Cabaret AJA president DrewBob Ford presented the Mouse Award to Walter for his work on the new trophies.
AJA President DrewBob Ford presented the band's Broom (leader) with a special Groundhog Trophy for their efforts over the years. Eleven competitors vied for the Coveted Groundhog trophy this year. Winners were Cincinnati OH's Brian Koenig (Awe Inspiring), Chuck Clark of Allen Park MI (Breath Taking), and Houston Odum of Greensboro NC (Mind Bending). Brian's act featured some opening hat moves and ball spinning, followed by clubs and rings culminating in a 6-ring pulldown and a brief 5-club juggle. Chuck Clark's act featured some ophisticated ball-balancing but no actual toss-juggling. Houston Odum's act featured some of the fastest, lowest club tossing I've seen in awhile.
Other notable moments included Ted Joblin (Nashville TN) with a wonderfully constructed diabolo act and Bill Berry (St Petersburg FL) with a gimmicky but amusing ball-spinning performance. Judges were Julia Carter, Dereck Bradley, and Christopher Oquan, ably wrangled by Meredith Gordon. Sound was run by Craig Lewis and Hal Baird. Amanda Miller ran the raffle. Brandon Ross recruited an army of children to ruthlessly pitch for cash from the crowd.
The 9pm Cabaret featured the Deluxe Vaudeville Orchestra, performing again after a 10-year hiatus. 22 short acts rounded out the evening. Highlights included Delaney Bayles's astounding work with clubs and rings, Steve Langley doing soap bubble manipulations, and Kenny "The Amazing" Toombs showing a smooth contact juggling routine. The AJA's own DrewBob Ford also did some credible ring work, and Rick Purtee contributed some good diabolo manipulations.
Sunday morning started strong and kept going. The last juggling of the festival was an enormous long thin feast which we just managed to pull together before last call.
Nineteen people showed up for the Groundhog Dinner, choosing it over the Super Bowl also scheduled for that evening. A mysterious benefactor comped the entire meal, which broke up around 9:30 as everyone staggered off to catch up on sleep.
Festival Report by Charles Shapiro