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29th Annual Groundhog Day
Jugglers Festival

Atlanta, GA -- February 9-11, 2007

at the Yaarab Shrine Center

2007 Groundhog trophy winners
 Tony Pezzo, Ted Joblin and Book Kennison

This year's festival t-shirt
 designed by Katherine

photos (by Joyce Howard)

SFMA band photos by Alan Sandercock

Vendors and sponsors:
Story of the festival by Charles Shapiro:

A total of 173 jugglers and yo-yo players attended the 29th annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival in Atlanta February 9-11. The festival was delayed a week from its usual first weekend in February time because of difficulties finding a suitable space. The new space is a large banquet hall which features glare-free ceiling lights, on-site food service, a stage and a tile floor suitable for bouncing and unicycle work. We have an understanding to rent it next year at the correct weekend.

The festival started Friday afternoon with the usual assortment of excited jugglers and cranky vendors piling in from the cold and dark outside. The PA system was in place early and started pumping tunes to a space already filled with clubs, balls, unicycles and people flying in most directions. John Nations did some wonderfully long runs with 7 yellow lacrosse-sized balls, and many of us mere mortals spent the time warming up the juggling parts of our brains, greeting old friends, browsing the vendors and, of course, passing props.

Saturday everything cranked up at 10:00 sharp. The fountain in the courtyard outside the venue was festooned with ice in the bright sunlight, encouraging people to work indoors. There was enough space, although bleachers were missed this year. Several photographers wandered around in the mix, risking their heads and equipment for the perfect shot. The less intrepid of them stood on the stage, slightly above the general fray. New passing patterns this year included a five-club, three-person pattern we're calling "zap-zap-zap", the "Seattle Shuffle" and the "Shifty Ferret". The Seattle Shuffle is a continuous rotation between a double feed and a tick-tock. The "Shifty Ferret" is a three-part rotation between a three-person sweep-feed, a tick-tock and a three-person sweep feed on the opposite side. The Pogo Stick of Death (aka the "FlyBar 1200") made an appearance, somewhat to the chagrin of the management. It was noisy and looked like it might hurt the floor, although folks enjoyed it and some even looked pretty ok on board.

The Yo-Yo competition started on the stage at 11:00, with a big complement of chairs put out into the better-lighted part of the hall, pushing the jugglers toward the back. Yo-yo players competed in four divisions. The freestyle division included music and choreography. The new Georgia freestyle yo-yo champion is Katelyn Anton; other winners include Mark Allen (Advanced), Kevin Jones (Intermediate) and Elliot Duncan (Beginner).

The Groundhog Day Juggling Competition started at 2 pm with the traditional Marching Abominable Band introduction. The A-Bombs performed a rousing set which featured songs by James Brown and Ray Charles. It featured not one but two international performers -- a diabolist from Taiwan and a juggler from Germany. Winners were Book Kennison (Most Special) for a well-choreographed sleight-of-hand ball-juggling act, Ted Joblin (Most Stupendous) for a very clear and rhythmic diabolo set and Tony Pezzo (Most Spectacular) for an elaborate act featuring sets, costumes and music based on the musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown", which premiered well before he was born. Other notable performers included Roger Smith, with some truly astounding unicycle/club tricks performed on the floor below the stage, Szu-Wei Chen with a fast-paced and technical diabolo act and Will Penman with some very pretty ball work. John Nations graciously entertained the crowd with his flawless technical juggling and funny schtick as the judges deliberated.

Juggling continued after the show. Greg Cohen showed his very interesting way of teaching three-ball juggling to a non-juggler. This method relies on a whole-pattern approach rather than the traditional build-up of skills, and when it's successful you can take a civilian from a dead stop to the first three throws of a cascade in about four minutes with regular props (e.g. without scarves). Groups on the floor attempted some truly gnarly patterns, such as 3-man Jim's 3-count feeds, as well as marginally less hirsute ones like double weaves and drop-back feeds.

After most of our hands were cracked from the impacts of our props, we closed the gym for the evening and went to the Late-Night Cabaret. The traditional fire-juggling gathering on the front lawn before the show was flashy as advertised, with a good gathering of coat-clad spectators watching those of us brave enough to risk self-immolation. Several folks selflessly placed themselves between the fuel dump and the action as others ate fire, blew flame and twirled or juggled staffs, poi and torches in the still and chilly air.

Inside, a quintet from the Deluxe Vaudeville Orchestra warmed up the crowd, and Mike Garner emceed the show with unshakeable aplomb. He started with the old clown "applause warm-up" bit, then sang a suitably self-referential song. The first act was Mika, who did a wordless set which ended with a 5-ring juggle while running a hula-hoop around her waist. Book Kennison followed with his trade-mark contortionist juggling routine. Mike Garner then did a spectacular chemistry experiment involving alcohol, a wine bottle, a cigarette and a lighter. Next was Dan Grider who did some nifty chair gymnastics and then a very respectable run of 5 clubs. Jeff Marsh followed with a funny and polished street magic act, using Katherine Fernie as his hapless volunteer. The act featured some flashy card tricks, the cut-and-restored rope and ended with a straitjacket and chain escape. John Nations was up next with a specially-written act on "Tricks that I Cheat On". Ted Joblin reprised his winning diabolo act, and the show closed with Mike Garner singing "Drivin' in Atlanta Georgia", which he correctly credited to National Public Radio's "Car Talk" show. Some fool in the audience had to yell out "Ride a Bike!" after, of course.

The following day passed quickly in a blur of flying props, music, unicycles, pogo-sticks and other arm-breakers. Greg, alas, had to leave early to catch the Toy Show in New York. At 5 pm the hardy souls left in the gym swept the place out and repaired to Sbydee Thai, where for a miracle the staff was ready to serve 30 of us a hearty meal and provide a full bar. The "Next Year is a Generation" toast was given, and eventually we all stumbled home to our sad little lives.

--Charles Shapiro

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