Winners of the coveted PHIL award this year were Ashley Ellis, Andrew Ruiz and Ted Joblin..
Several jugglers from a bunch of states as well as France, Canada and South Africa came to juggle at the thirty-second Annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival held Feb. 5-7 at the Yaarab Shrine Temple on Ponce de Leon Avenue in downtown Atlanta. Our Master of Ceremonies Rodger French traveled the farthest to get to Atlanta, flying 8,424 miles for the privilege of chaperoning us at the public show. The weather was cool and wet for much of the festival, but things hopped inside the building as objects flew and old friends renewed acquaintance.
Among the amazing tricks on the juggling floor were some nice, big passing patterns, several jugglers working with more than 7 objects, and a good-sized group of unicyclists from a college in Alabama, where they had succeeded in getting student activity fee money to pay not only for the trip, but even for some unicycles. Other activities on the floor included breakdancing, waltzes, bullwhips, diabolos, and at least one pair of "Freeline Skates", basically a pair of foot-sized platforms with skate wheels on the bottom which you could ride with careful management. A broken collarbone kept me from participating in much of the festival.
An audience of about 500 witnessed the Saturday competitions. The Seed and Feed Marching Abominable Band started things off broomed by our own Bruce Plott. After they played a selection of six tunes, Rodger French took the stage and introduced the three naive judges, "John", "Jennifer", and "Rose". They apparently weren't willing to publish their last names. Jerry "Free Hugs" was the traditional timekeeper.
Jacob Clark from Richmond VA started off the show with an act which included some 3 ball tricks, a 3-up pirouette with 5, some 3-club work, and a very short run of 7 balls. Next the very tall Andrew Ruiz of Miami Florida performed a technically difficult show including a 5-up pirouette with balls, some technical tricks with 3 clubs, a polished 4- and 5-club routine, and a strong flash of 6 clubs. With 2 drops, this performance won him the "Most Dumbfounding" prize.
Jimmy Abruzzi next did a gangster-themed act which included a diabolo and some 3-ball work. The Madison Street Jugglers (Eric Prichard, Blake Johnson, and Brandon Almeida) performed some entertaining 3-ball routines, made more impressive by their young ages and matching costumes. Lee Andrews, a clown from Macon GA, performed a polished act which included 3 balls, 4 balls, a short run of 5 balls, and a chin balance, distinguished by having no drops at all. Ben Dragstrop of Charlotte NC did a mostly ball act which nonetheless included a tall unicycle and a 3-club idle.
Ashley Ellis of Mount Airy, Maryland secured the "Most Astonishing" trophy with an American Indian themed act, which included some nice 4-club work and was heavily influenced by her history in baton twirling. David Ferman of Jacksonville FL was next, with a strong technical act featuring 3- 4-, and 5-club tricks and a 6-club flash. Ted Joblin of Nashville TN secured the "Most Flabbergasting" award with a diabolo act which included up to 3 diabolos on one string and some fine Excalibur-style tricks. Len Ferman of Jacksonville FL rounded out the show with an act which included juggling 3 basketballs and a 5-ball juggle on top of a stool.
Mike Garner and the Deluxe Vaudeville Orchestra hosted the Midnight Cabaret at the Avondale Academy Theater, which was packed with 129 people (officially). He opened with a fine Lieder entitled "I'd Like to be a Good Juggler". Nadine Beeny next rode in to perform some experimental stand-up. Rick Purtee, late of Atlanta and now on the Left Coast, performed some tricky diabolo work to "Polka Chinoise". Rick Steenblick next performed a couple of tunes on the Hang, returning to the stage from his performance in 2008. Casey Brandt of Asheville NC did some interesting Rhythmic Gymnastic-influenced moves with a single ball.
Next Mike Garner's brother and sister performed a couple of folk renditions of rap tunes in Mike's signature style. 2008 "Most Astonishing" winner Kenny Toombs did some marvelous street-style contact juggling, complete with polished patter. Toni Shifalo presented the "Mouse" award to Alan Tidwell for sterling service to the AJA. 2009 "Most Phenomenal" winner David Ferman and Andrew Ruiz next took the stage for a partner act. Ted Joblin closed the show with some fine diabolo moves.
Sunday wound the festival to a close with plenty of club passing, riding of various dangerous and amusing contraptions, and impressive open juggling. About 25 of us gathered for a post-Groundhog dinner at Panahar Restaurant on Buford Highway, where we drank many toasts and ate a lot of food.
Festival report by Charles Shapiro