It’s some little-known Huntsville lore, how its biggest-known arts event got its unique moniker.
The original co-chairs, Carla King and Virginia Griffith, were stumped for a name. As King would later relate, “Virginia and I sat on her stairs with a dictionary in hand and went through the alphabet. All of a sudden – it was there! We said it at the same time and read the definition, ‘A magnificent array or a splendid display’. This was our Panoply.”
You now know how Panoply got its name. Hopefully, you’ve known how to pronounce it. (Pan-uh-plee, not pah-nop-poly)
Now you that you know those two key facts, you’ll know 33 other things as the 35th annual Panoply Arts Festival begins Friday in downtown Huntsville.
— Big Spring Park is open. It’s as pretty as ever after the $2 million facelift. No problem hosting Panoply at what Mayor Tommy Battle calls “the living room of Huntsville.”
— Appropriate to the park’s residents, the 2017 Panoply poster, created by local artist Logan Tanner, is called “Revenge of the Ducks.”
— The Junior League of Huntsville was searching for a community-wide project in the late 1970s that could dovetail with its work for children in need. It looked for something involved in the arts, coincidental with the Arts Council (now Arts Huntsville) reaching out to various civic partners to help its growth.
After a year of meetings and brainstorming, a four-day arts festival emphasizing children and arts education was born.
— It’s not just for children. (See special beer details below.)
— It’s not just for adults. (See STEAM educational aspects below.)
— Tickets are $10 per day, but the best bargain is the $18 weekend pass that must be purchased by 4 p.m. Friday. Kids 12 and under are admitted free.
— Panoply is a program of ArtsHuntsville. It’s a non-profit event, not a fundraiser.
— Panoply couldn’t exist without its team of some 1,500 volunteers. Those interested in serving in a volunteer capacity can still sign up via the Arts Huntsville website.
— Nearly 50 corporate, community and media partners are involved with Panoply.
— Friday is Military Salute Night, with free admission for active duty and reserves personnel, and their dependents.
— OK, we said there’s adult stuff. Straight to Ale has created a special craft beer just for Panoply called Honeysuckle Blue.
— There are 102 craftspeople and artists displaying their work, with all manner of art available for purchase, in the Art Marketplace, presented by Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Alabama.
— More than 50 music and dance performances will take place on the three different stages.
— There are fireworks displays on Friday and Saturday nights.
— Bring your folding camp chairs. But no outside food or beverage. Or pets.
— The Blind Boys of Alabama, one of the most enduring and amazing acts in music, are the headliners Saturday at 7:45 p.m. on the Showcase Stage. They’ve won five Grammys, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.
— They’re preceded by Secret Sisters at 5:30.
— They’re actually sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, from Florence.
— The secret? They actually auditioned once separately before producer Dave Cobb asked, “Do you ever sing together?” They did. They do.
— But the coolest name of any act: Amelia Eisenhauer & the Peruvian Farm Girls. She was an American Idol top 24 semifinalist.
— Eisenhauer is 17 years old. Microwave Dave wears overalls that old.
— By the most conservative of our calculations, between 1.5 and 2 million people have attended Panoply through the years.
— If it is in downtown Huntsville, yes, of course there will be food trucks.
— There is ample parking at various city lots and garages. Motorists are advised that Monroe Street across from the VBC and Williams Street adjacent to Big Spring Park will be closed to vehicles until the festival ends.
— OK, we promised you kids’ stuff. Kids can make their own slide whistles and be educated at the same time about how different sizes and tensions create musical notes and chords.
— Or, how about making a hovercraft, from a CD and a balloon?
— The link between ballet and physics is displayed through pirouettes, and children can create their own spinning tops.
— We’re a space town, right? So kids can learn about the solar system and make their own planet magnets.
— Other creative stuff: Making characters out of popsicle sticks, making a 3D koi fish or other sculptures.
— There is also a face painting booth.
— The Huntsville UNITY Project is an interactive bit of public art with various ethic and social designations marked by spindles, and festival goers can extend a strand of yarn from one point to another as appropriate. The City’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is a partner on this project.
— A final touch of interactive art: Festival goers can add their own painting touches to the giant P-A-N-O-P-L-Y letters in the park.
Ought to be a splendid display when that’s finished.