EAST OTTO — One summer day in 1991, 10,000 Maniacs took the stage at Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto. Doug Sitler remembers that concert as his first introduction to the park, as more than 1,000 people jammed at the foot of a stage that still stands at the park, today.
On Aug. 18, the Griffis Sculpture Park Summer Festival will bring back the music, for a day of diverse band performances, poetry readings, artist installations, crafts and art appreciation that Sitler said he hopes will remind Western New York what the rural park has to offer.
Carly Hill of Griffis Gardens reconstructed the path leading up from the Mill Valley Road entrance, to allow access to the festival stage area, provided visitors can walk 10 minutes, up the hill.
Sitler said that reconstruction, as well as the support of local artists and the Ashford Hollow Foundation, have allowed what he hopes will become an annual fundraiser to take place.
“We’re going to have all kinds of art, the whole nine yards,” Sitler said. “There will be a half-hour break between music acts, so people can take a tour or explore the park on their own. We want people to explore the site. That’s what the sculpture park is all about: getting the chance to touch and feel and have an interactive experience with the art. There’s nothing like it.”
The festival will take place from noon – 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, with gates’ opening at 11 a.m. for visitors to line up. There is a charge for adults, but children 12 years and younger are free. Due to support from an anonymous donor, the park will receive a 100 percent profit, from every ticket sold, which Sitler said he hopes will kick off the membership drive the sponsoring organization is instituting, for the first time in years.
“I’ve been a volunteer for more than 10 years,” Sitler said, adding that he also serves as an Ashford Hollow Foundation board member. “I love it. It’s such a quiet, unassuming place. The park is a treasure. I’m glad it’s way out there in the country. It’s so cool, to get to go out there, into the wilderness and get away from it all.”
Drawing acts from all over the Buffalo area, the festival will kick off with the bluesy Jony James Band, followed by The Observers’ bluegrass melodies. Randle and the Late Night Scandals, Artvoice music award winners, who Sitler calls “sassy and different” will follow. Next, headliners John & Mary and the Valkyries will rock the house.
The evening will end with the Slyboots School of Music African drummers, who led a clinic at the park last September, to send participants away with a beat in their hearts and a spring in their steps.
“We selected the artists based on getting a wide variety of styles,” Sitler said, of the planned acts. “Many of the performers were more than willing to help us out [in planning and support]. The park touches artists and musicians, in the area.”
Although the 10,000 Maniacs concert, at which headliner John & Mary and the Valkyries also performed, back in 1991, pulled in more than 1,000 spectators, Sitler said he would be “thrilled” to get 300 or 400 participants.
“We priced it to be a family-friendly event. It’s to get people to come to the park,” the organizer explained. “Springville has its own little arts scene and we’re just over the hill. Our hope is that we can use the arts influence in Springville to draw the [Western New York] scene to this area.”
The festival was planned as a fundraiser in its own right, but also to kick off a membership drive, the likes of which the park has not seen in some time.
“There’s always a need for revenue,” Sitler said. “We don’t get state or county money, and we’re dependent on raising our own funds. People think we’re bigger than we are.”
With the membership drive, Sitler said the goal of the Ashford Hollow Foundation, which supports the park and arts programming in the area, is working to “connect with members, be consistent and educate people about who we are and what we do.
“We want to do more, as a park. We’re hoping to get more artists in residence, maybe a day camp,” Sitler said, about future plans.
Visitors will have an opportunity to sign on as members, during the Griffis Sculpture Park Summer Festival, as well as take a tour, led by Griffis family members, in between musical acts.
Ashford Hollow Foundation artists will be on hand to help create plaque sculptures designed by festival-goers who want a memento to take home.
A craft corner for kids, artists working in their own corners of the woods, a beer and wine garden and concessions provided by Amy’s Place and Cheesy Chick food trucks, will all complement the Griffis Sculpture Park’s 250 sculptures and 400-acre grounds, which Sitler said are “the star of the show.
“We didn’t want to overwhelm the park. Our hope is to make this an annual, two-day event, for people to come out and see who we are and experience what we have,” Sitler said.
The Griffis Sculpture Park is located at 6902 Mill Valley Road in East Otto. The festival will take place noon – 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, rain or shine. For more information on the event or the organization, visit www.griffispark.org.