Midwest Fire Fest

Westside Park, Cambridge

Saturday, July 27, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Sunday July 28, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

More information: http://midwestfirefest.com/

More than 5,000 people are expected to visit Cambridge July 27-28 for Midwest Fire Fest, a fire-themed art festival along Koshkonong Creek at Westside Park. Its offerings will include pottery, iron pouring, glass, and fire dancers. There will be interactive workshops, demonstrations, live music, food carts, a farm-to-fork meal and a lot of art for purchase.

Live music over the two days will be provided by the Oak Street Ramblers (bluegrass), Barbacoa (jazz/latin), Old Oaks (sax and organ duo), The Family Business (rock), Mama Digdown's Brass Band, Lou Shields (Americana), Val Sigal Hot Power Polka (solo accordion) and Small Blind Johnny (blues harp quartet). 

Laurie Struss, president of the Cambridge Arts Council and the coordinator of the festival, recently spoke about Midwest Fire Fest’s impact on the local economy and how it fits into Cambridge’s long-standing art and pottery tradition. In its fourth year in 2019, the festival continues to grow and solidify, Struss said.

Q: What can festival-goers expect to see and do this year?

A: We are part makers fair, part art fair and part music festival. It’s a groovy mix.

We have our staples. Our wood-fired clay sculpture this year will be designed by Ed Klein of Bur Oak Pottery in Johnson Creek.

FeLion Studios out of Madison is coordinating our iron pour. They’ll be pouring a ton and a half of iron. That will start Saturday night. As in past years, people can do scratch mold workshops and will have an opportunity to do a 3D mold workshop where you carve your image out of clay and build the sand mold around it. There’s a fee for that. Artists from across the Midwest will also bring their art molds and those get poured, as well.

Upper Midwest Blacksmith Association will be coming back with their experience tent. Anybody of any age can try their hand at what it’s like to be a blacksmith. Make a little hook or a bottle opener; they always have a simple project you can complete.

Isaiah Schroeder Knife Works is going to be doing a team forge.

We have the Driftless Fire Tribe, which we just adored last year. They’ll be doing probably six performances throughout the weekend, just before the reveal and pop-up performances.

We have the Minnesota Hot Glass group this year. It’s going to be an opportunity for people to see hot glass up close; it’s mesmerizing.

Atlas Barrel, a barrel maker, they’ll be demonstrating how they char the inside of barrels. Their barrels are used at Dancing Goat Distillery here in Cambridge. They’re from Watertown, Minnesota.

The Whitewater Makerspace, a new addition, they have some metal casting they want to demonstrate and lampworking. Lampworking is bead making with glass.

There’s an individual from Weyauwega, Wisconsin who is a historian, he’ll be demonstrating 17th Century bellows. You’re going to see him making the tools they needed in the 1600s -- bear traps and axes and camp kits and things.

One thing that is not free is our Fire Feast. It’s a farm-to-fork event featuring chef Luke Zahm from the Driftless Cafe in Viroqua. He will cook tent-side. Everything is organic and locally-sourced and served on pottery made by our local potters. It’s not an inexpensive dinner, tickets are $135, but the experience is phenomenal. And there will be a fire performer in the middle of the tent. Also, new this year, will be Sunshine Brewery of Lake Mills, doing a tasting flight of beer.

Beyond the Fire Feast, we’ll have a food court that is really diverse, with things like wood-fired pizza, barbeque, Mexican.

Q: What are the origins of the festival and how does it continue to evolve?

A: We used to have Pottery Festival in Cambridge. It had a 25-year history and it was an all-clay show. When we were looking at Pottery Festival going away, we didn’t want to lose that part of our community, that part of our identity. We just didn’t need another art fair.

We chose fire because we felt it could stay fresh. It changes every year. People come to us with different ideas. The barrel-charring, that wasn’t our idea. There are all kinds of things that people bring and are excited to share.

We want it to stay relevant and interesting. Every year, you’re going to see some of your favorites but you’re going to get to see something new, too.

Q: What kind of reach does Midwest Fire Fest now have and what is the local economic impact?

A: The artists and our iron pour team are from all around the Midwest: Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota. There’s a reason we call it Midwest Fire Fest instead of Cambridge Fire Fest. It’s truly bigger than we are.

It's the busiest weekend of the year here, and gives our local businesses a big boost.

And it’s never about that one weekend. It's about a bigger picture, how we can show off our community year-round because people think it's a pretty groovy place.

We start in May with the Clay Collective Spring Tour. The Earth, Wood and Fire artist tour is in the fall. We said, “let’s plan something in the middle of the summer so we can give people a reason to come back and see us. Let's keep bringing them back, and they can eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores and stay in our B&Bs.”

Cambridge had a reputation as being the place to come for a day trip. We still have cool things, but it’s changed a little bit.

Today, people aren’t collecting things as much as they’re collecting experiences. That’s why we’re doing an art fair that is interactive. People don’t just want something done for them; they want to be involved.

The future of this event is providing an experience, an opportunity to interact with art and understanding how art is made. If people understand how it’s made, they value it more.

Come for the festival, do a little shopping, go down to the lake, cool off, come on back for the reveal. Stay a day, stay the weekend. We have a lot to offer.

Q: How is Midwest Fire Fest funded?

A: The budget is about $30,000; we get most of the money in grants. We just got a grant from Dane Arts, the Cambridge Foundation has given us some money, we get private donations, and we do fundraising at our Gala. Otherwise, the monies that we raise through the beer tent and swag sales pays for the event.

We do not make money on this event, we spend money. We’re investing in economic development, that's the way we look at it. Every dollar we get we put right back into the arts and into the community.

Our goal was that by year five, we should be sustainable. It might be year six, but we’re very close to sustainability.

Q: How does the festival fit into the art context and legacy of Cambridge?

A: Our roots are in clay here, thanks to Jim Rowe. But it’s not just the Rowe Pottery legacy. It’s the Rockdale Union Pottery. It's all the potteries that were here. They pulled really excellent potters to the area to work for them, who went on to make this their home and to start their own potteries. A lot of our Clay Collective members worked for other potters.

Metal, glass, clay -- those are working man arts. They’re functional and they date back centuries.

You’re educating people on what it takes to be a working artist; it’s not as easy as we want to think it is. That’s part of our legacy, educating people on what artists actually do.

-To hear portions of the original interview for this article, check out the 2019 Summer Arts Guide podcasts on our website: http://www.hngnews.com/cambridge_deerfield/

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