Shafter Colours Festival kicks off this week but organizers want you to know there's more in store. The community's growing arts scene will not be contained to just one weekend in February; events continue the next two weekends and a Shakespeare festival is planned for May.
Festival co-founder Mike Kotria hopes people enjoy the change.
"What we want to do is give people more choices, allow more variety. ... We want to sort of spread it out and do more events during the year."
But this weekend is the main event, with more than 15 events packed between Thursday and Sunday.
A new event and festival highlight takes place Sunday in "An Evening with C.S. Lewis." Along with the art, many festival events have a Christian undertone and this performance is no exception. Performer David Payne plays the famed British author who struggled with his faith for years after losing his mother to cancer as a boy. His journey to embrace Christianity, along with his well-known Narnia Chronicles and friendship with fellow author J. R. R. Tolkien are all part of the one-man show taking place at Shafter's Ford Theater.
Of interest for the kids is the ventriloquist show of Randel McGee & Groark Saturday at Church of Christ. Having toured the U.S. and Asia for three decades, the act is described as a "fast-paced, high-energy blend of standup comedy, witty banter, original songs and hilarious storytelling."
Theater is another festival cornerstone, and this year there will be two productions: "Wayfaring Strangers," running this weekend, and "Segue," debuting March 9. Larry Starrh, who has been with the festival since the beginning, has a hand in both works. "Segue" is his original work and he tapped director (and former "Dancing at the Stars" partner) Bethany Rowlee to create the other show.
Rowlee said she jumped at the opportunity to take part, fashioning "Strangers" as a "love letter to the people, places and history of Kern County."
"It'll be a lot of fun for those who grew up in the area and remember all the exciting changes over years," she wrote in an email.
The region's rich history is told in anecdotes and songs, with classic tunes like "My Darling Clementine," "Cowboy's Sweetheart," "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" mixed with old school Western music, cowboy ballads and good old-fashioned gospel.
In the show, Rowlee plays guitar and provides vocals, along with Sheryl Cleveland and Cody Garcia. Starrh plays piano and also provides vocals with wife Shana. Cyndi Hicks is on drums, Adam Clements plays bass guitar and Terry Cano performs double duty on guitar and accordion.
Even the audience can get in on the act in the show's closing number, which is Rowlee's favorite.
" ... For our final number, we all break into a charged up, rockin' rendition of 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken.' We invite the audience to sing and clap along with us while we jam onstage together — we're hoping to blow the roof off the place!"
Along with this week's festival lineup, Starrh is looking forward to his upcoming show "Segue," which features musicians from Westmont College including his daughter, Michelle. The show was delayed until early March to accommodate the musicians who are currently touring in Washington, D.C., Starrh said.
Featuring original music from Starrh along with classical works from Vivaldi and Bach, "Segue" follows a young music director (played by Starrh's son, Brent) who is looking over his career during an interview with a journalist (played by Tessa Ogles). The show also stars Randy Jelmini as the parent of one of the director's students.
"It's about his passion for music and how it affects his life and affects others' lives."
The students are played by the Westmont musicians: Michelle Starrh on piano, Chyna Charbonneau on oboe, violinist Lalia Mangione and cellists Wynston Hamann and Tim Beccue.
Starrh is optimistic people will return to Shafter in March for his show and the symphony concert on March 4.
"We've never done it like this. We always get such a good turnout for the weekend, it will be interesting to see."
Kotria said expanding the festival's bounds will help foster the community's support of the arts.
"That is really what we're trying to do: Have a place where people can discover, design and display art."