7 Coolest Things We Saw at Grand Avenue Festival 2014

We hit the Grand Avenue Festival with a few predictions about what might make for the coolest parts of the day -- most of them traditions like the recycled fashion show that have been among our favorites in years past. Instead, it was new and unexpected elements we liked most.

See also: 5 Coolest Things We Saw at ARTELPHX Fall 2014 at The Clarendon

Joe Willie Smith

Peeking through the spines sprouting from a planter near the entrance to Bragg's Pie Factory, we spotted Valley artist, musician and collector Joe Willie Smith. He created a site-specific instrument for the festival, made of found objects from drum-set cymbal to tall strips of metal with beautifully-curved kinks. Dressed in a navy T-shirt sporting the word "Security" in bold gold letters, he was easily mistaken for an official festival type. But he was there to rock his innovative music vibe. When last we saw him, a young woman had joined in -- hitting a portion of the instrument with a soft, steady beat while Smith did his improvisational music thing. Found objects are grand, but found artists are cooler still.

Making the sausage

Going behind the scenes at all sorts of studios and shops was especially cool -- in part because we found such a variety of nifty places to explore. We loved hanging out inside a trio of side-by-side spaces near the Grand Avenue Craft Fair, where artisans were welcoming and had fun toys to share. At Hazel & Violet, folks of all ages gathered around for a printing press demo, then got to make their own coasters. At Allred Guitars, festival goers got to handle the shiny silver body of a guitar, and see its neck and head begin to take shape. At Bill Dambrova's Goat Heart Studio, they got to witness the artist in his habitat -- complete with sink, sofa and shelves stacked with art materials. We loved feeling like maybe all the random stuff we've stuck in plastic tubs through the years might signal that we're creatives rather than packrats.


Amidst a beautifully curated exhibition of historic and contemporary fashion at Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery, we spotted Marshall Shore in eyeglasses that deserve their own gallery gig. It's a testament to the fashions he culled for the "WEARizona" exhibition that they were able to compete with the art balanced on the bridge of Shore's nose. His uber-cool selections for the fashion show included a ball gown made with T-shirts that left us wishing we hadn't given all our old clothes to granny for sewing bees and quilt making.

Trouble in paradise and an actual headbanger

We're used to seeing public hangings on Grand Avenue, but never an actual head-banging. There's a cavernous space inside the Oasis on Grand where we've witnessed the "Public Hanging" art exhibition during Art Detour -- and it was cool to find another art exhibition, complete with giant cardboard Head-Beating Machine by Amy Manning and Melinda Bergman's Trapped in the Paradise Dimension, in that same space during the Grand Avenue Festival. When you turn the handle on Manning's piece, its long neck moves forward so its forehead strikes the wall. After a tough week at the office, it's cool to watch somebody else take a turn at head-banging.

The wing brigade

While belly dancers were on stage helping us all learn to love our hips again, a swarm of winged women gathered nearby to await their walk across the stage for the recycled fashion show. We loved the cool variety of wings, including those inspired by tattoo art and steampunk lore. Making folks wait for the late out of the gate fashion show was decidedly uncool, but we were impressed with all those costumed types who hung in there -- including the crew sporting Mystic Twistic designs and the girls who turned oodles of dainty little pastry envelopes from a certain coffee conglomerate into full skirts and fun accessories.

Planters and pop-up art

We loved checking out dozens of artist-embellished planters that line Grand Avenue from Roosevelt to Van Buren. Artists who've made their planter mark include Lara Plecas, Frank Picazo, Lauren Lee, and Christo Viene. Many were further embellished for the festival with pop-up plantings of flowers crafted from recycled materials. Our favorites included a cluster of tall salvia-like blooms made with masking tape that shot up from the center of a planter near Bragg's Pie Factory. Other festive pop-up art included wishes (think "I am unique" and "I am abundant") written on craft foam and strung with ribbons from the branches of a "Fairy Wishes Healing Tree," and recycled soda can flowers dotting a chain link fence, near the Grand Avenue Festival Craft Fair.

Artwork in alternative settings

Plenty of galleries within the Grand Avenue Arts & Small Business District had cool offerings during this year's festival, and we're especially keen on Elizabeth Cheche works currently featured in the "Pairing" exhibition at {9} The Gallery. But it's cooler still to stumble on art in alternative settings like Abloom Salon, where giant portraits of other people distract from the endless self-absorption salons sometimes engender. We never tire of seeing murals come to life on the streets of Phoenix, so our final cool shout-out goes to the Grand Avenue Garage Mural Project for transforming another Valley space right before our eyes.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >