News Column

Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival continues summer ritual [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

July 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Last year's attendance at the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival was off by about 25 percent because of record-high temperatures, according to executive director Adam Shaffer.

The unwelcome heat meant "only" 112,000 people -- rather than the average annual attendance of 150,000 -- turned out to enjoy four days of arts and crafts, festival foods, poetry readings, a juried art show, children's activities and continuous entertainment on four festival stages.

Shaffer is confident that, whatever the weather this weekend, large crowds will head to Twin Lakes Park. For many people, it's part of their summer ritual.

The festival runs July 4 to 7.

"The festival is the largest event of any kind in Westmoreland County," Shaffer says. "For many local families, it has become a tradition to spend their holiday weekend here. The festival is always changing and people can't wait to see what new artists, bands and foods the next year brings."

This year's edition will feature some familiar faces, including Curt Wootten, better known as Pittsburgh Dad, along with Dan Kamin ("Mr. Slomo") and David Newell ("Mr. McFeely" from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood). A panel discussion featuring the team behind "Pittsburgh Dad," along with the other "Pittsburgh characters" will take place from 11 a.m. to noon July 5, moderated by Shaffer.

"I've wanted to put more educational programming on stage since I became executive director last year," Shaffer says. "I find Curt to be very funny and, since he's a Hempfield alum, I thought it would be cool for him to come back home for an appearance. Dan Kamin has performed at the festival several times through the years and David Newell was a natural third."

Among the headlining acts this weekend is a newcomer to the region and to the festival, a country band known as Red Roots. The Christian country band is comprised of three 22-year-old red-haired identical triplets -- Nicole, Natalie and Nika Taylor from Wade, Miss. -- who are moving to Nashville this summer to focus on their musical careers.

"We'd love to perform at the Grand Ole Opry," Nicole says. "We want to grow in our ministry."

The sisters, who sing and play several musical instruments, have been entertaining audiences since age 13. They first performed for their church and at community events. When they won a local talent contest, they caught the attention of two record producers. Their debut CD, "Red Roots," was released in 2011; their second album, "Middle of Nowhere," came out this spring.

The group has shifted its earlier bluegrass and contemporary sound to Christian country music.

"God has put different people in our path to give us our unique style," Nicole says. Their band's name represents the message of Red Roots "that we are rooted in the blood of Christ."

Shaffer says Red Roots' scheduled festival performance at 3:30 p.m. July 5 is generating interest from the band's followers. "We've already had emails from out-of-state fans asking about our event," he says.

Other highlights of the festival include:

- More than 160 arts-and crafts-booths

- The 35th anniversary of the Old Time Fiddlers' Contest on July 6

- A children's crafts and activities area that includes a treasure hunt in a large sand pile and a family reading tent

- A Native American living-history exhibit by Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation

- The return, after more than a decade, of ice sculptor Ernie DiMartino of Jeannette, who will sculpt two blocks of ice a day from July 4 to 6.

- A cartoon- and comic- art exhibit featuring local and nationally known artists. The exhibit has been expanded this year and will feature selections from the ToonSeum in Pittsburgh.

Shaffer says a popular festival auction will be at 5 p.m. Sunday on the Laurel Stage. The auction will feature many cartoon- and comic-art pieces, including an original drawing of Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell, a drawing of Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker, and a drawing of Popeye by Hy Eisman.

Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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