News Column

Rendezvous festival to celebrate historic American Beach club

August 6, 2014

By Dan Scanlan, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville



Aug. 06--A nine-day festival that combines films, live music and interactive gaming at venues across Amelia Island gets a new name with some historic cachet during a Thursday "ribbon-cutting" party.

The 5 p.m. event at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island will announce the June 5-13 Rendezvous International Film and Music Festival, a revamping of the Amelia Island Film Festival.

The new name reflects a musical part of Nassau County's historic American Beach -- the old Evans' Rendezvous, once the place to go on Northeast Florida's blacks-only beach. And as the new film festival celebrates the old and the new, it will also help funnel funds into restoring the old nightclub into the planned American Beach Historic Park, said festival executive director Randy Bowman.

"We will have not only Amelia Island but American Beach and Jacksonville," Bowman said. "We really took Evans' Rendezvous to heart and as part of our initial plan, we will help raise funds for the club and the community to restore it into a park. We would like to dig deep into that community and help it and also use it for the festival in years to come."

American Beach's history began in 1935 when 200 acres of beachfront property on Amelia Island was purchased by millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis and his Afro-American Life Insurance Co. in Jacksonville. It soon became a vacation spot for blacks who were banned from other Florida beaches.

Its famous visitors included heavyweight champion Joe Louis and entertainers like Cab Calloway, James Brown and Ray Charles as well as civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. Right on the beach from 1948 until the late 1980s was Evans' Rendezvous, with a restaurant, nightclub and a small hotel.

In later years, the old club fell into disrepair as much of American Beach disappeared under development. Lewis' great-granddaughter, MaVynee Betsch, lobbied to preserve it.

In 2004 the Trust for Public Land bought the nightclub for a future cultural center and historic park. In 2005 the trust finalized a $2.27 million transaction with Nassau County to preserve the site. Betsch died in 2005. A county management plan calls for a 1.64-acre American Beach Historic Park, including Evans' Rendezvous and the hotel.

Meanwhile, the Rendezvous festival was created on May 19 in homage to Evan's Rendezvous, with venues in downtown Fernandina Beach, Main Beach, American Beach and the Ritz-Carlton.

Bowman said the plan is to show 55 to 70 films, with a three-day interactive gaming festival at the Ritz-Carlton and five outdoor concerts. Outdoor film screenings would take place at the American Beach welcome center and projected on a sailboat sail and a mock-up drive-in theater in Fernandina Beach as well as some Centre Street venues.

The festival has received 63 international submissions from countries like Greece Iraq, Portugal and Brazil.

The festival hosts a preview tent March 13 and 14 at the 20th annual Amelia Concours d'Elegance.

For information on the Rendezvous festival, go to rendezvousfestival.com.

Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549

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(c)2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at www.jacksonville.com

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Source: Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)


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