Kingston Festival of the Arts kicks off tonight

Kingston, New York’s first capital, is hotter than ever -- which is saying something for a town that once went up in flames. Famed for years now for epic bashes like Hooley on the Hudson, the virally contagious O+ Festival, the Sculpture Biennial, and more, Kingston is now home to another multivenue, come-one-come-all artstravaganza: The Kingston Festival of the Arts.

Cofounder Kerry Henderson has dreamed of bringing an event like this to Kingston for a decade, said his fellow Festival organizer Gloria Waslyn -- and on Friday evening, that long-held vision becomes a reality. The Festival aims to bring “high” culture to the street, in family-friendly formats that will seduce without warning.

“Who wouldn’t love Mayan aerial acrobatic dance fusion if they gave it a chance?” said Waslyn. “Who wouldn’t love to hear an opera in English about the first celebrity chef that’s an absolute hoot and comes with a slice of chocolate cake besides? It’s about breaking the barriers in people’s heads that wall them off from each other, and from vast reserves of fun and love.”

The good times start rolling at 8pm on Friday with a world beat dance party under the tent at San Severia, and continue Saturday with goings-on from all-day music down at Steelhouse on the Rondout to Kids Create Kingston hands-on participatory art up at Forsyth Park. The Maritime Museum will ring with “Voices for Water” and the Stockade's historic churches will have their rafters raised to heaven by singers and pianists. RUPCO is opening up the Kirkland to a barefoot dance program, there’s a Community Mandala Project being installed and blessed all over town, and the Art Society of Kingston is hosting a poetry slam. Even the Kingston Police Department is getting in on the action: Police dispatcher Scott "Scooter" Newman will take a break from law enforcement to play some Gershwin tunes at Stella's. The whole shebang coincides with the Taste of Kingston on Saturday, a chance to sample bites from dozens of Kingston eateries.

That’s only the barest outline of this city-wide shindig. And this weekend's fest is but a maiden voyage and a teaser for what Henderson and Waslyn envision for next year: eleven full days of world-class art. “The idea here is to amaze and delight everyone," Waslyn said. "The city’s crackling with the excitement."

Kingston Festival of the Arts. Begins Friday, August 23 at 8pm and continues Saturday, August 24, 10am to 9pm. Multiple venues throughout Kingston. Admission: $30 for an all-inclusive wristband for performances; some events are free. Taste of Kingston runs 11am to 4pm; a $25 wristband covers all tastings. For more information and a complete schedule of events, check out the Festival’s website or Facebook page.