Gainesville unveils new Jest Fest! event

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.

The city of Gainesville is hoping to fill the downtown streets with laughter when it launches a new event this weekend.

Jest Fest! debuts Saturday night and continues every Saturday evening of the month, said David Ballard, the city's events planner. The new festival is intended to be a comedic and fun celebration of the month that begins with April Fool's Day.

But before that event officially begins, the Jest Fest! live comedy show will be part of the First Friday activities. Billed as Gainesville's largest happy hour, First Friday offers food and drink specials at more than 35 participating downtown locations.

The monthly First Friday event kicks off from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The Jest Fest! live comedy show will take place at The Backyard, 232 SE 1st St.

Ballard said the city would like to grow Jest Fest! into a signature event similar to the Spoleto Festival, a 17-day music and arts event in Charleston, S.C.

The first Saturday of Jest Fest! begins on the Bo Diddley Community Plaza at 6 p.m., just as the Santa Fe College Spring Arts Festival is wrapping up for the day along Northeast First Street.

The first night will include a performance by the Cirikli Stilt Bird puppets of Epcot Center and the comedic juggling act of Atlanta-based Todd Key.

Key will have double duty this night. A skilled stilt walker, he's also going into the crowd dressed as the TreeMan, a 12-foot-tall walking tree character complete with leaves and branches.

“Some people really freak out when they see it,” Key said.

Gainesville is financing Jest Fest! with a $21,000 grant from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council and $10,000 from the city's events budget.

Jest Fest! is scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. every Saturday in April. The event is free and each week will include “a lot of audience interaction,” Ballard said.

Future weekends will include:

April 13: A human statue exhibition; the Lynn Polke Rainbow Tiger Circus; Ken Silkie's audience interactive show; an Evening at the Opera with Bob; and, from Paris, the silent clown Arsene Dupin performing his Magikhana show.

April 20: Marc Dobson's walking one-man band and Magical Mystical Michael's "cool magic" show.

April 27: A performance by circus family The Flying Wallendas that will include acrobatics and a high wire act.

For more information go to the Web site of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs at

At First Friday, each participant receives a First Friday Passport that can be picked up at the Opera House between Lillian's Music Store and Harry's Seafood, Bar, and Grille between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to a news release.

The passport gives participants specials for the night. Those with a VIP wristband receive free food, drinks, carriage rides, raffle entry and valet parking.

In celebration of Earth Day, First Friday will have organic drink specials, reusable bag decorating, locally grown foods and local vendors, event organizers said.

Throughout the year Pledge 5 conducts food, clothing, toy, blood, pet adoption and public service pledge drives for its numerous charity partners.

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