'Battleship' of a festival

"WE'RE firing a cannon from a canoe – and that's why we need to build a battleship."

That's how Northern Arts Festival director Billy Paulson summed up the success to date of the annual event which will be held for the seventh time in Port Elizabeth from September 27 to 29.

Paulson said the growth from an anticipated attendance of a few thousand initially to tens of thousands over the years meant that organisers had constantly needed to strive towards creating a "battleship" that could handle the huge support.

Paulson said six years ago "a seed had been planted'' which had developed into the significant showcase of creativity that was being witnessed today.

Last year, attendance at the festival topped a whopping 60000.

"What is special is that this is a truly South African festival that gives exposure to the talents we have in this country."

The festival – which will be held at the Gelvan Sports Grounds – is also a vehicle to discover new talent through its youth development programme, with the focus on visual arts, music, dance, conventional theatre, street theatre and brass bands.

According to the organisers, the festival has in recent years created direct employment opportunities for as many as 200 artists.

Among the headline acts, The Rockets will perform on Saturday September 28 on the main stage at the sports grounds.

There is a special fireworks display at 8pm on September 28 and the artist line-up also includes a performance by 2007 SA Pop Idol winner Jody Williams.

Having joined a private music school at the age of 14, Williams realised one of her dreams when she performed as the opening act for Celine Dion in 2008 when the international star toured South Africa.

Lesjevan is a local performer who specialises in colourful story-telling ballads and yesterday gave guests at the festival launch a taste of his vivid and vibrant music.

"David Kramer sang about Namaqualand," referring to the subject of one of Lesjevan's songs. "Meantime we had it [a similar song] all the time," enthused Paulson.

Other features of the festival include the "Sky's Da Limit" talent competition and showcase from 2pm on Friday September 27, which continues on Saturday.

There is also a dance production by Dejavu on the Saturday at 7pm, while earlier in the day festival goers can enjoy a fun run, parade, an air show and a jazz show.

On the Sunday, there is a combined thanksgiving service, cultural celebrations, school choir presentations and a gospel celebration.