Water Works
Art On The River to showcase local talent

The upcoming Art On The River event in Porterdale signals the end of yet another performance season from the Arts Association in Newton County, but it may also provide a sign of the cultural ascension of the tiny mill village.

Prominently featuring the work of artists from the Southern Heartland Art Gallery and Chance's Gallery, Art On The River also offers a glimpse within a number of the residences at the 300,000-square-foot Porterdale Mill Lifts, located on the banks of the Yellow River.

Art On The River, which will also include a dance with music provided by Macon-based party band The Grapevine, is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 3.

"The intent is to hold an event that showcases local art, but also to have a celebratory, fun party to mark the end of the season," said Buncie Hay Lanners, executive director of the Arts Association. "It's also an opportunity to showcase the revitalization of Porterdale and its appreciation for the arts."

The event begins at 6 p.m. with an open house, in which patrons can meet the artists whose work is on display and can tour a half-dozen of the 154 lofts in the converted mill building. At 7 p.m., guests are invited to enjoy "picnic time" in preparation for The Grapevine's performance, which lasts until 10 p.m.

The work of more than a dozen artists from the Southern Heartland Art Gallery on the downtown Square in Covington will be on display, as will paintings from artists featured at Chance's Gallery in Porterdale.

Susan Adams, president of the Southern Heartland Art Guild, said the organization's teaming with the Arts Association is "a good marriage."

"We really compliment one another," said Adams, who's been a Guild member for nearly 20 years. "Our specialty is visual art and the Arts Association is best known for presenting performance art. (Art On The River) is great because it's a combination of the two, as well as being a nice social event."

The Guild, now up to 125 members, was founded in 1985 and became a non-profit entity two years later. The gallery - which is located in the old Cohen's building downtown - opened in 2005 and provides space for photographers, painters and other artisans, including wood turners, jewelers and potters.

A painter who specializes in oils and teaches a number of classes at the gallery, Adams quipped that she "has no idea" what piece of her work will be on display at the event.

"We've had a water-themed show at the gallery during the month of April, so I may use one of my water-themed paintings," she said. "I've got one painting I did of the Alcovy River near Factory Shoals that I like - I expect I might take that painting. But there will be all kinds of subjects, not just water-related works, at the show in Porterdale."

Arline Chapman, who owns a loft on the Yellow River and is a member of the Porterdale City Council, said she's looking forward to the event as it will offer members of the community to perhaps see the town in a new and different light.

"A lot has changed in Porterdale," said Chapman, a painter whose work is displayed at both the Southern Heartland Art Gallery and at Chance's Gallery. "The potential here is unbelievable and I'm very excited about Porterdale.

"For years, I knew Porterdale existed, but I'd never gone there. But when I went there to visit, I just fell in love seeing the building and the river. I thought it was a great place and I was really interested in the loft lifestyle, which was something I thought I'd never get to do. It's a dream come true and I really love it here."

A native of China who grew up in New Jersey and has lived in the east metro area for a number of years, Chapman added she enjoys Newton County because its different art communities are of one mind.

"There's no competition in the arts community," said Chapman, who is also a painter and art teacher. "We work together. I've got works at both galleries and I really feel a sense of community in the arts. This arts community is really special.

"Even before I participated in it, I always felt the real cultural center of the region was Covington. There has been a long and impressive list of performance artists appear here and we've got Oxford College and Georgia Perimeter College. I'd say the only thing that's missing is a little theatre performance group. At some point in time, I'm confident we'll have that, and then we'll have it all."

Chapman and Lanners heaped praise upon Walter Davis, who developed Porterdale Mill Lofts, which in 2007 won a pair of preservation awards from the Georgia Historic Trust.

"It has been Walter Davis' dream to revitalize the mill, and since he's a board member of the Arts Association, he wanted to host an event to show off the new energy in Porterdale," said Lanners. "He also has a deep appreciation for the visual arts."

"Walter has done a magnificent job and he wants to show off the mill," added Chapman, who moved into her loft a little more than a year ago. "And he's convinced four or five loft owners to open their homes so people can come and see how they've decorated their spaces. It's become quite a popular place to live. There are 154 lofts and there may be two or three that are available."

Adams said she felt Art On The River would be a positive win-win for all entities involved.

"We appreciated being invited to participate, because it gives a chance to get even more exposure," she said. "We hope that people realize there are many wonderful local artists here and we have a lot of local talent. This event provides the perfect opportunity to show that off."

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

If you go

What: Art On The River, presented by the Arts Association in Newton County, in association with Porterdale Mill Lofts, the Southern Heartland Art Gallery, Chance's Gallery and the Virgil P. Warren Foundation

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 3

Where: Porterdale Mill Lofts on Highway 81 in Porterdale

Cost: Tickets for the event, which includes a dance concert by The Grapevine, are $25 and can be purchased by calling 770-786-8188 or by visiting www.newtoncountyartsw.org.

SideBar: Macon-based The Grapevine to perform pop songs at event

Jim McLendon, drummer and charter member of the Macon-based band The Grapevine, likes to joke that the only bands that have been around longer than his are the Rolling Stones and Chicago.

"They make more money than we do, but I'll bet they don't have as much fun," said McLendon, who will join his musical colleagues on Saturday, May 3 at the Arts Association in Newton County's Art On The River event at the Porterdale Mill Lofts.

Providing a solid mix of the great pop songs of the 60s, 70s and 80s, The Grapevine is a 10-piece horn-heavy ensemble that has entertained at private functions, wedding receptions, concerts and parties for more than two decades.

McLendon is one of four original members still part of the group - he's joined by his brother Larry on trumpet, Donnie Brooks on vocals and bass and Derek Darity on lead guitar and keyboards. The group's drummer and manager well remembers their first performance.

"It was in October of 1987 at the (Macon) City Auditorium," McLendon said. "We opened for The Jesters, a great band out of Athens. We played all five songs we knew and nobody laughed at us, so we decided to keep going."

Since that time, The Grapevine has proven to be a popular and durable combo, performing as many as 45 to 50 dates a year, almost of all of which are on the weekends.

"We've had guys in the band before who were better musicians and who wanted to play in nightclubs and stuff like that," said McLendon, who by day works as vice president and general manager of Cox Media in Macon. "But we really didn't want to get into that kind of environment. We're guys who have day jobs to support our music habits.

"In our first full year, 1988, we did about six or eight shows. But the next year, we had 25 jobs and I guess by then the word got out because since then we've played no less than 40 times a year, and there was one year we played more than 50 shows. These days, we try to pick and choose where and when we play because we've got families, wives, kids and, for me, grandkids."

McLendon said the group was intrigued by the offer to perform in Newton County for a variety of reasons.

"First of all, we haven't played out there in at least 15 years," he said. "We thought this sounded like a fun event, so we were all for it and are looking forward to coming."

He said the group's most unusual performances came on the steps of the Gwinnett County Courthouse in Lawrenceville and in a church in Augusta.

"That was different," McLendon said of the church gig. "We played rock 'n' roll in a church and the steeple didn't fall over, so it must have been OK."

With a song list that's nearly 100 songs long and includes everything from "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy" and "Hang on Sloopy" to "Satisfaction" and "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," there's a tune for every mood in The Grapevine's repertoire.

"In terms of crowd response, anything Motown gets people going," said McLendon. "About half of the shows we play are wedding receptions, and I'm amazed that most of them are booked by the brides, who weren't even born when this music first came out. But you can't go wrong with that genre of music."

McLendon said his personal favorite group is Chicago ("The only problem is, it's hard to dance to," he said), which no doubt explains the band's considerably talented horn players.

"We've got a very solid horn section," he said. "Our sax player (Jim Larimer) is retired from the U.S. Air Force Band, our trombone player (Greg Mullis) went to Mercer on a music scholarship and my brother Larry and I have been playing together since high school - we've been around the block a few times."

The Grapevine's dance card looks pretty full for the rest of the year, which is just the way McLendon and his musical brothers like it.

"Most guys our age are playing golf, spending money and getting aggravated," he joked. "It seems like we get to go to a party every weekend, get paid and meet great people. That's pretty hard to beat."

For more information about The Grapevine, visit www.thegrapevineband.com.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.