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Art. Blood. Passion. (A first-person account of the ‘Central to the Arts Festival’)

By: Jake Lankford

April 1. April Fool’s Day, but the warm, sunny and slightly breezy weather is fooling no one. It’s a perfect day for the inaugural Central to the Arts Festival.

I arrive at the festival and my first stop is the ROAR’s table. Our job as hosts at the event is simple: spin tracks, provide entertainment, and promote the university’s new Internet radio station, the ROAR. That’s me in the New Orleans French Quarter ballcap and SUSPIRIA shirt. Every Wednesday evening, I host the film review and music show, “Eat Your Makeup.”

When I get behind the mic, I shed Jake Lankford for an hour and become the bold and unapologetic “Jake Mars.” Kafka would call it a “Metamorphosis.” That’s what it feels like. On this day, I have a new challenge: To transform myself before a live audience and unleash my loud persona in broad daylight. “There he goes, one of God’s own prototypes,” my idol and major influence, Hunter S. Thompson, might say. “Too weird to live, too rare to die.”

Right in front of the ROAR table is a food stand that also happens to be selling lemonade. Perfect, I wasn’t hungry, but I am wearing black on a sunny day. I was parched. Hmm. Strawberry lemonade. I would prefer this with a touch of vodka, but hey, can’t be drinking on the job.

It’s not my turn at the turntable, so I stroll down the alley of tables, taking in the sights and sounds as I sip my lemonade, the tart sweetness washing over me like a good (non-alcoholic, what a tragedy) whiskey sour. This beautiful mosaic of an alley is lined with other arts organizations on and off campus, all promoting themselves and their works to prospective new members who are walking by. The Cazateatro bilingual theater group, for example, and the Prizm Ensemble. It feels good to see a diverse range of arts organizations, all given a public platform by the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

Speaking of diversity in art, the art museum in the CCFA Building is all over the festival. What a perfect time for the museum to unveil its latest project, Highwater Records, a collection of three exhibitions all dedicated to African American blues, as well as a tribute to the University of Memphis’ label, Highwater Records. I pull out my phone and snap two photos of the room. As a sculpture of the legendary Ray Charles stares back at me, so do two of my fellow ROAR hosts. I’m reminded that I need to get myself back to the ROAR table. My set was about to begin.

My family arrive in the nick of time. Mother, brother and stepdad all get a front row seat to the spectacle I am about to unleash on this crowd of Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen Z’ers. Jake Lankford, the quiet, hardworking graduate student, fades away. Jake Mars, the bold, unapologetic host of “Eat Your Makeup,” takes his place — a caterpillar becoming an iron butterfly inside the sanctity of a campus chrysalis, letting loose and having fun. A gentle applause emanates from the speakers, welcoming the uniquely campy vocals for Margarita Pracatan’s cover of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” a calling card for Mr. Mars.

The next 30 minutes are an absolutely electrifying rush. Jake Lankford takes a backseat as Jake Mars takes over. I sing along to “Hello” with my own paint-stripping vocals, much to the delight of the other show hosts and my family watching. There, I let it all loose. The energy is electric, magnetic, I can’t let it go to waste. Then, I slow it down with “The Wonder of You” by Elvis Presley. Then I raise it (and my spirits) back up with “Tonight is Prom Night” by Paul Zaza from the PROM NIGHT soundtrack.

Jake Mars is electric, but not because he is behind a microphone showing off music he loves. No, it’s the sheer, raw, unfiltered passion of artistic expression, in my case in the form of a character and music show. It’s a feeling every creative is familiar with. It’s something I felt in the air when I walked across the street and saw the SoundFuzion performance. I felt it when I saw the alley of arts organizations sharing their passions with the crowd.

Blood and passion — the hard work and artistic compulsion that unites all creatives from the most grizzled journalist to the most bright-eyed amateur. When artists unite in their passions, it’s magic. It’s like taking a sip of the finest glass of absinthe. It washes over you and leaves you feeling inspired and driven to create. It’s beautiful and terrifying and cathartic all at the same time.



Published inArt MuseumDepartment of Journalism and Strategic MediaEventsInstitute for Public Service ReportingLive PerformancesThe ROARUniversity of Memphis

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