"It all starts with the Peach District," Zachariah Baird explained.
The industrious comedian is one of several brains behind the Friday night variety series launching this week at Dragonfly Neo-V. Originally known by the working title "The Greatest Show Within Biking Distance of the Peach District," it's been shortened to The Greatest Show, an interactive vaudevillian extravaganza aimed at spicing up your average rock concert with dance, comedy, film, visual arts and lots of political rhetoric.
An 11-week series as elaborate as The Greatest Show seems impossibly ambitious for a tiny clique on a shoestring budget, but it's a logical step for the Peach District crew, a group of grassroots types who are building a real creative haven in the fake neighborhood they carved out between South Campus and Victorian Village.
After neighborhood resident Brett Zehner coined the phrase in 2008, his pals began hosting events under the Peach District banner with the goal of fostering "performance activism" - diverse, interactive entertainment with an ideological bent.
"If the bands are good, it gets by, but I'm not comfortable going to a show where you just have band, a band, a band and a band, and there's no presentation whatsoever, there's no engagement with the artist, there's no engagement with the audience," Baird said.
The Peach District Classic, a concert in the alley between Dragonfly and Viking Premium Beverages last June, seemed like a flight of fancy at first, but the organizers - including Baird, Andy Gallagher, Atom Vincent, Lindsay Ciulla and Zach Henkel - surprised themselves by pulling it off.
"We got it done," Ciulla said. "We spanked it."
Peachtoberfest was an even bigger success, drawing about 800 people to the alley last fall for music, comedy, art, games and more. It spurred the Peach partisans to put their twist on another traditional celebration with the Feb. 6 anti-war fundraiser Peachi Gras. And it inspired The Greatest Show.
Each night is built around a theme, with a free art show at 5:30 p.m. followed by a $5 performance revue at 9.
Hosted by local "indie celebs," the playbills will feature three bands, three comedians and a DJ to close out the night. Dragonfly will offer food and drink specials, and doorman Henkel will provide parlor entertainment in the front entryway.
The format isn't set in stone: One week they'll switch out the comedians for films; another is set to feature pub trivia between bands; the March 5 event will feature local artist/musician Zachery Allan Starkey in every capacity possible. And besides stirring up community activism, the goal is always to showcase local talent.
"The draw is in no way us," Gallagher said. "We'd rather just see how good Columbus is."
Friday's event, "Anarchy and Community Development," pairs bands The Jellyhearts, Swamp Leather and Marvin the Robot with comedians Dan Wilburn, Laura Sanders and Aesop Jones, and the graffiti art of Brooklyn Simmons. Hosts Baird and Gallagher will interview the performers and discuss civic activism before DJ Captain Lonesome closes out the night.
Baird is viewing it as a dry run for next week's "The Speak Easy," an evening devoted to pastimes not approved by polite society. Baird and Gallagher will sprinkle skits about legalizing marijuana between jazzy acts Burglar, The Great Mad Hoax and Jim Stehli, and similarly slinky comedians Carley Owens, Sean Sommerville and Jeff Burgstrom. Burlesque dancers and DJ Moxy will be there too. "Peach Activism" is the password.
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