Hornsby's Funhouse Fest to return in 2017

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

It's official—Funhouse Fest will return to Williamsburg next summer.

The news came as part of Virginia Arts Festival's announcement Wednesday evening of its 2017 season, featuring more than 40 performances around the region.

The 2017 Funhouse Fest will occur June 23-25, said Cynthia Carter West, Virginia Arts Festival's public relations director. Once again, Grammy-winning musician and Williasmburg resident Bruce Hornsby will curate the festival.

"We had great success last year, and all the partners are excited about having a second season," said Rob Cross, Virginia Arts Festival's executive director. "Bruce is already starting to reach out to some of his colleagues and artists that he's worked with over the years and checking their availability."

June's three-day Funhouse Fest, the first of its kind, replaced the Festival Williamsburg concept of years past, moving from the Virginia Room of Williamsburg Lodge to a massive tent on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Funhouse seemed a success by all appearances, but immediately following the weekend, festival organizers voiced the need to evaluate if doing it again made sense.

Cross said this involved looking to see if attendance met expectations and sitting down with local partners, including the city of Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.

More than 6,000 people attended the festival over three days, Cross said.

"Pretty much everyone said it's a no-brainer. Let's do it again and see if we can make this a yearly tradition," he said.

Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Chamber and Tourism Alliance, said the areas of sports, culinary and arts are "helping to create a new image of the destination." Funhouse, of course, falls under the arts.

"It's just another avenue to reach out to people, and I think music is a very powerful way to do that," she said. "We were really pleased with the response last year, and think that we can continue to build this and grow it."

Festival Williamsburg used to occur Memorial Day weekend and, in planning Funhouse, the alliance, the city and Colonial Williamsburg suggested June might be a better fit, Riordan said.

"The thinking was that it would be a nice springboard and catalyst for Fourth of July weekend," she said.

After rain drenched much of May and early June, Riordan saw changes in June's statistics, in terms of room demand and meal taxes. Although the timing coincided with Funhouse, Riordan said it's too soon to prove whether Funhouse was the cause.

"But we certainly like that we saw that turn in the month of June," she said.

The festival will keep the same name. It will also occur in the same location under the tent on the lawn by Francis Street, Cross said.

For the inaugural festival in June, Hornsby invited friends and music legends including Ricky Skaggs, Taj Mahal Trio and Jack DeJohnette. Though Hornsby headlined every night of June's Funhouse, Cross said this likely won't be the case in 2017. However, Hornsby will certainly perform.

West said an announcement about the musicians to play at the 2017 festival will likely come early next year.

There are a lot of unknowns when presenting a first-time event. Now that the name, concept and location of Funhouse are out there, Cross believes the festival can grow.

"We think we'll be able to build on that success for next year," he said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

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