Draft:  "The Idea of Festival"
Split Tree School of Participatory Arts
597 West Cove Road
Chickamauga, GA 30707
706 539 2485

 Sid Hetzler  

About the book:  The original dissertation on festivals grew out of Sid Hetzler's interest in festivals in the early 1980s.  That started with reading in May of 1980 in The Chattanooga Times newspaper about Charleston's Spoleto Festival USA, which he and a musician friend then visited in June 1980 with press credentials.   His interest in the civic power of a festival such as Charleston's was expanded by a visit to the 1980 Salzburg, Austria festival, where a musician friend was studying and who provided very influential comments on the nurturing environments of festivals such as the ones visited that summer. His enthusiasm for what he experienced, unlike anything in the Chattanooga area, was followed by meetings with friends and associates in Chattanooga, TN and, with the support of several musical friends, led to a planning grant in May 1981 from a local foundation, the Lyndhurst Foundation, for the summer of 1981.  This led to the creation and incorporation in June 1981 of the Friends of the Festival to explore possibilities for a Chattanooga town festival.  The group sponsored consultant studies, local seminars, arts conference attendance, and a visit by the Chattanooga mayor to Charleston's Spoleto in 1981, where he met with Mayor Joe Riley, who appeared to be the main force behind the Charleston festival, and executive director Nigel Redden.  The planning grant led to a operating grant from the same foundation and to creation of a board to create and produce Chattanooga's first Riverbend Festival in 1982, which by 2004 claimed 650,000 visitors over a 10-day production on the city's revitalized riverfront and a multi-million budget.  Hetzler's role as chair of the organizing committee and first president of the non-profit Friends of the Festival Inc. ended with his turning over the presidency and artistic direction to local musician and university professor Walker Breland and he supported the event as a board member for a few years.

Academic and professional background:  Hetzler had a B.A. in English literature from Vanderbilt University and an M.S. in communications from Boston University.  After working at an Air Force information officer and a reporter at the Chattanooga Times, he held positions in PR with Exxon in Houston and was public affairs director and speechwriter for the Mayor of Chattanooga.  He had taught PR and journalism at Boston University in the mid-70s and was the first coordinator and instructor in the communications program at the University of  Tennessee at Chattanooga from 1978-82.  He also was active in his father's food brokerage business from 1976-84, when it was sold.  [He continued to operate the industrial food brokerage activities from 1984 to the present (www.hetzler.com) as his primary income activity].   In January 1985 he entered Emory University for doctoral studies in the Institute of Liberal Arts with a general interest in urban issues.   There it was suggested he focus on the festival due to his experience in being present at a festival's origin.  Using various interpretive theories, such as semiotics, and a mixture of urban history and drama theory, he researched the idea and practice of festival in seminars and various library archives.  However, his text was four-dimensional and required visits to numerous festivals, such as Nevada's Burning Man Festival; Chicago's Ravina; Washington's Wolf  Trap; Stratford, Ontario; Art Park in NY, Chautauqua Institution, Lake Eden Arts Festival, and various small British festivals during Emory summer study at Oxford, University College.  He made several visits to Charleston's Spoleto festivals, where he interviewed its local founders and then director Nigel Redden. He continued to visit the Chattanooga Riverbend Festival. A large photo archive of festivals has accumulated.   He also attended several summer semiotic institutes in Toronto and Chicago.  Under the direction of Emory (now New York University) comparative literature professor Timothy J. Reiss, he produced a 1990 dissertation on festival ideas and meanings, primarily contrasting the festival experience in two cities, Charleston and Chattanooga, entitled "Two Town Festivals:  Signs of a Theater of Power."   Anthropologist and semiotician Paul Bouissac of the University of Toronto has called the work "ground breaking and original."  It has been posted on the Split Tree web pages since 1998 as a public service and several scholarly citations of it are reported.  It was reorganized in 1999 as a web page draft of a pending book, "The Idea of Festival."   The web link for both dissertation and web book is available by emailing Hetzler at sid [at] splittree.org or calling him at 706/539-2485.

Continued festival productions:   Numerous festivals have been presented as small, intimate workshop productions at his 200-acre farm in NW Georgia, just south of Chattanooga.  After his Emory graduation in 1990, Hetzler continued his interest in festivals with emphasis on participation in folk and social dance festivals, such as contra, swing and vintage dance festivals. He also explored personal growth environments at Esalen and Omega institutes, focusing on improvisational music making, writing, dancing, singing, drumming, theater.  Two Pilobolus modern dance workshops in Maine added insight into the creative movement process.  He first produced an all-night contra dawn dance, called the Fool's Fest Dawn Dance, in April 1990 while completing his festival dissertation.  This event, now a full weekend of unique social dancing that has been noted in the New York Times, has continued, first at a dance hall near his NW Georgia farm and then starting in 1996 at his new professional but all dance volunteer-built studio/ballroom at his Split Tree Farm.  In 1994, he produced two small festivals in the spring and fall, modeling them on the diverse, multiple-stage Black Mountain Folk Festival (now LEAF, the Lake Eden Arts Festival).  By 1996 the 60 x 36 foot dance pavilion was enclosed, air conditioned, and a fine floating hardwood floor was completed by volunteer dancers.  Since then the Split Tree studio has hosted many dance and movement events as workshops and festivals:  modern, contact improvisation, contra, Cajun, swing, tango, waltz, yoga and also several wedding celebrations.   In 1996, Hetzler attended Richard Powers' double vintage dance weeks in Paris and Prague and he and Powers, Stanford University dance faculty instructor and founder of the vintage dance movement, decided to begin a waltz weekend series at Split Tree in spring 1997.   Since Split Tree's production of that successful workshop and dance with dancers from around the country participating, one or two per year have been presented, not only by Powers at Split Tree but also by him around the world, leading to a resurgence in waltzing with about a dozen U.S. cities with regular waltzing groups.   Hetzler founded the Atlanta Waltz Society in 1999 and continues to direct it and takes his turn providing weekly recorded waltz music on Sunday afternoons.  At 64, he is an active social dancer and teaches waltz in Atlanta and Chattanooga at his farm studio.  Split Tree Farm is also an active horse hay farm and hosts residence artists, such as a recent Emory University professor and choreographer.

Publication of festival materials:  By 2004, he was told by friends that Chattanooga's Riverbend festival had outgrown its space.  He began revisiting that now strictly outdoor music concert festival, Charleston's Spoleto town festivals, and others in preparation for completing The Idea of Festival for publication, either by an appropriate press or by self-publishing in print and on the web page.   He also began inviting others interested in the general ideas of festivals of all kinds to join in the many tasks of gathering and distributing information of artistic, professional, political and academic interest.  

Link to festival materials:   (under construction).   Works are copyrighted.

December 2007

Sid Hetzler, Ph. D.


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