Winners of the coveted PHIL award this year were Andrew Kaefer, Scott Raison and LilyRuth Mamary, and Nash Abrahams. Congratulations! A special PHIL trophy was awarded this year to Richard Kennison for coaching 21 PHIL winners over the years from 1995-2020.
Festival report by Charles Shapiro:
Two hundred and ten jugglers attended the 42nd annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival, held for the 13th straight year at the Yaarab Shrine Center in downtown Atlanta. Friday night was lively and crowded, with a rather larger number of Flow people than in the past. Among the usual groups of club passers and solo tossers were several folks working with Poi in various configurations, a staff twirler or two, and more than one young girl working with hoops. Alas, none of them seemed to interact with each other beyond exchanging tricks and gossip.
Saturday started early and went hard fueled by plentiful maté, some pre-packaged snacks, and delicious oriental-themed food from our beloved food vendors Sri and Ayu. The T-shirts this year were Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe themed and sold well, with only 20 or so left from a run of about 170. Raffle items included several books, a juggling calendar, some interesting keychain jewelry, as well as the usual assortment of bean-bags and other props.
Twenty-one workshops took place throughout the weekend, starting at 7 pm on Friday and going on until late Sunday afternoon. Richard Kennison's 5-ball novice workshop got great reviews, and others were well attended.
The Johns Creek High School Diabolo Club helped Ray and Pat Stern this year in the Kids Corner, which remained a center of chaotic energy Friday night and almost all of Saturday and Sunday. Young jugglers also had the opportunity to browse the AJA scrapbooks and history board to see pictures of their elders, many of whom were at the festival.
The juggling games (featuring shiny trophies with real stone bases) were run by long time Games Director Spencer Schwab. An average of 23 competitors signed up for the 7 games which took place on the stage; the combat rounds (refereed by Lao Alovus) were also reasonably crowded. Highlights included a photo-finish sprint between Atlanta's Paul Yates and the second-place winner in the Club Crown competition, and a tense and exciting stand-off in the 5-ball endurance. Club balance legend Jimmy Robertson did not compete this year due to an injury. Cabaret performer Justin Wood distinguished himself with a crowd-pleasing default in one round of the Ball Combat competition, allowing Caleb Black the win for the round.
The Groundhog Day Competition opened with the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable Band playing a medley of pop hits. Some of the older jugglers couldn't recognize all the tunes. Competition highlights included an impressive Yo-Yo act by Chris Chung (Detroit, MI), a very street-influenced show by Atlanta's own Lucy Eden, and a flawless 4-club routine by Chuck Clark (Allen Park, MI). Andrew Kaefer took the "Gravity Slayer" award with a solid ball routine which included a 3-up 5-ball pirouette, some nice 6-ball work, and a brief 7-ball cascade while standing on a chair. Scott Raison and LilyRuth Mamary executed a clean partner-unicycle and club passing routine to take "Most Enlightning". Nash Abrahams did his father proud with a unicycle routine which included some 3-club, jump rope, and a finale of three knives on a 7-foot unicycle to take the "Most Illuminating" trophy.
Juggling Coach Richard Kennison of New Jersey received a special trophy for his work with a full twenty-one PHIL trophy-winning acts over the years. Audience for the afternoon competition was down a little bit from last year, possibly because of the two inches of snow which fell on north Atlanta Saturday morning.
The 9 pm Cabaret ably emceed by Cate Great Flaherty featured music and acrobatics as well as juggling. Scott Raison did a beautiful hoop routine, quite different from his winning co-performance in the competition. Other impressive acts included Justin Wood and Joyce Kung, with a Slinky act enlivened by Joyce's comedic skills, Jim Maltman's high-energy clowning, and Sem Abraham's amazing 65-pound telescoping unicycle. In conversation after the show Sem said that riding this machine collapsed close to the floor was actually more difficult than riding it fully extended, as the weight of all that metal is far out from the wheel on both sides.
Brandon Ross received this year's Mouse award for his wonderful T-shirt designs, face painting, and other helps to the Atlanta Jugglers Association. The audience at the Cabaret was one of the larger ones in festival history.
Sunday was more juggling, punctuated by sessions of huggin' and cryin' as out-of-state folks departed for their long trips home. Rick Purtee informally taught some strong sessions of interesting advanced passing patterns, including the dread Martin's Mildness/Madness feed. Once again a number of Flow jugglers shared the space. A small group of yo-yo players also gathered to exchange tricks and tips. AJA founder Rodger French made a surprise visit Sunday afternoon.
Coverage of the festival included an extensive on-line photo essay in the Atlanta Journal-constitution. A few pictures also made the hard-copy version of the paper. Andrew Austin captured much of the competition and cabaret on video; that should appear on the web soon.
Twenty people gathered at Manuels Tavern for the post-Groundhog day dinner, as Panahar Restaurant was dark for remodeling. Beers were consumed, and stories were told until around 8:30 pm, when everyone at last stumbled out to rest up from the excitement of the weekend.