By I. smiley G. Calderón
The 19th annual Rogue Festival in Fresno’s Tower District was an eventful cornucopia of the best live spoken-word theater, music, dance—and everything in between—fringe performances found anywhere in the world. Festivities kicked off with the Rogue Teaser Show at the iconic Tower Theatre, with individual performances beginning the following day, March 6.
As many fringe festivals consist of extended weeks of seemingly nonstop live shows, Fresno’s Rogue was scheduled for two consecutive weekends. After the first weekend ended March 8, the Rogue resumed on March 12 and had its last performance on March 14.
With too many noteworthy and entertaining shows to mention each by name (including, of course, my own heartfelt performance: “So, Why Did I Move to Fresno? I Thought You’d Never Ask…”), the Rogue Festival attracts all kinds of fantastic performers from all over the world. Some are seasoned fringe festival performers from across the globe, whereas others are visiting or local artists trying out the fringe scene the first time. With all of the variety, it’s a fun and lively festival.
A favorite this year was musician Adam Burns, a California visiting singer and guitarist who is a self-proclaimed “DIY Music Maker.” He performed at the back patio of Goldstein’s Mortuary & Delicatessen, a popular beer bar in Tower District that became a Rogue venue for the first time this year.
Burns’ show, “Exhibitions of the Malcontent,” was named after his most recent album. His performance was engaging and genuine. A talented guitarist and gifted singer-songwriter, you could feel the passion and emotion in his music when watching him perform.
As a one-man band, Burns smoothly accompanied himself with his electric acoustic guitar all the while deftly tapping a catchy rhythm with his foot against his electronic floor drum pad. His “DIY Music” making was definitely on display during his show. He even offered the audience cassette tapes of his album—no CDs or .mp3s but actual old-school cassettes. It was a magically nostalgic time.
Another musical treat at Goldstein’s was the satirical “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” performed by veteran fringe artist Noam Osband. In this show, Brother Love immerses his audience in a passionate Southern Christian Revival service—stocked with tambourines for the crowd and a collection plate to pass around, Brother Love zealously shared his love for the ministry and all things tax-deductible. It was a fun and spirit-filled show.
Off stage, Brother Love is a personable and approachable guy. He told me that he absolutely loves to perform in front of a live audience and jumps at every opportunity he gets to do so—something special for an erudite kind of guy with a Ph.D. in anthropology from an Ivy League School.
Osband, a Bay Area local, has traveled the world performing his musical comedy even appearing at the famed Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, the world’s largest arts festival. After two shows the first weekend, he returned for a show on the festival’s final day. But he wasn’t sure it was even going to happen.
“I felt a little uneasy about returning to perform because of the whole COVID-19 pandemic scare,” said Osband, “but when I saw that the Rogue did not cancel the festival and that many shows were still on schedule, I knew I had to drive down to share a little bit of ‘Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.’ Gotta be a good Christian and spread the love.”
Spreading community love is great, but the Rogue wasn’t too concerned about spreading community sickness the last weekend of the festival. In a social media response after the first weekend of shows about the status of the festival in light of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 outbreak in California, the Rogue posted that “Rogue is taking it day by day…like life.”
But as of March 16, bars and pubs in Fresno—including Goldstein’s—stopped taking it “day by day” and were ordered closed indefinitely as our community learns more about how to contain and fight this deadly unseen threat. COVID-19 has quickly and unexpectedly taken our community by storm and is rapidly ripping through the world and the United States, radically disrupting day-to-day life.
The virus is here—and the time is now. We have to fight as a united people like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
As a community, we must continue to practice safe and healthy socializing everywhere we go, which, of course, means regularly washing and sanitizing our hands after touching anyone or anything someone else might have come in contact with, or before touching our face.
Moreover, to contain this virus and limit its pernicious spread, we must limit social gatherings and interactions for a time. This is important because we are our own worst enemies when we unknowingly infect each other simply by socializing.
Therefore, we should stand behind our Central Valley city and community leaders who have come together with proactive steps to confront this scary public health threat head-on. And during this horrible pandemic, we must not forget the many extra vulnerable populations living within our community—groups such as the homeless, the elderly and the mentally ill—who could be devastated by a raging COVID-19. Let us remember: Their well-being is ours; we are connected.
With disciplined planning and preparation, like with any good show, hopefully we’ll be able to continue “Living Rogue” during these unpredictable, crazy times.
I. smiley G. Calderón is a Rogue Festival performer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.