Nannette and i attended the first KOI in 1999 before moving to California. It is such an incredible kite festival that we knew we had to return, so 2 years later we thought we would show up to see how it has grown. WOW, has it ever grown!
Lets back up a little. Kites on Ice was the brainchild of Kite Ariel Photographer Craig Wilson. He brought it to the Madison Festival Organization and together they have turned it into one of the premier events in the country in just 3 years. What makes this event so unique is three fold:
1) It is put on by a festival organazation. This means full time staff, experienced at doing events. It also means professional fundraising with connections to corporate donors. Sponsors include United Airlines, Charter Communications, Alliant Energy as well as realtors, the innkeepers association and many more. United Airlines as a sponsor means the ability to bring in fliers. The festival featured over 60 fliers, including 25 from foreign countries. Charter Communications is a cable TV company. Do you have any idea how cool it is to see ads for a kite festival on TV?, and who better than Alliant Energy to sponsor the night fly, and fireworks show.
2) The venue is awesome. The Monona Terrace convention center is a Frank Lloyd Wright structure. It is three levels with floor to ceiling windows that look out on a frozen lake big enough for five kite fields side by side with acres and acres of open ice behind them for the kiteskiers. Indoor space means indoor flying demos, exhibit space, and workshops. The sound system is indoor/outdoor so when you get cold out among the kites, you can go in and warm up without ever missing a bit of the action. There are restaurants inside, as well as food and kite vendors out on the ice, plus ample parking in the parking garage. This has to be the most convenient and accessible event ever, which leads us to....
3) The crowds. More than any other festival i have ever been to, this event attracts the general public. Tens of thousands of people come and go all weekend. Parents pull children on sleds in and among the big inflatable kites, crowds form to watch Ray Bethell and the Decorators , families gather indoors to make box kites with Michael Alverez , heart shaped kites with Robert Trepanier, or miniature kites with Charlie Sotich. This event gets huge media play both before and during and that makes it one of the most visible events on the calendar. My parents live 60 miles from Madison and thier local paper ran a half page article with photos, anything to brighten up a cold midwestern winter!
I met Linda Underwood (one of the event organizers) on the boat at Berkeley (i had on a KOI t-shirt) and she offered to put us up in exchange for volunteering, so Nannette and I took her up on it. Being a volunteer is a great way to meet a bunch of folks and get an insiders look at a festival. You get free meals, and lodging as well as a t-shirt, and a pin, all in exchange for a few hour work each day helping the invited guests with thier kites (this is work?).
Nannette did her volunteering indoors where it was warm, manning the information booth and assisting in the exhibit room of Chen Zhao Ji (more on him later), while i did my time on the ice helping Anne & Chris Harris launch (and untangle) kites. Anne Harris makes wonderful inflatable line laundry dinosaurs, hedgehogs and even a giant wizard named Merlin which is inflated by a blower. We had great fun trying to keep the lifting kites from tangling in the funky winds on Saturday morning.
Lunchtime on Saturday my family showed up to spend the afternoon with us. Mom & Dad as well as Tante (aunt) June and Uncle Harry from Illinois plus the special guest, my Uncle Henk all the way from Holland! We had a great time eating lunch and catching up and then headed out on to the ice for some flying. In no time i had a kite in everyones hand . While my Uncle Harry went farther out on the ice to fly his Jam Session (he is quite the sport kite flier), we started doing bear drops. Predictably, we had soon attracted a crowd of children. If you think it is fun to watch kids chase parachuting bears, you really need to see them sliding all over the ice racing to be the first one to catch one. Eventually we got cold and headed inside to stake out a spot for the night fly. We said goodbye to my family (tot ziens to my Uncle who we will see this summer when we visit Holland) and left them with a window seat, while we headed out to the ice with our night kites.
The wind was perfect (coming in off the lake) and it was one of the best night flies i have ever experienced. The sport kite teams took turns moving right in front of the windows and flying ballets with the kites just a few yards from the spectators. After about 45 minutes, they started the fireworks, i packed up when the chunks of debris from the fireworks started landing all around me. After the night fly came the banquet. We had a great meal, an amazing indoor show put on by Guildworks (picture to dual lines and a quad flying in and out of each other in a very small area and you have an idea of how incredible this 20 minute production was), and an awesome kite auction. The auction benefited the Wisconsin Women's Health Foundation, and was conducted by David Gomberg. Gomberg shines in moments like this and kept the bidding fast and furious, jumping in with his own bids if he felt the bidders were taking to long. Nannette and i bid on several items, but deeper pockets prevailed. The night ended with a blues band and dancing, but most of the kiters just dragged thier tired butts off to bed.
Sunday was fabulous as well, with winds on the light side but very mild temperatures. After the volunteer shift were over, we took some time to see all the exhibitions. I won't go into all the amazing guests (there were about 80 from all over the world - nice to have an airline as a sponsor!) just a few highlights:
Without question my favorite kite flier in the world is Robert Trepanier. His work is totally unique and whimsical and fun to boot. He has been a guest all three years and tirelessly entertains all day long. He flies his quadline people and bounces them on thier head along the ice, much to the delight of the children. His latest work is a series of quad line animals which are simply magical. At one point he was twirling a wolf just 20 feet from the convention center windows, while everyone inside was pressed against the glass mesmerized. The picture is of Jerry Houk and Mike Gee with One of Robert's Kites that Jerry outbid me (and many others) to win in the auction. It was great to see Robert again, I took a workshop of his 3 years ago. If you ever get the opportunity, i highly recommend you don't let it slip by.
While on the topic of painting and kites, this was my first exposure to the work of Claudio Capelli. Amazingly beautiful work. He gave Nannette a pin from his local kite club for watching his kites - big score!
I took a applique workshop with Jose Sainz. It was very entertaining and i picked up a few good tricks. While i was there, Nannette took a class with Janene Evard. Janene makes the most wonderful assymetrical multi media kites you can imagine. More sculpture than flat art, they all fly though it is sometimes hard to believe when you look at them. Nannette learned several methods of applying gold, silver and copper leaf to handmade paper and left with three kite sails just waiting to be finished.
The Germans have landed! So went the battle cry at the banquet on Saturday night each time Sven Weidhase and his partner in crime Andreas Schmeelke released another whistling balloon into the air. Together they are more than trouble, they are Team No Limit. They were there with Bert and Ernie, the two huge inflatable kites. I had the pleasure of helping them pack up on Saturday night. They literally just stuff the whole kite in a sack. When i asked how they kept the bridle lines untangled, they responded that the only trick was to tie the tow point to the OUTSIDE of the stuff sack. Then they simply stuff all the lines in with all the fabric. As long as the tow point never goes through any lines, nothing can ever get tangled. Simple but it works.
Ray Bethell instantly becomes the center of attention wherever he performs and He amazed the crowds all weekend in Wisconsin as well. The hardest working kite team in the world (after Ray ), The Decorators flew virtually non stop the entire weekend. They are truly a sight and i am always amazed (and jealous) at the range of choreography available to 6 Revs - too cool.
The most impressive kites were without a doubt those of Chen Zhao Ji. Animated mechanical kites from china with a degree of craftsmanship that defies description. Most were powered by a fan in the center of the kite which, turned by the wind, drove a series of reduction gears whaich animated the kite. There was a crane whose head that turned and whose beak openned and closed, a Praying Mantis which swiveled and clawed, and a crab whose pincers not only opened and closed but moved in and out as well. Whatever image this conjures up, the real thing was infinitely more impressive. Pictures don't do the work justice, but i took a lot anyway. Unbelievable, i hope to see Chen Zhao Ji again and would love to participate in one of his workshops.
The best part of the whole thing was getting to see all my old kite friends again. Charlie and Pat Sotich, the heart and soul of the Skyliners, Barbara Meyer who introduced me to quilting techniques and really got me enthused about kite making, Mike Delfar the first REALLY good dual line flier i ever saw perform and of course Craig Wilson, who is always in a great mood no matter how hard he is working. I saw many other old friends and made twice as many new ones, i may have to go back in two years again!