Piedmont Arts Festival
Starring Ruby the Bantam Hen
Photo courtesy of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Photographer W. A. Bridges.
The 1983 Piedmont Arts Festival in Atlanta attracted more than a million attendees
A slew of performance artists and bands, potters, jewelers, glass blowers, and leather-goods craftsmen dotted the festival grounds. Once we saw that face painters were allowed, I ran back to the bus, whipped up an advertising
placard on poster board, and marched back armed with my face-painting kit and
camping stool. I remained in place painting roses, balloons, hearts, freckles, black noses and whiskers, thrilled by the long lines of patient parents and their excited kids.
The festival allowed all performers and booth participants who lived in their vehicles to park in a vast lot adjacent to one of the main booth areas. Access to bathrooms, electrical hookups, and plenty of edibles were a big relief. Each morning we stepped out of the bus, walked less than a block, and worked on the walkways packed with strolling crowds near the park meadow. We took time off during that week to listen to a quirky group called The Swimming Pool Q’s and to talk with a West Virginia family of off-the-grid farmers who sold thousands of hand-carved wood flutes.
When Jim first revealed Ruby the bantam hen from underneath his hat at the end of the Cups and Balls, she became the talk of the festival. Jim had trained the chick to lay quietly on a soft cotton cloth in his servante until needed—no peeping allowed. Everywhere he set up people flocked to him.
A reporter from The Atlanta Journal interviewed us for a piece in the Sunday Lifestyle section. Usually, Jim avoided newspaper and television reporters like the plague, but he regaled her with hilarious stories about life on the streets and made the claim that for a busker “every day is a vacation.” She lapped that up as a great quote for her article. Eager to capture our images, the photographer went through two rolls of film. Positive he’d shot some really cool pics, the young man promised to send us a copy of the newspaper to our address in the French Quarter.
We left the next morning with our pockets full and journeyed west to California.