Inaugural arts and music event for kids a huge hit

Nearly 200 kids and adults got the first taste of what El Cajon Valley High School teacher and musician Brent Ford hopes will morph into an annual event that exposes kids to arts and music while showing them alternatives to drugs and alcohol.

Planned as a community builder and creative, cultural showcase for local high schoolers, the first East County Arts and Music Fest on Friday afternoon at Granite Hills High School also drew area teachers and even a few in the younger crowd.

Most of the participants were from Granite Hills and El Cajon Valley high schools, but a couple of Valhalla High School kids trickled through the gym doors.

Food was in abundance at the school, with kids coming out of the gym to chow down on tacos, burgers, hot dogs and huge trays of falafel, hummus and pita bread, among other goodies.

While local bands played sets in the school’s gym and a percussion movement group gave a performance, Oceanside-based artist Al Scholl was the biggest draw with his nearly 3-hour “live art” clinic.

As the bands played and karaoke singers gave it the best shots, 26 students sat engaged, painting with bright, neon strokes a summer sunset portrait with palm trees and water. The paintings all took on a new look when Scholl shined a black light on them.

Skylar Ferland, 11, and her sister, 9-year-old Rylee, had to leave the four-hour event before they could finish, but said they would complete the project at home.

“This was pretty cool to do,” Skylar said, looking at her canvas.

She also said she tried Middle Eastern food for the first time at the event — and she liked it.

A technician from Taylor Guitars fixed kids’ ailing axes while they waited, a photo booth area captured moments in time and people lined up for a chance to sing karaoke. Face painting was a big draw, as well — from scary creations covering the entire face to rainbows below the eyes and puppies on the forehead.

Ford teamed with fellow circa 1980s Granite Hills alumni friends Teddy and Tommy Vardell to host the event.

The Vardell brothers run a nonprofit called BrotherBird Foundation, headquartered in the Bay Area and run out of Colorado. The foundation gives children — including those who are autistic, deaf, part of a low-income family or living in foster homes — educational opportunities and the chance to experience sports, music, culture and more.

Ford said that while he was hoping for a crowd closer to 500, the timing of the event, over winter break, likely played a role in the lower attendance.

Several people said that even though it was advertised around East County as a free, secular event, there was some fear that there were strings attached or a hidden agenda.

Ford said he will be more cognizant of all the factors that may have made more people shy away, but that this one “broke the ice” and set the stage for what he would like to see become an event that will get the East County community together.

Granite Hills vice principal Dan Santos deemed the event a success.

Santos said that the event wasn’t in the original plans he and Ford had for a neighborhood event for East County, but the end result was the same — people were able to celebrate community.

“Brent and I have been trying to get our schools together for more than a year,” he said. “We originally wanted to get a 5K along Madison Avenue (the street where both schools are located), but that didn’t work out logistically. This worked out though and hopefully we’ll do it again next year.”

karen.pearlman@sduniontribune.com

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