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Artists & Writers Ball returns for loopy fun

The last of the fabled arts events was put on in 1988.

Published October 6, 2006

YBOR CITY - The ball's back in David Audet's court.

For as long as he can stand it, at least.

"I was brought into this kicking and screaming," Audet said of resuming his role as key organizer of the Artists & Writers Ball.

"It's kind of like that Eagles album - Hell Freezes Over," said Paul Wilborn, another ball veteran helping revive the event Saturday night at the Cuban Club.

The 2006 incarnation is called the Reunion Ball. Sure, the name isn't quite as colorful as previous balls, which helped produce a thriving arts community in Ybor in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The Reunion Ball might not have the ring of, say, Dante's Inferno, Cowboys & Indians in Love or the Depression Ball. And it's a lot more straightforward than Calhoun's Little Hawaiian Circus for the Poor.

But it's appropriate, in that Audet and company plan to resurrect at least some of the sights and sounds from the irreverent, crazed, debauchery-laden 11-year run of the Artists & Writers Ball.

"We're not trying to relive the past, but to reference the past," said Audet, artistic director for Hillsborough Community College's Ybor Festival of the Moving Image. "That was a different century. But I'm trying to get everybody to understand what it was all about."

Part of that, Audet admitted, was a pain in the butt.

"I never enjoyed the ball per se, because as the producer and director, I'm not drinking or doing anything, it's just anxiety," he said. "I'm busy putting out all the fires - I mean, the metaphorical fires - I can."

Any proceeds will help benefit photographer Bud Lee, the ball's original founder, who has been partly paralyzed since suffering a stroke in August 2003. His children will attend Saturday.

Lee's creation drew 2,000 to 3,000 people each year before ending in 1988. If it seems like it hasn't been that long since Ybor held an Artists & Writers Ball, well, that's at least partly true.

While the event remained on extended hiatus, another group used the name, which was not copyrighted, for a 2004 event to benefit the Mental Health Care Foundation. However, that was a comparatively straightforward arts-related fund-raiser, sharing little spirit with the balls of lore.

Wilborn, the city's creative industries manager, said he has nothing against the group who put on the 2004 event - "the Artists & Writers term was certainly languishing around back in the day" - but Saturday night's festivities should be a welcome return to form.

"I just think this is going to be more of a version of what people would have seen back in the day," he said. "It's going to be interesting to me to see if we can pull off the craziness, the spontaneity of the original balls."

The musical acts pair some familiar faces from past balls with new ones. Wilborn will perform with his band, the Pop Tarts, as will fellow ball veteran Ronny Elliott, Tampa's own "hillbilly soul singer."

Elliott illustrates his goofball persona in a recent MySpace blog post, encouraging friends to spread egg salad through their hair every day so "eventually the state will take care of you."

They'll be joined by performers such as the Vodkanauts, Strange Agents, JJ & the Cone of Uncertainty and the Seahorse Orchestra.

Other traditions will resume, such as the crowning of a king and queen, which began as an affectionate satire of the Gasparilla royal courts.

While organizers hope to replicate the spirit of the original balls, they're not shooting for the same scope, when revelers would "basically take over the whole Cuban Club," Wilborn said.

This time, the ball will encompass only one floor. But its impact could be far greater.

Wilborn is especially excited about reviving the ball because it historically brought the arts community together.

"This really was a watershed event, a galvanizing event for folks in the day," he said. "And now a new generation of folks can move it forward."

Rick Gershman can be reached at or 226-3431. His Tampa arts blog, the Ill Literate, is at tampaarts.

[Last modified October 5, 2006, 07:09:29]

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