Festival Flood

A brief guide to the 13 – count 'em, 13 – arts fests coming your way in April and May

<i>Mozart Requiem Undead</i> performed at last year's Fusebox Festival
Mozart Requiem Undead performed at last year's Fusebox Festival (Photo by John Anderson)

Now that SXSW is behind us, the festivals can begin.

That may sound paradoxical, considering South by is about as big as festivals get in Austin (or most places, for that matter). But it's precisely that size that's led most local arts groups to stop scheduling special events – and even regular events – when the Music, Film, and Interactive juggernauts are going. Theatres have taken to closing shows before the hordes descend and waiting until they've departed to open new ones. The degree to which artists avoid performing during SXSW could be measured this year when more than a half-dozen classical concerts were crowded into the first weekend of March.

So now when April's showers finally arrive, they bring a flood of arts activities, including the largest concentration of cultural festivals all year: 13 between April 1 and Memorial Day. Granted, none approach the scope of a South by – some are just one day – but each offers something remarkable: a celebration of artistry, creativity, new work, in an intense burst. And the variety – theatre, dance, classical music, comedy, literature, and visual art – ensures that everyone will find something to get excited about. While some have been around for decades, others are so new they might not be on your radar yet, so here's a brief intro to the arts fests of spring.

Fusebox Festival

April 1-12, various locations

This week's Arts feature focuses on this experimental arts festival's 2015 edition, but to spur you on to that story, we'll say this: free, free, and free. Last year, Fusebox didn't charge admission to any performances, and the move was so successful that the Free Range Art initative continues this year. All you have to do to feast on cutting-edge new work is reserve a ticket.

Improvised Play Festival

April 9-11, Hideout Theatre, 617 Congress
Three nights of improv with a bent toward literary and dramatic material. In addition to some of the city's finest teams – Confidence Men, Parallelogramophonograph, Hurly Burly, Austin Secrets, Danger! Warning! Improv! – this fest's fifth round hosts improvisers from London, Montreal, Minneapolis, and Seattle.

Cohen New Works Festival

April 13-17, Winship Drama Building, UT campus, plus satellite venues
Every other year, UT's Department of Theatre & Dance shuts down for a week so its students can present new works they've generated themselves. It's the largest college fest of its kind in the country – 38 projects in all this year – and one of the most exciting and underrated arts events in Austin.

Austin Dance Festival

April 18, AustinVentures StudioTheater, 501 W. Third
Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company has organized this new event celebrating modern dance. The inaugural outing jams three concerts into one day, with 23 participants, among them companies from San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Denton, Lubbock, Waco, and North Hollywood, Calif.

Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival

April 22-25, various locations
Hard to believe this punch-line powerhouse – over 100 comedians in dozens of showcases – is just in year four. Among this year's star acts: Ron White, Wanda Sykes, Patton Oswalt, Maria Bamford, John Mulaney, Marc Maron, Tim Minchin, and Jonathan Katz doing his Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist show live.

Art City Austin

April 25-26, West Cesar Chavez between Guadalupe & Lamar
The outdoor art fair that started as Fiesta 65 years ago returns with more than 100 exhibiting artists, including some of our own leading lights showcased in a new Austin Art Pavilion; a music stage curated by local nonprofit Black Fret; Austin Art Trucks; and food.

Fast Forward Austin

April 25, North Door, 501 Brushy
Year five of this yearly 8-hour new music binge features Austin's New Music Co-op, composer Peter Stopschinski, pianist Charlie Magnone, vocal group Quince, Resound Duo, R We Who R We, and a live performance of the classic Philip Glass album Glassworks by the Fast Forward Orchestra.

New Fiction Confab

April 25, John Henry Faulk Central Library, 800 Guadalupe
Austin Public Library Friends Foundation's annual day of readings and workshops presents six authors for its sixth year: Rebecca Makkai (The Hundred-Year House), Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer), Asali Solomon (Disgruntled), Akhil Sharma (Family Life), and Austinites Amanda Eyre Ward (The Same Sky) and Mary Helen Specht (Migratory Animals).

Pecan Street Festival

May 2-3, East Sixth between Brazos & I-35
After 38 years, this outdoor arts and crafts fair on East Sixth Street is still going strong, with hundreds of vendors and three music stages, featuring more than 40 acts.

Austin Piano Festival

May 8-17, Jessen Auditorium, 21st & University, and First Unitarian Church of Austin, 4700 Grover
In its third year, this classical festival combines concerts featuring outstanding artists with a solo piano competition for pianists in seventh-12th grades. On the 2015 concert schedule: a solo recital by Nancy Weems, a program of two-piano works, a program linking Debussy and impressionism, and opening and closing galas.

West Austin Studio Tour

May 9-17, various locations
The younger sibling to Big Medium's wildly successful East Austin Studio Tour continues to come into its own with its fourth version boasting more than 275 artists, exhibitions, and happenings spread across the sunset side of I-35.

Austin Latino New Play Festival

May 14-16, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River

Teatro Vivo helps fulfill its mission of promoting Latino-based theatre with this annual event presenting staged readings of three new plays by Latino playwrights. The scripts are workshopped for a week with actors and directors, then presented to the public for free.

Austin Sketch Fest

May 18-24, ColdTowne Theater, 4803 Airport
This celebration of sketch comedy and more snagged SNL-heavy troupe Good Neighbor to headline its sixth edition, which also features groups from NYC, L.A., and Chicago; a wealth of local talent (Master Pancake, Your Terrific Neighbors, The Hustle Show, Rachel & Dave, et al.); a reunion of Midnight Society Presents; and a live taping of Bryan Gutmann's stand-up album.

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