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Creative horsepower on display at Columbus’ Hot Times Music & Arts Festival

Allie Janneck / Lantern photographer

Hot Times Community Music & Arts Festival’s name doesn’t quite give justice to the gist of the event. While it might sound like the festival focuses only on music and arts, cars are also a vehicle for celebration at the festival.

The 36th annual Hot Times, an independent, volunteer-driven festival that showcases musicians, poets and art cars, was held Friday through Sunday at the corner of Main and Parsons avenues on the lawn of the Columbus Health Department.

Aside from its slew of vendors, a big attraction at the festival is its art car gallery. Art cars tend to be working vehicles which the owners drive, and they have been decorated to exhibit a certain theme or to display the creator’s artistic expression. The cars are often painted and have objects glued to them.

Hot Times became one of the largest gatherings of art cars in Ohio with its more than 20 cars at the festival this year. Last year, the festival featured nine cars, making it the largest art car gathering in Central Ohio the last two years.

This year’s festival hosted cars from states across the Midwest, including Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and art car owners from Toronto and Florida drove the distance to show off their creations.

Some of this year’s cars had dragon, ocean and shamrock themes.

Greg Phelps, a founding member of Columbus Artcar Resource Society, has been decorating his cars for 15 years and said he enjoys introducing people to the world of art cars.

“It’s just fun. It takes the mundane act of commuting to work on a Monday and changes it into something special,” Phelps said.

Phelps said, like most art car enthusiasts, he drives his art car every day and believes the benefits of an art car outnumber a normal car any day.

“This is my only car. I can’t imagine driving a plain car because with this, I never experience road rage and I make so many people smile just by driving to work,” Phelps said.

Phelps names each art car he creates.

That Car 3, which he brought to Hot Times, is being created as a homage to other art cars he has had throughout the years. Jewels, mirrors and shells cover the outside surface of the car, while dolls and small sculptures fill the dashboard.

Of Phelps’ previous art cars, That Car was donated to Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft where it remains part of the museum’s permanent collection, and That Car 2 was donated to a children’s art program, after years of gluing objects to each of them.

Phelps added he hopes to continue to glue and add more to That Car 3 over the next eight years or for the next 100,000 miles.

Hot Times food coordinator Dan Thomas said the art cars, as well as diverse vendors and performers, add to Hot Times’ culture.

“If you took a map and placed pins in it to represent all the diversity we have here, you would be amazed to see people from all the different corners of the world,” Thomas said.

Some of this year’s vendors included booths selling custom hats, handmade jewelry and handmade wooden drums. Performers, such as Shaun Booker Band, Arnett Howard & Friends, Liquid Crystal Project, Four Mints and The Jazz Poetry Ensemble took the stage throughout the weekend.

There was also a Hot Times Poetry Slam event in which local poets and writers could perform their work for the audience.

A Hot Times regular since 1980, Is Said performed samples of his poetry and short stories at the festival. He also sold copies of his books and silk-screen T-shirts that were designed with quotes from his poetry.

Children joined in the festival activities, walking in the Columbus Children’s Parade, which marched west on Main Street to Parsons Avenue. All children were welcome to march and the participants were given specialty T-shirts to wear in the parade.

Other children’s events included face painting, musical groups and dancing. Balloon animals were created and handed out free of charge to children and adults alike.

Rhapsody Phillips, a Columbus resident who was attending Hot Times for the first time, said she came to watch her son perform at the festival with his dance class.

“This was the first year we came because he was going to break dance, but it’s just been a great time to hang out here and let the kids be involved,” Phillips said.

Candy Watkins, or “mom” as she is referred to by many of the volunteers, is the director for Hot Times and oversees the production of putting the festival together. She said the festival has always been somewhat of a family reunion for coordinators and attendees.

“It truly is like a fall family reunion to us all here,” Watkins said. “We have vendors and performers who have been with us since the very beginning and that gives off the vibe of one big diverse family. Sometimes it can be hectic to organize but it’s all worth it in the end.”

The festival is held with free admission. Neither Watkins or Thomas could provide a total number of attendees for this year’s festival or for last year’s but said the turnout is based on the weather.

“We rely on the weather.” Watkins said. “That’s what determines a good crowd or a bad crowd every year. Over the years we’ve grown, but we like the idea of remaining intimate because that’s part of the culture of Hot Times.”

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