CRESTVIEW — The north county’s artistic and cultural renaissance continued in 2012.

CRESTVIEW — The north county’s artistic and cultural renaissance continued in 2012.

School visual and performing arts thrived, a new performing arts series celebrated its first year, and a new organization linked the business and cultural communities.

Here are my picks for 2012’s top five stories.

1.  Big Red Machine marches in Rose Parade

After 14 months of preparation, the Crestview High School band represented the city, Okaloosa County and Northwest Florida in the Jan. 2 Tournament of Roses Rose Parade.

The adventure began with a September 2010 phone call to CHS band director Jody Dunn, who recalled he didn’t recognize the number on his caller ID and took the call out of curiosity.

“I thought it was a joke,” Dunn said. “I had to call back the next day to make sure it was real.”

Working to raise more than a quarter-million dollars to fund the trip to Pasadena, the Big Red Machine found broad community support from parents, friends, businesses, civic leaders and local artists.

The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 6, 2011 meeting designated January 2012 “Crestview Band Month.”

2.  Chamber of Commerce establishes Arts & Culture Committee

The Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce placed emphasis on the value of arts and culture in the community as an integral part of the quality of life.

“It really is a question of livability,” committee chairperson Rae Schwartz said. “About a year ago, (Crestview City Councilman) Charles Baugh and I ended up at an all-day workshop with the Florida League of Cities that reminded us that businesses looking for a location or to relocate look at the livability of a community.

“That includes a lot of things, including recreation, shopping and schools, but it also includes cultural things such as the arts.”

The committee also benefits professional visual and performing artists, Schwartz said.

“Another thing people forget: (for) people who are artists and performers, this is their business,” Schwartz said. “This is how they make their living.

“We’re hoping to bring those folks into the chamber community. It will be good professionally and it will be good for us.”

3. Chamber calendar opens to community organizations

The Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s Arts and Culture Committee expanded the chamber’s online calendar to be a “true community calendar,” committee chairwoman Rae Schwartz said.

Establishing a one-stop resource where everything happening in the north county region can be found has been one of Schwartz’s longtime goals.

“How many times have you missed an event because you couldn’t find the information in time, or never noticed it at all?” she said. “How often has your group planned an event only to discover that it conflicts with other events on the same day?”

Community organizations may place their events on the calendar free of charge at

4.  Crestview High lipdub becomes a YouTube hit

The six-minute, 41-second Crestview High School lip-synch video, or “lipdub,” that captured school spirit and the community’s enthusiasm is still racking up views on YouTube — nearly 200,000 to date.

The all-student production was May graduate Ben White Jr.’s vision.

“It was a month-and-a-half of planning and we only had four or five practices with the singers,” Ben said. “The majority of the people in it were spontaneous.”

Industry experts who viewed the production praised White’s preparation and groundwork.

“It is easy to imagine the large amount of pre-shoot organization and planning required by that project,” three-time Emmy Award winning retired NBC News producer/director Paul Yacich said from his New Orleans home.

“If that were his only talent, he would still be qualified to set up complicated productions. A lot of effort went into that.”

See a link to the video at

5. Crestview community theatre returns

With its Nov. 16 and 17 production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” the return of a Crestview community theater troupe became a reality.

The Warriors Hall production was the first show of a thespian group formed by Sean and Sandra Peters and folks at Journey Java Connection.

Filled seats in Warriors Hall indicated the community craves live theatre, even when two shows were running simultaneously, as happened that weekend when “Arsenic” clashed with the high school drama program’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The show also proved the hall in the Whitehurst Municipal Building can accommodate theatricals, raising calls for the city to put in some theatrical lighting to increase the value of Warriors Hall as a community resource.

The new troupe meets at Journey Java Connection. Call 398-8814 for details.

The Florida Folklife Program of the Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources displayed local history, heritage and traditions Aug. 14. Baker Block Museum, among its Heritage Village’s historic buildings, hosted the occasion.

The dogtrot house’s porch served as a stage for a daylong program featuring discussions with state folklorist Blaine Waide. It included demonstrations of local traditions including beekeeping, storytelling, Bluegrass music, pine needle basket making and a performance by fiddler Samantha Purvines of Laurel Hill.

“You’ve got very distinct music and song traditions in the Panhandle,” Waide said. “In folklore, we don’t just study things in the past. We study continuity and change.”

Journey Java establishes downtown arts center

A Main Street coffeehouse established by a Methodist preacher and his wife steadily blossomed into more than the downtown community outreach originally envisioned.

The Rev. Sean and Sandra Peters’ Journey Java Connection has become a focal point for visual and performing arts. Wall space is dedicated to area artists, open-mic nights attract area performers, art classes teach a variety of visual techniques, and the Peterses’ love of theatre has led to the café becoming the home of Crestview’s new community theatre troupe.

Mix in killer scones, lunchtime sandwiches, Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, frozen drinks and bagels, and the non-profit establishment draws a diverse crowd, including serving as the chamber of commerce Art and Culture Committee’s monthly meeting place.

Chamber wine gala attracts its largest crowd

Sultry jazz music, aroma of cooking gourmet foods and the pop of wine bottle corks filled the air at Sunshine Aero Test Flight’s hangar at Bob Sikes Crestview Airport Sept. 29. More than 200 attendees mingled around tables featuring cuisine from multiple area eateries, wines from around the world, and silent auction items.

Dennis Mitchell, the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce’s president-elect, said one of the things attendees found most appealing was the event’s unusual location.

“I would ask people, ‘Have you ever been to a wine gala in an airplane hangar before?’” Mitchell said. “When they say, ‘No,’ I tell them, ‘There’s a reason. This is the first one.’”

The gala in its first year took place in a festively decorated tent in the chamber of commerce parking lot.

Last year, it was in CCB Community Bank’s lobby.

Who knows where it will be in 2013, organizer Lynn Yort said, but a goal is to highlight member businesses.

CHS produces spring musical, revives drama program

The Crestview High School Thespian Society and Drama Club production of “The Sound of Music” in May was more than a delightful evening at a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

It was a major collaboration between community drama supporters and a school that lost its academic drama program.

Local drama professionals pitched in with parents and enthusiastic students to pull off the show, building sets, designing posters and programs, and coaching student performers.

Restoring the school’s drama classes with the new school year led to November’s production of the stage version of Frank Capra’s slice of Americana, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 That was good news for the nearly 100 students eager to learn stagecraft and have performance opportunities.

For several, it’s the first step to studying theatre arts in college.

FOTA launches performing arts series

A night with Gulf Coast classical pianist, orchestra conductor, author and music instructor Dr. David Ott launched a series of performances in Warriors Hall by Friends of the Arts, the evolution of a committee formed to acquire and maintain a piano for the hall.

A highlight was a night of swing, big band and jazz music performed by the DownBeat Jazz Orchestra. In addition to tunes belted by vocalists Gina Walker and Sandra Daggs, the audience was treated to a demonstration of “juking,” a free-form urban dance style.

The Friends of the Arts meets monthly at the Crestview Public Library.