Art by Larry Day

The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) is celebrating its first birthday with a big cake, an even bigger party and, even better yet, an invitation for everyone to join in the festivities on Sept. 23-24.

Ryan Honey, TACAW executive director, provided a few milestones for the Year One scrapbook: more than 100 events, with more than a dozen arts education events, serving nearly 1,000 kids, including “some who were seeing a play for the first time.” All in all, more than 13,000 patrons came through TACAW’s doors during its first year.

Those metrics are no surprise to Honey, who cited one of TACAW’s core values — inclusion. “We strive to ensure our programming is accessible, so the free programming [for TACAW birthday events] was important. We want to make sure people can celebrate with us,” he said.

Friday festivities kick off with an intimate solo show by Grammy-award-winning, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Jon Cleary, cooking up a musical gumbo of jazz, funk and rhythm and blues. The British-born artist, based in New Orleans, performs regularly with his band, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, at NOLA’s iconic music venue, the Maple Leaf Bar.

On Saturday, TACAW’s Tabl Cafe will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. serving meals prepared with fresh Colorado-sourced ingredients. A special event menu is listed on TACAW’s website.

Beginning at 1 p.m. “The Greatest Show on Earth” will feature a free and open-to-the-public outdoor performance for kids and adults alike by award-winning ventriloquist, puppeteer and magician Mark Hellerstein.

The free outdoor family event continues with “Songs on the Lawn,” with musical performances by singer-songwriters from 3 to 5 p.m.

The grown-ups will have their birthday bash splash on Saturday night with entertainment from The Motet, which Honey anticipates will be a sold-out, standing-room-only show with about 400 party-goers.

The Denver-based band has rocked the cobwebs out of Red Rocks Amphitheatre several times and recently finished the summer touring in support of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Honey said, “It’s fun to know that we’re going to see them in such an intimate setting as TACAW.”

Dave Watts, a founding member and drummer, said, “We’re just gonna keep the show simple and do our instrumental set with a little bit of talk-box (think Peter Frampton) from keyboard player Joey and bring it into a sort of instrumental dance party.”

Noting the numerous times they have performed at Mountain Fair and the countless gigs at Belly Up Aspen, Watts shared, “We’re excited to get in front of all those familiar faces.” He added, “I love playing in that area, for sure.”

Currently, The Motet’s core members include Watts, keyboardist Joey Porter. bassist Garrett Sayers, keyboardist and saxophonist Drew Sayers and guitarist Ryan Jalbert. With a sizable and loyal Roaring Fork Valley following, the band is known for working a groove with their infectious blend of funk, rock, jazz and Afrobeat.

Due to the show being underwritten by TACAW Board Chair Michael Lipkin, ticket pricing is $20 in advance and $30 on the day of the show — “and with Michael’s underwriting, it brings that ticket price way, way down,” Honey explained.

Also on Saturday night, drink specials and, of course, birthday cake will abound.

The Friday night performance by Cleary is a seated show beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday’s Motet performance will be limited seating with a two-ticket per customer limit and starts at 8 p.m.

When The Sopris Sun asked Honey what’s in store for TACAW’s second year, Honey said we would see the return of some of TACAW’s most successful events “in an attempt to build traditions” in the programming.

For example, in mid-October, “Pumpkin Jazz” will return with an evening of free jazz music, and English in Action’s “Immigrant Voices” impactful storytelling event will be back.

Honey reflected on TACAW’s first year, saying, “We’re pretty proud of the impacts we’ve made, and people will see more of that. But I want to express — on behalf of the staff and the board — our gratitude to the community for continuing to support TACAW, understanding that we, as a nonprofit, need their support, both in ticket sales and donations. We express our profound gratitude that our community is learning to support the great asset that is TACAW.”

Tickets from Friday and Saturday night performances are available at