Published in KPBS On Air Magazine November 2005

It’s the largest arts festival in California . San Diego Magazine called it “The Gala of the Year.” It’s BRAVO San Diego , a big bash that started out seven years ago as a one-time mega-event designed to introduce arts organizations to the business and civic leaders of San Diego .

Equal parts fundraising ball, arts exposition and food festival, BRAVO San Diego will bring together some 1600 performers representing 83 performing groups, tastings from 75 local restaurants and wineries, and 1200 well-heeled patrons who stroll around the downtown Westgate Hotel seeing performances and sampling cuisine and drinks from all over the county.

The mammoth party was the brainchild of a high-octane triumvirate: Alan Ziter, former executive director of the Performing Arts League, Georg Hochfilzer, general manager of The Westgate Hotel, and Rob Appel, director of the event producer, Appel Presents. The Performing Arts League, original beneficiary of the profits, is no longer involved. Now BRAVO San Diego is an incorporated non-profit, charitable organization, and the proceeds of the event are distributed evenly among participating arts companies. Last year, the 97 grant awards totaled $77,200.

“It’s always been a grand affair,” says producer Appel, who’s retiring from BRAVO this year. “But this time, we’re pulling out a few more stops.” The theme is “BRAVO Broadway: Salute to the Red, White and Blue.” The range of arts here, says Appel, is “as diverse a fabric as our country; bringing it all together is a form of patriotism.”

The opening ‘act’ will be the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, with 40 musicians offering their own tribute to the Great White Way . The finale, on the Westgate rooftop, will have lots of “bells and whistles,” says Appel, featuring a fireworks display and “a very very Broadway ending’ that includes a paraphrase of “Hello, Dolly!” rewritten as “Hello, BRAVO!”

Other additions include 19 stages on three floors of the Westgate (up from last year’s 17). The two new specialty stages are a Blues and Jazz Stage, hosted by KSDS Jazz 88, and a Latino Stage.

For the first time, BRAVO Lifetime Achievement Awards will be bestowed; honorary co-chairs Jessie Knight and Pam Slater-Price will pay tribute to 92 year-old singing legend (and local resident) Frankie Laine and the Old Globe’s beloved founding director, 90 year-old Craig Noel.

Another addition this year is a fashion show.

“Our audience itself is quite fashionable,” says Appel, referring to the high-end crowd’s glitzy response to the invitation’s suggestion of ‘artful attire.’ At 9pm, there will be a BRAVO Grand Turn in Fashion; the runway ‘models’ will be selected by ‘spotters’ on the red carpet when guests arrive, and they’ll glide down the hotel’s Grand Staircase on the arm of a formally attired escort.

Twenty-two arts organizations are new to BRAVO this year, says Appel. “There’s a great display of ethnic groups. We have two Chinese folk dance groups and four belly dance companies,” as well as puppetry, mime, theater, opera, blues, jazz, classical music, spoken word, cabaret, a children’s choir, a Klezmer ensemble; African, Cuban, Cambodian, Philippine and Hawaiian dancers, Gypsy Dwendo, a Mambo orchestra, Mariachis and folklorico dancers, Japanese music and the Fern Street Circus, to name a few. “There’s no way to see all that San Diego has to offer in the arts,” says Appel – “unless you go to BRAVO San Diego .”

Appel and his committee interviewed or auditioned 121 performing companies; they were intending to pare it down to 72, but the high quality and diversity of applicants left them with 83 groups. In the new format, “everyone has an equal chance,” Appel says. “The largest organization has the same opportunity as the very smallest — the same 30-minute performance window and the same honorarium” ($1000 per group last year; the funds are administered through the San Diego Foundation). “It isn’t a lot,” Appel acknowledges, “but with the cutbacks in funding and giving, every little bit is worthwhile, especially to the smaller companies.

“In many ways, BRAVO is really for the small and medium-sized organizations. They really benefit from the exposure — and the honorarium. For business and society people, who are very busy and may not have a chance to see all these groups perform, it’s an eye-opener and a great smorgasbord of what San Diego has to offer in the arts. All around, it’s a great party, with great performances and great food.”

The BRAVO folks are fond of saying, “Art is good for business and business is good for the arts.” As Dr. Irwin M. Jacobs, chairman and former CEO of Qualcomm, has put it, “BRAVO San Diego plays an important role in creating a strong arts community, which helps to enhance the quality of life for all who live, visit or attend school in San Diego .”

“BRAVO,” says Appel, as he retires from the festivities, “has developed a life of its own. I’m hoping 50-100 years from now, BRAVO will still be here – maybe in a different form or concept – but still bringing large and small arts groups together under one roof for the cream of San Diego society. It’s a great, high-class event.”

[The seventh BRAVO San Diego will be held at the Westgate Hotel on November 19. Tickets range from $200-1500.

©2005 Patté Productions Inc.