During her years as a university student in Austin, Texas, Monica Hinojos witnessed firsthand the way the city’s iconic festival, South by Southwest, grew meteorically from a music festival with 700 participants in 1987 to an amalgam of music, film and interactive media that drew 25,000 people to this year’s gathering in March.
So it’s understandable that when Hinojos took up the reins as executive director for 3Rivers Arts, a Groton-based nonprofit whose mission is to support local artists and the arts while spurring the creative economy and enriching community life in the towns in and around Central Massachusetts, she arrived with grand visions.
One of those visions will materialize this weekend in the form of “The Nines.” The multistage music and arts festival’s inaugural edition kicks off Saturday at Willard Field in the Devens property off Route 2.
Hinojos concedes the scale of the event might seem a little bit outsized for the normally low-key performance scene in the Nashoba Valley, but she says it is time to start building up local cultural offerings — and that’s why she’s choosing to do it with a bang.
“I had a vision of a music, film, multiart festival, modeled on South by Southwest,” Hinojos said. “We want to provide a platform for artists in Central Massachusetts by which we can elevate their work. We have some world-class artists out here. My vision is to amplify their presence so that others throughout New England and the world can see it.”
3Rivers Arts sought help from Great Northeast Productions, a company well known for overseeing large festivals hosted by the rock band Phish.
“They agreed with me this region needed this type of festival, and were willing to jump in feet first and help us try to make it happen,” Hinojos said.
The choice of Devens as a location is significant not only because of its proximity to 3Rivers Arts and because its 20-acre athletic field is large enough to house two stages, a comedy tent, a beer garden, food vendors and artisan stalls, but it is also in a region that needs support, Hinojos said.
After the closing of Evergreen Solar’s manufacturing facilities and the departure of some other major businesses in Devens, Hinojos felt more keenly than ever the need for the creative community to take on the challenge of spurring economic growth in the region.
The key to planning the event, Hinojos said, was finding a balance of nationally known names who would draw a crowd and highlighting local and emerging artists.
“In the end, we found a little bit of something for everyone,” she said. “Most of the musical performers are nationally touring, emerging acts, such as Delta Spirit from San Diego, Walk Off the Earth from Ontario, and Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog, but there are some local Boston-based entries as well, including Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys and Air Traffic Controller. A significant aspect of the festival is discovery. We want people to discover new music and new performers.”
Identifying local artists appropriate for the event was the job of 3Rivers Arts art director Christopher Cyr, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate now living in Pepperell. One of the studios he chose to highlight was FireSeed Arts of Framingham, known for its “art with a repurpose” mission and focus on eco-design.
“We call it locally harvested trash,” said Daniel Balter, a cofounder of FireSeed Arts. “We try to bring awareness to the role of repurposing trash as art. The Nines festival is a perfect opportunity to provide platforms for local artists, and create some great things.”
One project that Balter’s studio will exhibit at the festival is Moby Disc, a creature sculpted from 6,000 CDs salvaged from landfills. Another is what they believe to be the world’s longest xylophone, made in collaboration with University of Massachusetts Lowell music professor Tom Malone out of discarded wood, including floor boards, fences, and bedframes.
Festivalgoers will be able to try their hand at playing the xylophone, as well as several other interactive installations.
In the comedy tent, a show hosted by Rick Jenkins of the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square will feature sets by Erin Judge, Joe List, Mehran Khaghani, Ken Reid, Bethany Van Delft, and Jenny Zigrino.
The Nines’ organizers hope that like its inspiration, South by Southwest, the festival will grow far beyond a Saturday afternoon and evening.
“Our intention is to grow it to two days next year, and maybe even Friday night too,” Hinojos said. “Like South by Southwest, our vision is to make it more of a multiarts festival that lasts the week. People may come for the music, but our hope is that they walk away awed by the creative arts offerings from this region. We would like to introduce this area as the cultural center it really is. There’s life outside of 495. We are right here in Boston’s beautiful back yard, and soon Central Massachusetts will be an arts destination in itself.”
Gates open at noon; the music begins at 1 p.m. and will continue until 11 p.m. General admission tickets are $55, and may be purchased online at www.theninesfestival.com or by calling 800-653-8000. Children under 10 admitted free if accompanied by parent or guardian. “Patron of the Arts” tickets for $115 include premier parking, fast lane entry, access to the private Cloud 9 lounge, arts garden and viewing area, and free beverages and hospitality. For details, go to www.theninesfestival.com.
MOZART’S FAN: Returning for its eighth year to the Center for Arts in Natick, Opera del West will present Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” on Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday, at 2 p.m.
The regional ensemble will perform the opera in the original Italian with English “supertitles’’ displayed above the stage at the arts center, 14 Summer St. in downtown Natick.
Tickets are $25, or $20 for TCAN members. To purchase tickets or for more information, call 508-647-0097 or go to www.natickarts.org.
BROADWAY HIT: The Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham opens its production of “Les Miserables” Thursday at 2 p.m., with the run continuing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 617 Lexington St. in Waltham.
The ensemble will also perform shows Aug. 15 through 18, with tickets ranging from $35 to $57; ages 60 and older get a $3 discount, and tickets for youths age 5 to 18 are $25. Tickets are available by phone at 781-891-5600, in person at the box office, and online at www.reaglemusictheatre.org.
FRANKLIN’S BELLE: Steps off Broadway Productions continues performances of “Beauty and the Beast” on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with Franklin teenager Emily Dufour in the lead role of Belle, in its theater in the Bellingham Marketplace, 799 South Main St.
Tickets are $18; call 508-876-9797 or visit www.stepsoffbroadway.com.
SPECIAL ART TOUR: Since tickets sold out for last weekend’s sculpture tour with Concord artist Michio Ihara, he will lead a guided tour of his show at the Concord Art Association, 37 Lexington Road in Concord, Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is free.
Send ideas to nancyswest@ gmail.com.