by ALEX RENDON
Northeast Florida is brimming with talented local artists, but oftentimes they lack the right platform to display their skills. Jacksonville native and playwright Ian Mairs hopes to change all that with Swamp Radio. This podcast/live performance show is a fulfillment of Mairs’ artistic vision. With this vaudevillian spectacle of sorts, Mairs, Swamp Radio‘s producer and creative director, hopes to shed light on all aspects of Jacksonville’s artistic merit. On Swamp Radio’s website (swampradiojax.com) he declares Swamp Radio’s mission statement: to give River City residents a “banquet table,” of “artist’s words and music” which, as he states “will sustain the hunger we all have for art.” And judging by Swamp Radio’s sold out November 14 episode, at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville residents surely have an insatiable appetite for the arts.
There was not one empty seat in the house. The demand is so large that Mairs and company have plans to expand into the Florida Theatre come January. Couple that with the group’s recent Spark Grant awarded by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, and there is no telling how huge this Northeast Florida scripted variety show can get. A once podcast emerging into a popular FM radio show? It’s not entirely farfetched.
Mairs was in the weeds at the time of this article, performing in a celebratory one-man show, David Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries,” at the Junior League’s Riverside House, so we spoke to Swamp Radio’s music director Rich Campbell to gain some insight on this novel podcast’s popularity.
Via his cell phone from New York, Campbell explains that it was all Mairs’ concept. He approached Campbell in the Spring of 2012 about his Swamp Radio idea. Campbell, who knows Mairs through his wife, is an award-winning composer and musician whose work has been heard on TV shows like Smash and in films such as Devil’s Advocate.
“We were thrilled and ecstatic with the reception,” says Campbell. He tells us that the Swamp Radio crew held a test run in June of 2013, performing a non-recorded version of Swamp Radio to gauge the audience’s response. Well, that show sold out, and the official November debut, we know that one was a home-run, too. “That’s why we are shooting for a larger venue; we don’t want to turn anyone away,” explains Campbell about the crew’s move to the much larger Florida Theatre.
As the music director, Campbell is Swamp Radio’s “go-to guy for all things musical.” His duties include hiring and rehearsing with Swamp Radio’s house band, selecting each episode’s special musical guest and serving as a consultant for the multitude of musical selections that will appear in future episodes. “It’s a wonderful process; I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Campbell explains that the Spark Grant was instrumental in helping Swamp Radio grow. “[The Spark Grant] afforded us the opportunity to plant additional shows,” says Campbell. For the January edition, Campbell promises more of the same from the November show, an eclectic mix of historians, poets, musicians and visual artists. “Our focus is to feature artists of all stripes,” explains Campbell. He encourages any local artists who want to participate to contact Swamp Radio via their website.
“Ian intended Swamp Radio to be a memorable visual event for the audience,” says Campbell, explaining that thought is put into set design as well as what’s going to work auditorily. “It’s a wonderful thing for an audience to witness a radio show unfold before their very eyes.”
The next Swamp Radio takes place on Sunday, January 19 at 3 pm at the Florida Theatre. Tickets are $22.50.
by ALEX RENDON