Swamp Radio celebrates all things summer

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By Matt Sowell

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Swamp Radio, a beloved live performance celebrating north Florida culture and paying homage to live radio shows of the past is coming to St. Augustine. The performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College, 12 Granada St.

The show has been going on for two years. What started as a small gathering of artists in Jacksonville has become a popular podcast and segment on local National Public Radio station. It mimics live radio shows of the 1950s, incorporating interviews, music and skits.

“We started these with the intention of being a podcast, but NPR said they thought they were good enough to be put on the air,” said Ian Mairs, creator of the show.

“It changes every three to four minutes. In 90 minutes you see about 20 different things,” Mairs said. “It’s music, sketches and acting; it’s very rowdy. It’s also very interactive. Whether the audience is making sounds or singing along. We encourage people to use social media while they watch. We want people to share what’s happening.”

When Mairs gathered local artists, writers and musicians together in a loft two years ago, no one was sure what was going to happen. Mairs wanted to create a podcast similar to pieces heard on NPR.

Mairs invited an array of artists to perform a version of a live radio show. The first night they practiced; the second they performed in front of a small audience.

“Something happened during that four-hour rehearsal. Everyone thought it was really chaotic, but when we did it for the audience something resonated with them,” Mairs said.

Members of the audience were crying.

From there, it began to grew into what it has become today. The show takes place in Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and occasionally in New York City.

Laura Lee Smith, a local novelist, wrote a piece that will be featured in the show called “Chasing Gwendolyn.” She was also a part of last year’s show.

“Ian called me last year saying he was looking for stories,” Smith said. “I sent him a vignette of the beginning of my book, and he took it and brought it to life. It was so fun to be a part of it. It was rewarding hearing my words read so beautifully.”

Smith sees St. Augustine as a character in itself.

“We aren’t just living here; we’re reacting to it,” Smith said. “It creates so many stories and sometimes adds a little tension. The heat, the history, the idiosyncrasy — it’s fun to put those elements together to see what happens.”

The show not only highlights artists, but also local personalities. Ned Pollack, a local restaurant guru, will be interviewed. Pollack is a legend in the local dining world.

“Ian is combining so many forms of narrative art, and to him it’s all about telling a story. Swamp Radio is relevant to this area because we have so many stories to tell. The artists around here tend to stay in our boxes. What he’s doing is bringing the artists together and making something really fun.”

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students, seniors and military. For information and to purchase tickets, go to swampradiojax.com.