Local artists, musicians support old classmate in honoring son’s memory

Local artists, musicians support old classmate in honoring son’s memory
Alex Townsend, whose life and death inspires annual art and music festival
Clockwise from left, Vernon Townsend, Kim Wills, Barry Wills, Jay Townsend, Andrew Wills, Meredith Wills, Babs Townsend

Clockwise from left, Vernon Townsend, Kim Wills, Barry Wills, Jay Townsend, Andrew Wills, Meredith Wills, Babs Townsend

There’s a lot to be said about not forgetting one’s roots.

For Tom Townsend, who grew up on Woodmere Drive, the lifelong friendships made with residents of Riverside, Avondale and Ortega proved there’s truth to the adage.

Townsend’s father was a Jacksonville pediatrician, and his mother taught a short time at West Riverside. With brother, Jim, and sisters, Catherine (Kit) and Amanda, Townsend attended Riverside Presbyterian Day School, West Riverside Elementary School, and St. Johns Country Day School.

After college, Townsend moved to St. Louis, Mo., where he and his wife, Jeanne, raised three children. Their oldest, Alex, decided to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, allowing him to visit his Jacksonville grandparents often, and visit the house where his father grew up on Fishweir Creek.

During his sophomore year, Alex was tragically killed in an automobile accident on Feb. 14, 2010. The Townsends decided to honor their son’s life by picking up the ball where Alex left off, encouraging the creative talents of others. As gifted as he was in art and music, Alex’s first instinct was to recognize the skills in others around him, and encourage them.

Alex’s parents decided to continue his legacy where he passed away and, in 2011, the A-Town Get Down Art and Music Festival in Savannah was born.

As a result, A-Town brought Tom back together with the people who were so important to him growing up.

High school classmate and bandmate Walter Parks, a professional musician, and his wife Margo, herself mid-career in artist management, agreed to co-produce the event.

Dale Child, who grew up as Dale Gilliland in Ortega, now an art teacher at Riverside Presbyterian Day School, brings interactive art projects to the A-Town kids. She is regularly joined by Bayview Elementary teacher Laurie Howard Mullis, also of Ortega, and other friends.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling than being with Walter, Dale, Laurie, and all our Jacksonville friends and cousins year after year,” said Townsend. “There’s something especially powerful, in the wake of loss, to be with the friends who have known you the longest. They make a difference in a way others never could.”

Performers at A-Town (Alex’s nickname in school) include many Jacksonville locals, including Arvid Smith of Murray Hill, Sam Pacetti, Brad Lauretti, Eric Brigmond, and Craig Barnett. Even The Florida Ballet of Jacksonville has collaborated with A-Town.

Now in its eighth year, the festival attracts a growing numbers of Jacksonville music lovers and artists for 12 hours of live music and interactive art for all ages. The festival is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) with the mission to increase access to the arts, with special outreach to underprivileged children who don’t have personal art and music experiences in their everyday lives.

This year’s headliner is Chuck Leavell – keyboard legend from the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones. The A-Town Get Down is free for kids under 12 and under, and will be held Saturday, April 21, noon to 10 p.m. on Indian Street under the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah.


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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