Florida State University: you might know it for the championship Seminole football team, the high ranked teams in just about every other men’s and women’s sport, and the dozens of individual athletes the university has sent to national and international competition. FSU also has a top ranked film school, an internationally recognized school of dance, and programs which have sent actors, visual artists and musicians on to international renown. It was a desire to give the university’s arts programs as much recognition as its athletics have that began the idea for Seven Days of Opening Nights.

Fifteen years on from that first spark of an idea, the festival with the catchy name has become one of the south’s if not the country’s most beloved winter arts festivals. Over the years, actors including Hal Holbrook and Olympia Dukakis, writers including Stephen King and John Updike, and musicians, among them Bobby McFerrin and Rosanne Cash have taken the stage at the festival, and offered master classes to the university’s students as well. Every year, film presentations, art exhibits, dance performances, community events, and concerts and talks from creators across wide ranges of the arts light up winter days and nights in Tallahassee.

This year, all that will begin on 7 February with a concert by violinist Hilary Hahn. Though still in her early thirties, Hahn is recognized internationally both for the technique and her charisma, and for the warmth of her connection with her audiences. As the festival continues, The Actors’ Gang will present the seventeenth century social satire Tartuffe, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops will offer their engaging and high stepping take on old time music. Geoffrey Gilmore, the chief creative officer at Tribeca Enterprises and former head of the Sundance Film Festival, will return with a festival favorite evening called A Movie You Haven’t Seen Yet, in which he will present his choices — long before they are released to the public in theaters — for the best in recent independent film. It’s an evening looked forward to by audiences for the quality of the films and for the surprises they offer.

Surprise is also a factor when FSU’s Prism Ensemble, another returning festival favorite, performs. Top musicians from FSU’s wind and percussion programs collaborate for an evening that has in the past included saxophone players popping up in the balcony and marching bands heading down center aisle. The ever popular (and free) Community Matinee of the Arts, this year held at the Tallahassee Museum, will be full of surprise, too as live music, dance, and crafts fill the museum’s grounds and historic buildings with activities for adults and children alike.

There’s more: author Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir Wild has been topping best seller lists, will speak; Wynton Marsalis will bring his Jazz Ensemble; the Chieftains, who are celebrating fifty years of bringing Irish music around the globe, will be on hand, and the university art galleries will be filled with exhibits, including one featuring the work artists who are dealing with the challenges of autism and another focusing on the work of Flemish Baroque master painter Peter Paul Rubens.

Several of the artists will further the educational mission of the festival by visiting area schools, students from local schools will come to the festival, and many of the artists will give master classes on their art during their time in Tallahassee as well.

All this, over the years, has grown to encompass more that seven days, and daytime activities as well as opening nights. The vision of that original name, supporting the arts and bringing recognition to them, caught on from the first, though, and so the name has stayed, a vivid identifier of a unique festival.

Find out about tickets and schedules for this year’s festival and other Seven Days events at the Seven Days of Opening Nights web site

Looking for something else to do in Tallahassee? Meet up with history and a homecoming queen.

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Kerry Dexter is one of six writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You will often find her writing about places, events, and people connected with music, history, and the arts in Europe and North America. You may find more of Kerry's work at her site Music Road as well as in Wandering Educators, National Geographic Traveler, Ireland and the Americas, and other places online and in print.

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