Don’t expect to see “Deadly Murder” onstage at Hickory Community Theatre in the Firemen’s Kitchen. Instead, be prepared to listen to an eclectic mix of musicians. Be prepared to laugh and then laugh some more at improv. Be prepared to wonder at the world of illusion.
The Festival of the Performing Arts replaces “Deadly Murder,” and for the next five weeks musicians, actors, comedians and magicians will perform in HCT’s cabaret theater — the perfect venue for the festival that is scheduled from April 21 through May 13.
HCT’s Managing Director John Rambo said there is a wealth of talent — beyond theater productions — in the area.
“We decided to cancel ‘Deadly Murder,’ and we didn’t want to sit dark for the period,” Rambo said. “The festival features musicians, actors, comedians and magicians. Most of the talent is from the area, with some artists of national reputation.”
The first event of the festival kicks off Saturday, April 21, with “Hickory Scene,” a three-band musical extravaganza based out of Hickory consisting of Casey Clark, Leaving Venus, and Onna. The bands got to know each other after seeing each other perform at The Main Cellar City Club’s open mic night in downtown Hickory.
“The solo and two bands are performing all original music and all local,” Rambo said. “Each band has different styles that mesh in a unique way to create interesting shows.”
Casey Clark grew up in rural North Carolina in a 100-year-old farm house surrounded by family greenhouses and colorful plants, where he fell in love with melody. Throwing a guitar into the mix, he immediately started creating, writing about the people he met and the relationships he formed to communicate what he was feeling. Visit www.caseyclarkmusic.com 
Leaving Venus combines strong grooves, dynamics and catchy song writing to create a sound that has everything that a music fan needs. Fusing blues, funk and rock, the power-trio created a sound all their own. There’s something about a strong trio that cannot be captured in a large band, like a finely tuned sports car with no extra baggage. It’s that raw sound, vulnerability, and connection that Leaving Venus fans love. Band members are Chris Cornwell, Thomas Grell and Michael Miller. Visit www.leavingvenus.com 
The story of Onna is a spiritual one. In a day when people are so easily distracted, the hopes and dreams that we all aspire to fulfill seem to be laid to rest before they are even pursued. The music of “Onna” is here to serve as a reminder that hope is not lost. Based out of western North Carolina, Onna consists of vocalist and songwriter James Matthew Taylor, drummer Bryan Ledbetter and bassist Pete Small. Visit www.onnamusic.com .
Two nationally recognized artists, one band and one solo performer, in the alt-country music genre perform Friday, April 27, at 8 p.m.
Arthur Alligood, grand prize winner of the 10th Annual Mountain Stage New Song Contest in 2011, shares the bill with Farewell Milwaukee.
Alt-country, or alternative country, is a musical sub-genre that has been sweeping the nation and awards for the last several years.
This label has been used to describe country music bands and artists that have incorporated influences ranging from roots rock, bluegrass, rockabilly, honky-tonk, alternative rock, folk rock and sometimes punk.
“The festival includes a one-act comedy for “tweenagers, ‘Ellie’s Wild Ride (Escape from Horse Camp)’ by Molly Bass,” Rambo said. “There are two performances — Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 29.”
“Whose Line is It, Hickory,” features a comedy improv evening with area actors organized by Cale Evans of the hit troupe Now There Are Foxes.” The improv is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5, at 8 p.m.
“We have our new improv group, ‘Whose Line is It, Hickory,’” Rambo said. “Members are Diane Albers, George Page, Daniel Breuer and Bill Boyd,” Rambo said. “In addition, there are three from Salisbury — Cale Evans, Jacob Asher and Emily Schuttenberg.”
Topping the festival is Spike’s Magic. It’s close-up magic with a very funny master of illusion from the Carolina Renaissance Festival. Spike’s magic features acclaimed illusionist and comedian Jeff Briggs, a regular at the Carolina Renaissance Festival since 2008.
“Jeff’s daughter has been in several HCT productions, his wife Sonya is choreographing ‘The Full Monty,’ and Jeff is in ‘The Full Monty,’” Rambo said. “His show mixes wicked comedy with amazing illusions.
“Saturday night’s show is mainly for grown-ups, but the Sunday show is perfect entertainment for the whole family,” he added.
Hickory Community Theatre season tickets will be honored at all festival events.
“Our plans are to have the festival annually, but if it comes off well, then we’ll have it sooner,” Rambo said.
Want to go?
Festival of the Performing Arts
• Saturday, April 21, 8 p.m. “Hickory Scene” —
Indie rock Casey Clark, Leaving Venus and Onna. There is beer and wine service available.
• Friday, April 27, 8 p.m.”Farewell Milwaukee” — Indie acoustic from Minneapolis
• Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29, ”Ellie’s Wild Ride (Escape from Horse Camp) by Molly Bass — a play for “tweenagers.”
• Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5, 8 p.m.“Whose Line is It, HIckory?”
• Friday and Saturday, May 11 and May 12 (rated PG-13), 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 13 (just for kids).”Spike’s Magic” — close up magic from the Master of Illusion.
Cost: $12 adults and seniors and $7 students and youth. HCT season subscriber tickets are honored at all festival events.
Where: The Firemen’s Kitchen at HIckory Community Theatre
is located at 30 Third St. N.W., downtown Hickory.
For information, call 828-327-3855.