Five to seven years after a group of Northeast High School graduates ventured off to other parts of the country to escape suburbia and chase their dreams, they have migrated back home to Pasadena.
Singers, musicians, a comedian and a stuntman from MTV's Jackass are putting together an event tomorrow that echoes another TV show and could be called Pasadena's Got Talent.
The first Pasadena Arts Festival of Expression will be more of a contemporary vaudeville show featuring a range of acts from a burlesque revival to punk bands and a circus-like sideshow.
"When we were growing up, we always wanted to get out of Pasadena," said Joe Taylor, 27, who moved back after five years in Denver.
Now, Taylor said, "It's become its own little artistic, crazy little place."
Arts festivals have been gradually making their way to more rural areas - even if Pasadena, with 12,000 residents, isn't exactly rural - but it's not clear how edgier festivals would catch on, said Theresa Colvin, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council.
In general, festivals have helped to put lesser-known towns on the map as tourist destinations, and some festival venues have evolved into anchors for future arts district developments, unique to each community, she said.
"They really want to reflect where they came from and where they want to be," Colvin said.
Pasadena didn't have a lot of entertainment for teens when he was in school, said festival organizer Ian Gary, 26. He drove to Baltimore to see the Pietasters, a reggae group, or hung out at Reptilian Records in Fells Point.
"A lot of that quiet and isolation is what breeds that meaningful art," Gary said. Young adults from "the Dena" travel to more urban areas for performance arts entertainment and bring back a diversity of artistic skills and creativity, then put a suburban spin on them to make them their own, Gary added.
Gary says he hopes the festival will become an annual or semi-annual event and eventually go on the road creating a "Pasadena invasion" in the Baltimore-Washington area.
In 2002, two years after graduating from high school, Gary left Pasadena for Hollywood to pursue a career as a stand-up comic.
He took his political satire routine to well-known venues such as the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store and Hollywood Improv. After four to five years on the comedy circuit full time, Gary had had enough.
"It's a constant grind," he said. "It's not like being in a band. You're driving around by yourself all the time."
Gary decided to go back home to focus on his book, Red State, Blue State, a political parody with a Dr. Seuss feel.
During the cross-country road trip, a friend who rode with Gary popped in a CD of music by a local band named after their hometown. Gary was impressed with Pasadena, and the more he went to different venues in and near his community, the more he noticed local talent.
"In the course of a couple of months, I met punk rock kids, graffiti artists, a DJ. ... It was people in the community I already knew, and they had blossomed," Gary said.
Like Gary, Chris Scarborough, 29, moved out of town and returned home after honing his skills as a one-man sideshow.
As a kid, Scarborough was fascinated with magic. He taught himself illusions and sleight-of-hand tricks. As he grew older, he traded those in for more daring and physically taxing feats.
At age 16, Scarborough learned how to drive a nail into his skull through his nose, known as the "human blockhead stunt." After high school, Scarborough learned new feats and headed to local and distant places such as Ocean City, Boston and Nashville, where he worked as a street performer.
"I basically torture myself in various ways for audience approval," he said. "It all hurts. You have to be able to deal with the uncomfortableness."
In the past year, he has performed at the Sonar club and opened for the band Pasadena, which will also perform in the festival.
"It may not be an artsy area or maybe it never has been, but that's what's changing about it," he said. "This kind of thing is making it change."
Pasadena Arts Expression Festival
WHAT: A mini-marathon of arts performances, including bands, a comedian, artists and a fashion show.
WHEN: 2 p.m. tomorrow to 2 a.m. Sunday.
WHERE: The Victory Lounge, 4584 Mountain Road, Pasadena.
COST: $5. All proceeds will benefit the Armed Forces Foundation.
AGES: 21 and older only.