Ringmaster of Fantastical Wild Rumpus Making a Difference in Athenian Lives
Presence. That thing that some people just possess. It is elusive and impossible to define. It is rare and immediately recognizable. It is a genuine comfort in one's skin. A palpable energy emanating from the source of originality. You either have it or you don't have it. Timi Conley has it and he has it in spades.
On the October morning we met, I had googled his image to ensure that I did not come off as aloof, but that was likely an unnecessary pursuit. As soon as he entered Jittery Joe's, people responded to him. Both baristas addressed him by name and knew his order by heart. Well over 6' tall and brimming with joie de vivre, I could immediately see the star quality that I had been told about when he was suggested as a person who truly defines the “good” in Good People News.
Timi Conley is the mastermind behind Athens' very own Wild Rumpus Halloween Parade Weekend and a popular musician with a background in visual artistry. He has morphed his love of throwing a grand Halloween party into one of the year's most enthralling events that donates the proceeds to a different recipient every year. The Athens Nurses Clinic, a local Athens, GA non-profit that provides medical care to indigent and uninsured patients, was chosen as this year's 2017 Nonprofit Partner. The outlandish costumes, dramatic revelry, street-dancing, and celebration of All Hallow's Eve serve a higher purpose of helping those in our community who are in great need.
Born in Massachusetts and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, Timi attended high school in Knoxville and refers to himself as “a real prude then.” He says he was unmotivated and it was his mother who encouraged him to apply to the University of Massachusetts, "a college with a reputation as a serious party-school". She thought exposure to the Boston culture would be a good experience in juxtaposition to growing up in the South. Her encouragement would literally end up changing the trajectory of his life. Academia became a tedious task, but Timi met a new group of friends and started experimenting with the party crowd. He was studying Visual Arts at UMass and he discovered that he had an eye for throwing great Halloween parties.
Timi moved to Athens in 1991 after his college graduation. Conley's first Halloween show in Athens was at the legendary 90's alternative venue, 'Club Fred', below Fred di Toronto's pizza on Baxter Street. His very first Athens costume pairing a loincloth on his lithe frame with Georgia mud proved to be consequential when he was kicked out of the Grill for violating the health code. This experience further fueled Timi's vision of expanding his Halloween parties. The conception of the Wild Rumpus was birthed through inspiration he found in Maurice Sendak's classic children's tome “Where The Wild Things Are.” He is especially inspired by the theme of everyone's primal need to dispense with logic and “howl at the moon.”
Perhaps it is the spiritual alchemy of losing oneself in the anonymity of a costume combined with a desire to explore fantasy that has expanded the Wild Rumpus from a singular event to a weekend comparable to an Autumn Mardi Gras. Timi Conley is insistent that the Rumpus “is really about the people involved.” He assigns credit to those who show up to enjoy the event as well as to the many who donate their time and resources. The current incarnation of the Wild Rumpus is a success due to over 100 volunteers and some hugely considerate corporate sponsorships.
[Editor's Note: Wild Rumpus Sponsor Links, Athens Nurses Clinic link, and Wild Rumpus Website Links at bottom of this article.]
Through the course of our conversation, I discovered that Timi's “presence” is definitely enhanced by the four loves of his life – his wife, two daughters, and music. Ann Conley is a trapeze instructor at Canopy in Athens. The aerialists from Canopy have actually become a staple in the Wild Rumpus and complement the theme of fantasy. Ann and Timi have two daughters, ages 2 and 15, and they have made the Rumpus a family affair. As Mrs. Rumpus Royale, Ann helped Timi choose the name of the event itself. Conley said that his wife is his sounding board and that she is “amazing.” Another part of his personality is expressed through his music with Wonderland Rangers. Listen to sample tracks from their newly released album “Baby's Bread" at: http://timiconley.com/listen-download/
When asked what his goal for the Wild Rumpus is long-term, Conley replied that the Rumpus “has a mind of its own.” He then said that he "envisions it becoming Athens' own week-long Mardi-Gras Halloween celebration."
I would be remiss to leave out the detail of how I teared up when I asked Timi what organization the Rumpus supports. He replied that all 2017 proceeds will benefit the Athens Nurses Clinic. Once upon a time, the Nurses Clinic provided groundbreaking, lifesaving treatment to someone very close to me. My tears were salty notes of gratitude and the distinct realization that in his own words, Timi said that the Rumpus “really is about the people,” and yet he never acknowledged that he is one of those extraordinary people. I will do that for him. He is truly a Presence. And that initial energy that I felt when he waltzed into the coffee shop was kindness. Time and again, I am honored to know that I am from Athens, GA and I breathe the same air as some pretty incredible people.
WILD RUMPUS WEBSITE: http://wildrumpus.org/
ATHENS NURSES CLINIC: http://athensnursesclinic.org/wp/
Some Sponsors of Wild Rumpus include: CREATURE COMFORTS, ATHENS DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, THE GRADUATE HOTEL & THE FOUNDRY, ALLGOOD LOUNGE, LIVE WIRE ATHENS, APEX SIGNS, The Hanmer Family, Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, Old Guard Graphics, Flagpole Magazine, Wing Zone, Ruby Sue Graphics & DePalma's