Ozark Arts Council brainstorms ideas for Folk Festival

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

If the Ozark Arts Council has its way, this year’s Folk Festival will be better than ever.

The council met Thursday, Sept. 7, to discuss the festival, led by the City Advertising and Promotion Commission’s events coordinator Andy Green. The point of the meeting, Green said, was to get everyone’s ideas on the table.

“This is really a think-tank work group, not assigning tasks or anything,” Green said. “We’re just asking you to use your creative imaginations to help us develop a program, specifically at this point the Folk Festival for 2017.”

This year’s Folk Festival is scheduled from Nov. 2-5. Green said he’s been talking to different groups in the Ozarks to see if any of them would be interested in participating in the festival, especially when it comes to the spoken-word storytelling component of it.

“I’ve been communicating with some of the folks at Ozark Highland Radio, because I was looking at partners in maybe a songwriting contest,” Green said. “To the same extent, I talked to the I’ll Fly Away Foundation in Bentonville. They have some interests. I’m not sure how we’ll work all that out. I feel like if we’re going to do a songwriting program, we ought to get some partners involved with a background and interest in original music.”

He has also spoken with the Folk Alliance in Kansas City, Mo., saying that group would like to be a silent partner in the festival at the very least.

“It may be nothing more than them putting their brand on the event and them putting our event details in their social media program or website,” Green said. “When we have a little more substantial run of show, we can com back to that and say, ‘Here’s what our program looks like this year. What can we do to help you? How can you help us?’ ”

Green said he’s been speaking with local groups, too. These groups include the Eureka Springs Historical Museum and the ESNA Railway. Green said he’d love to have the historical museum’s Voices of the Silent City event featured at the festival.

“In the early discussions we’ve had, they seem very enthused about the idea,” Green said. “I know this is going to be a repetition for some of you, but I’m really trying to search out the diamonds in our own backyard that I think fit into the concept of a folk festival.”

He’s working with the excursion train, Green said, to offer free rides to those who come to the festival. So far, Green said, ESNA Railway seems interested in participating in the event.

“We could give away free rides to a train-load each day Saturday and Sunday,” Green said. “They would get their conductors to tell their stories to both cars. They seemed to think it was a great idea, and they’re discussing that internally.”

Green added, “Again, these outreaches have been received very well. People are just ecstatic they might be able to include the work they’ve already done and their staff and their volunteers in the Folk Festival.”

This isn’t the first year something like this has happened during the festival, CAPC director Mike Maloney said, but it would be a return to that.

“It’s just a good way to bring them back together,” Maloney said.

Green remembered seeing a video clip of one of the older festivals, saying it was a big deal back then.

“The Folk Festival was a holiday for the whole town. Everybody got dressed up, and everybody participated,” Green said.

That’s when the Queens Contest was really important, Reillot Weston said.

“At this point, it’s a multi-generational event,” Weston said. “I used to chaperone at it.”

Weston asked why the contest has been discontinued, and Green said it’s because there wasn’t much interest in it last year. Some women in the community are looking at a way to bring that back, Green said.

“They wanted to work on a concept that would integrate young women into a rebirth of that program. They suggested we could come up with a concept and an approach that kind of reinvigorates that,” Green said. “It would be something we’d have to approach next year rather than this year. I won’t say it’s been canceled for good. It’s just that we don’t have a concept we felt would be embraced quickly.”

Another event that won’t be happening this year, Green said, is the Folk Festival Parade.

“The general consensus was we already have some very successful parades and the Folk Parade was very difficult for them to garner any interest last year,” Green said. “We just felt like we would rather spend our energies, our time and our resources this year on something else.”

The big performance at this year’s festival is Lucinda Williams, Green said. There will be a family-friendly performance by the Hedgehoppers, too. He’s open to including more family-friendly acts at that event, Green said.

“If it’s workable, we should do more than just the Hedgehoppers that night,” Green said.

So far, Green said, he’s had a lot of luck getting the community interested in the festival. He said he hopes to bring in some spoken-word Ozark stories this year.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to about integrating some of the spoken-word and narrative history of this area and this region have just been ecstatic,” Green said. “There’s no exception to that.”

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