Thousands of people from across the region are expected to visit New Albany for this year’s annual Tallahatchie Riverfest, on October 6 and 7th. While the influx of visitors is good news for New Albany’s economy, the growth in the crowds has presented its own set of challenges.
The festival, now in its twenty-first year, has taken place in several areas, including the courthouse lawn, the city parking lot near the library, and the Farmers’ Market area.
“There have been good things and bad things about each location,” says Sean Johnson, the tourism director for the city and manager of the festival. “The courthouse venue, while beautiful, was too small to accommodate the crowds; the parking lot was convenient, but it took up parking spaces and wasn’t the prettiest place to hold the event; the Farmers Market area could only be a temporary location because the owner has plans to build upon it; and all areas required the renting of a stage for the weekend, the cost of which was around $12,000.”
The high cost of the stage rental prompted Johnson to reach out to local Landscape Architect, Sam Creekmore, for an affordable stage design.
“Sam came back with the design you see at the park now. We sent the design and the rationale for building a stage to Margaret Ellis Rogers, our representative in Jackson, and she was able to find some appropriation money to pay for it,” says Johnson.
According to Johnson, building the stage wasn’t just a good move for the Tallahatchie Riverfest, but a good move for the community at large. “Having the stage cost taken care of allows the city, and others, to produce events without the oftentimes prohibitive cost of renting a stage.”
Lighting and parking issues to be addressed
Since the stage has been built a number of organizations have used it host concerts and other events.
But, like all of the other locations, there have been some issues.
One of the major issues, according to Johnson, is lighting. To meet that challenge, the city is installing lights before this year’s festival. The lights, referred to as “box lights”, will be placed along the perimeter, along the river side and tree line, of the field in front of the stage at Park Along the River.
“Each light will be able to be controlled individually, so they don’t have to be bright during the show, but can be turned on at show’s end so that people can leave the area safely. And we’re also hoping that the lights will encourage other organizations to have more events at the space throughout the year.”
Another issue is the distance of the stage from parking. The viewing field of the Riverview stage is about 200 yards from the library parking lot, but when that lot is filled the walking distance to the stage can be much longer. To address this issue, event organizers will be bringing in a number of six-person golf carts for the event.
“We brought in carts for this purpose for the Ricky Skaggs concert last year, and they were very much appreciated by a number of folks,” says Johnson. “We’ll be bringing in more this year.”
The carts, driven by volunteers, will be operating along the market and carnival area during the day and then will be making a circuit with stops at the carnival, the trailhead and the library parking lot during the evening concert schedules.
“The stops are just so people will know where we will be, but folks can flag us down anywhere. We just want folks to have a fun and easy time.”
Carnival, concerts, kids’ activities and more coming to Riverfest
The 2017 Tallahatchie Riverfest will unofficially begin on Thursday, October 5th with the opening of the carnival, sponsored by Community Ford, at the Farmers Market area.
On Friday night, October 6, the festival begins in earnest with concerts by Terry “Harmonica” Bean and The Wayward Kin.
Then on Saturday, October 7, the day begins with the BNA Tallahatchie River Run at 8 a.m.
The New Albany Main Street Downtown Street Market will begin at 10 a.m. and will last until 4 p.m., and feature musical performances at the Trailhead, sponsored MaxxSouth, by The Boomers and Hannah Belle in the afternoon. Toyota’s “Build Your Future” Kids’ area will open at 10 a.m. and the Union County Humane Society will be hosting the “Dress Your Pet” Pet Parade at 4 p.m. The Saturday concerts, featuring The Carmonas and Diamond Rio, will begin at the RedMed Clinic Riverview Stage at 6:30 pm.
The Tallahatchie Riverfest is presented by New Albany Tourism and sponsored by the New Albany Main Street Association, Community Ford, RedMed Clinic, Toyota, Clark Beverage, MaxxSouth, Miss 98 and Kudzu 104.
More information about the festival can be found at www.tallahatchieriverfest.com, or on the festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/newalbanyriverfest.