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MusicFest XXX kicking off Friday

Monday, September 25, 2017

MusicFest XXX kicking off Friday

By Tia Lyons
Staff Writer

It’s an event that has been 30 years in the making, and like much of El Dorado, MusicFest is going MAD.

MusicFest XXX will kick off Friday with three days jam-packed with music, food, and plenty of activities and attractions.

The seven-time Arkansas Festival of the Year is going in a new direction this year with a partnership with the Murphy Arts District (MAD), whose grand opening celebration will begin Wednesday with a private show and continue through Oct. 1 with performances that are open to the public.

ZZ Top, Ludacris, Brad Paisley, Chase Bryant, Migos, Natasha Bedingfield, Train, Smokey Robinson and others will take the stage during the five-day celebration.

Musical acts for MAD will double as the 2017 headliners for MusicFest. The concerts will be split between the MAD amphitheater and the Music Hall on Locust.

With the exception of the Smokey Robinson show on Oct. 1, the concerts are ticketed. Robinson will perform a free concert with the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets must be purchased through MAD by visiting the MAD box office, 113 S. Washington (at the intersection with Cedar), going online to eldo-mad.com, and by calling 877-940-3334.

Two blocks north of MAD, admission into MusicFest will be free.

Thirty years of growth

MusicFest began as a one-day event in 1988 as a Main Street El Dorado initiative to draw people to downtown shops and restaurants.

It was part of an effort to revitalize what was then a dying downtown, instill community pride and provide citizens with a good time.

MusicFest I lasted for 12 hours on Oct. 1, and like the 30th anniversary celebration, admission was free.

The theme was the Fabulous 50s, and the featured performer was El Dorado native and rockabilly artist Jason D. Williams, who has since made dozens of appearances at MusicFest and other events in his hometown.

Crowds throughout the day were estimated at 5,000 – 10,000.

Ten to 15 volunteers worked on the inaugural event, but 200 were volunteers needed the following year when what became known as Musicfest was expanded to two days.

With increasing business and industry sponsorships, Main Street was also able to expand the MusicFest budget in ensuing years and grow the festival with more attractions and more performers to grace MusicFest stages.

Several famous faces have headlined MusicFest over the past three decades. The Dixie Chicks (pre-Natalie Maines), Jefferson Airplane, the Platters, Charlie Daniels, Blues Traveler, Salt-N-Pepa, Boyz II Men, 3 Doors Down, and Sawyer Brown, and Bret Michaels are some of the artists that have visited El Dorado over the years.

Bill Clinton, then-governor of Arkansas, and El Dorado’s own Donna Axum Whitworth, Miss America 1964, have made appearances at MusicFest.

For the 20th anniversary of MusicFest in 2007, rock legend Joan Jett took to the stage, and the 25th anniversary celebration was highlighted by performances from Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Jake Owen.

Organizers have also made sure to feature local and regional acts with various side stages.

MusicFest has held the title as the city’s largest annual event and the biggest live music event in the region, becoming one of the most talked-about and anticipated annual events in the state.

MusicFest also holds the record of most wins for Festival of the Year, an award that is handed out each year by Arkansas Festivals and Events Association.

MusicFest was first named the top festival in the state for its 20th anniversary in 2007 and proceeded to pick up Festival of the Year awards in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

The record for five successive Festival of the Year award wins also goes to MusicFest.

Along with efforts to draw bigger-name acts, organizers have also worked to boost attractions.

Last year, the Dallas Cowboys Nation took over MusicFest with appearances by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Tailgate Nation and Mobile Hall of Fame.

New direction

Main Street agreed late last year to allow MAD to take the lead in bringing entertainment to town, and the two groups entered into a partnership to present MusicFest 2017 in conjunction with the MAD grand opening.

Murphy USA is title sponsor.

“We’re two groups putting together one big event for El Dorado. We’re excited,” Brumley said. “There will still be a festival atmosphere and fun. It’s just that the headliners will be in a new venue two blocks from the square.”

With the changes that have come with the pearl anniversary of MusicFest, organizers are injecting new ideas and drawing on ideas from the past.

Beth Brumley, Main Street executive director, and Paul Choate, chairman of the Main Street board of directors, have said that with the collaboration, Main Street will have more time to focus on attractions and activities.

For the first time since the early 1990s, MusicFest will be expanded to three days to accommodate the closing day of the MAD grand opening.

A gospel music schedule was added on Sunday during the early years of the festival, but the schedule was later scrapped due to a lack of participation.

A morning worship service will kick off the day at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 1.

The Miss MusicFest Pageant will make a return following a three-year hiatus. The pageant is set for 2 p.m. on Oct. 1 in the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium, 100 W. Eighth.

New this year will be MusicFest XXX-Mac’s Fresh Market Steak Cook-Off. Nearly $3,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded, and the overall winner will qualify for the World Championship Steak Cook-Off.

Acrodunk, a team that combines gravity-defying trampoline acrobatics and basketball slam-dunking, is scheduled for several performances on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The team holds two Guinness World Records and has appeared on the TV talent competition, “America’s Got Talent.”

Paid MusicFest activities will include a zip-line, bungee jump, laser tag, and mobile video game station. The cost is $5 each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Unlimited use wrist bands available for $30 on Saturday only. The mobile video game state will be free on Saturday.

Magicians, stilt-walkers, hula-hoopers, a comedy percussion team, face-painting, and inflatables are some of the free activities that will be available in Kids World, sponsored by Lanxess.

A paid childcare service will also be available for MusicFest weekend through Victory Church.

And there will be plenty of free musical performances with local and regional acts, starting at 11 a.m. on Friday.

For more information about MusicFest activities and schedules, visit www.musicfesteldorado.com or call the Main Street office at 870-862-4747.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com .