Magic In The Garden: Firefly Fling brings back fairies, food, music

Magic In The Garden: Firefly Fling brings back fairies, food, music
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

The Botanical Garden of the Ozarks might not have known its family friendly extravaganza, Firefly Fling, would take flight when it launched over a decade ago, but today it’s one of the organization’s most popular events, routinely attracting around 4,000 visitors. That made it all the more devastating when the BGO made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 event due to covid-19 concerns. This year, however, wood nymphs, fairies and other woodland creatures are invited to strap on their wings once more to enjoy one of Northwest Arkansas’ most magical evenings.

Ashton Barbaree performs at the Fayetteville Public Library’s Mountain Street Stage Summer Music program. She’ll be back at a favorite location, the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks’ Firefly Fling, July 10. (Free Weekly File Photo/J.T. Wampler)

“It is going to be like the Firefly events people are familiar with,” says Liz Atwell, communications director for BGO. “We’re so excited to bring it back and bring back just about all the things people know and love about the event.”

The BGO is still mindful of the ongoing pandemic, however, and the organization has come up with a unique solution to limit the crowd size. There will be two sessions of the Firefly Fling this year, one in the morning and one in the evening. In addition to ensuring social distancing will be maintained, the scheduling change has an unintended but welcome benefit: It allows families to customize the experience depending on the presence and age of children.

“We realized that, for people with little, little ones, the evening is a hard time to come out to an event,” says Atwell. “An event from 7 to 10 p.m. is kind of tough for 1- to 3-year-olds. So the morning session might appeal more to those families that have little bitties who want to still do something and get out and enjoy the magic of Firefly. And, a lot of times, the older kids want to stay up late and see the action at night. We’re going to have a lot of activity booths in the morning session and more stage entertainment in the evening.”

The morning version of this year’s Firefly Fling will be from 9 a.m. until noon. Atwell says that session will include a performance by Drum Safari, a Kansas City-based family that’s “focused on creating and providing positive, life-changing experiences through music and creative arts for people of all ages,” according to their website. Barnyard Buddies will provide a petting zoo — where kids will have an opportunity to meet a unicorn! — and pony rides. The Community Creative Center will be there doing face painting, and the Amazeum will be making nature mandalas with the kids. The Jones Center will be setting up an obstacle course, and Atwell says that favorite Firefly Fling craft activities like blowing giant bubbles and creating fairy gardens will be back. A University of Arkansas etymology group will be bringing live insects. Wandering fairies and stilt walkers lend magic to the atmosphere and offer fun photo opportunities.

Meanwhile, the late hours of the 7-10 p.m. session allow people to see the BGO long after its usual closing hour of 5 p.m., illuminated by the starry sky and the moon. Eden’s Flower Truck will be on site to help folks create flower crowns (for an extra fee). Performers include Where She Rules, Rochelle Bradshaw and Hypnotion, the Damn Neighbors and Ashtyn Barbaree, who has performed at the event multiple times. The evening will close out with a bang when fireworks light up the night sky.

Woodland nymphs, giant bubbles, a petting zoo and fairy gardens — the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks will have all of this and even more at its Firefly Fling, a family-friendly summer celebration. This year, visitors can choose between a morning and evening event. (Free Weekly File Photo/Ben Goff)

The gift shop will be open during the event, and food trucks — like Wicked Woodfire Pizza, Bartleby’s, Beaver Tails, Burton’s Ice Cream, Flav Italian Ice , Petal Pops and Snack Lab — will be on hand.

“I think we have a few extras this year,” says Atwell. “Maybe we’re hoping to make up for not having it last year. We have just been so excited to see people coming back out to the garden this year. It’s been incredible. People are wanting to get involved in activities, and people are just hungry to get outdoors and safely be around others again. It’s been wonderful.”

Atwell recommends purchasing tickets as soon as possible and anticipates the event will sell out, as the BGO’s previous event, Chefs in the Garden, did earlier this spring.

“It feels good to have a place like this for folks to go and feel safe, but also feel part of the community again,” she says. “And it’s a beautiful place to do all of those things.”


Firefly Fling

WHEN — 9 a.m.-noon and again 7-10 p.m. July 10

WHERE — Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, 4703 N. Crossover Road in Fayetteville

COST — $4-$15

INFO — 750-2620



Ashtyn Barbaree

Ashtyn Barbaree has been a frequent performer at the Firefly Fling event over the past decade, sometimes as a member of someone else’s band and sometimes as the head of her own Firefly Fling-specific band, created just for the event.

“That’s the only time that band would play, at the Firefly Fling,” explains Barbaree. “We would all dress up like fairies. My mom was in the band also, because this is such a real, sweet family show. My bass player, who is in my other projects as well, was in it, too. He’s such a sweet guy. He’s a big, burly guy, and he would let me put him in a tutu and fairy wings.”

This year, however, the popular performer will appear on stage as simply herself: Ashtyn Barbaree, a successful young artist who will soon be releasing her second album, recorded in Nashville this year.

“I’m planning to just have my trio play all original songs,” she says. “We might play a couple of fun covers, and the new originals we play will be upbeat and fun, sweet ones. The bandmates I’m playing with are the ones that have gone with me over to Europe, so it’s a really tight group, and we’re all comfortable playing with each other. It should be a really nice show.”

For Barbaree, the charm of the event is what keeps her coming back, year after year.

“I think it’s really cool that it’s centered around young kids, and even all the adults are kind of like acting like kids,” she says. “People are eating ice cream, all dressed up and dancing. I feel like it’s a kids’ dream evening, but the parents participate, as well. I think that’s really sweet. Instead of it being an adult-centered event that the kids are dragged to, instead it’s the kids saying, ‘Come on!’ And I love to see everyone’s costumes — everyone just goes all out with their makeup and hair and really cool outfits. It’s just such a nice event. I always look forward to it.”

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