Blues In Motion: Riverfront Festival going downtown

Blues In Motion: Riverfront Festival going downtown

Monica Brich

The annual Riverfront Blues Festival is moving away from the riverfront this year.

The event will be June 17-18 with headliners performing at The Majestic at 817 Garrison Ave. in downtown Fort Smith and other bands performing at Rooster’s, Hero’s and Kinkead’s.

This year’s artist lineup includes the Lucious Spiller Band, the Cate Brothers, Big A & the All Stars, Larry McCray, Chris and Lolly, Robert Kimbrough Sr., James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Wanda Watson, LaLa Craig and Oreo Blue, with many of them originating from Mississippi.

Brock Reather, president of the Riverfront Blues Society, says the festival has always been by the river, but this year the group decided to try something different.

“Like Beale Street has their avenue, and Austin has Sixth Street, and trying to combine some of the local businesses to it, versus just having it down at the river,” he says. “It just kind of made sense. And we’ve been rained out, we’ve been flooded out, we’ve had every act of God come against us during these festivals. It has literally cost us a ton of money. So we just thought we’d give it a shot and try it one time, and involve the other, local venues downtown and give them a chance to make money and flow the traffic through the avenue, as well.”

Bob Marsh, former president of the blues society, says the event started in 1991 with performances by local artists on a flatbed trailer. He says once a stage was built and Riverfront Park was expanded to what it is now, the festival was able to bring in bigger artists such as Keb’ Mo’, Buddy Guy and the Muddy Waters Blues Band.

“We normally would have down at the river about 1,000 to 1,500, but we’re going to move it downtown this year,” Marsh says. “Last year we weren’t sure we’d be able to have one, so we kind of put one together at the last minute and did it mostly regional. We had a free show, and just threw the gates open and let everybody come in and have a good time. We had about 500 down there for that each night.

“A lot of the bands that are playing [now], unless you’re a follower of the blues, you don’t really know who they are,” he adds. “All of the old ones that were campaigning earlier have either retired or passed away. So we’re just trying to get the word out to people to get them out. The music is good, no matter who’s playing. We just want people to come out and enjoy themselves.”

Reather says tickets for the artists performing at The Majestic are available for purchase online, with the other venues likely having entrance fees at the door.

“I think they’re going to try to take a $5 donation or anything at the door, just to kind of help for the performers,” he says.

“All the downtown venues, they’ve been super awesome about wanting to help and wanting to bring the traffic toward them,” he adds. “A lot of them are trying to cover their expenses, the bands’ expenses. Everybody has been a team player in this thing, we’ve just got to get the community to jump on board with this and understand that not everything can happen at the river. With the bad weather, it costs a lot of money to be wrong.”

“We do this for the downtown,” Marsh says. “Our mission is to promote the downtown, and to keep people aware of the uniquely American music style known as the blues. That’s part of our mission.

“We also give a couple of scholarships away, and help the Boys & Girls Club. We try to do our blues in the schools program, where we try to introduce the younger kids to the blues. It’s been tough the last few years because you couldn’t go into schools, so I’m hoping this fall they’ll relax that and let us back in. We’ll see what happens.”



Riverfront Blues Festival

WHEN — 7 p.m. June 17-18

WHERE — Majestic Fort Smith, 817 Garrison Ave., plus other downtown venues

COST — Armbands $20 one day; $30 both days


Categories: Music