MOUNT VERNON – Less than a month after Pat Crow resigned from his role as the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival’s longtime director, festival board members and city leaders are working to make sure the 31-year tradition continues.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis told Knox Pages “there is a lot of discussion taking place kind of behind the scenes,” and that a group of community leaders met at City Hall last Thursday to discuss a possible path forward.
Joe Rinehart, a current festival board member, was one of the people in that group. He said city officials, such as Mavis and councilman Matt Starr, and the Knox County Commissioners will likely play a “critical” role in planning for the future of the festival.
“I can tell you that right now, there are good conversations going on about the festival – what I would call positive conversations – but nothing is set or ready to be announced yet,” Rinehart said.
Rinehart hopes the festival board will be ready to announce plans after Memorial Day.
Given the timing of Crow’s departure, those involved with moving the festival forward will need to move quickly. Crow told Mavis a little over a week ago that, if the festival were to be organized “within the next couple of weeks… you could still have an event.” A longtime festival board member told Mavis the same thing last week.
“They said nothing has happened up to this point,” Mavis said, “but she felt that if something came forward and moved ahead, she thought the committee chairs could pull their groups together in a pretty short time.”
So far, no talent has been booked for this year’s festival. Mavis doubts the festival will be able to attract big-name bands from outside Knox County due to time constraints – the Saturday night headliner was typically announced by now, he noted – but festival organizers might still be able to sign local talent.
While planning is still in the early stages, Mavis hinted at the idea that Ariel-Foundation Park might work as a location for the festival this year. This would cut down on traffic concerns, as the city previously had to block off its entire downtown corridor for four days while the festival ran its course.
Mavis said he and Crow had been in discussions over the last “two or three years” about possibly changing the location of the festival. Downtown Mount Vernon has changed over the years, and Mavis believes merchants “no longer embrace [the festival] with a great deal of enthusiasm.”
“Of course, a lot of the businesses that were there 25 years ago are no longer there,” Mavis added. “But I think if you do a survey downtown, I think those people have not been as supportive as businesses in the past.”
Festival organizers have also discussed changing the festival’s name, theme and time (potentially making it shorter), Mavis noted. Both he and Rinehart view this as a transition year for the festival, potentially leading to a new-look event in years to come.
“People get tired of the same old thing,” Mavis said. “So I think the group now, and I think there are other people that have had that discussion about, is it time to evolve into something else?”
Regardless of what form the festival takes, Mavis said it will be important to have something this year. If the festival takes a year off, Mavis said, it may never recover. He saw this phenomenon first-hand while running Mavis Sporting Goods back in the 1990s.
“We were running a five-mile run in the early days of the festival – we had built it up, too, because it was always on the same weekend. And one year, my insurance company came and said, ‘You know, because of the way insurance is right now, I’m not sure, if something would happen to a runner on a course, that you’d have coverage.’ So I cancelled it,” Mavis said.
“Well, we came back the next year, when they got the insurance straightened out again, and we had 125 people. When I began to talk to people about what happened to the 500 that we had, the answer was the same: ‘You didn’t have it last year, so people went other places.’ And I think the same thing is true with people who come to Mount Vernon, whether they come to eat pork chops or they come for the Saturday night, once that stops, then people do go other places and it’s difficult to get them back.”
The good news, Rinehart said, is there appears to be “plenty of buy-in” for festival and its continuation this year.
“It’s just a question of how we put it together,” he added.
While the future of the festival is still uncertain – especially as it pertains to the location, theme, time and name – both Mavis and Rinehart remain optimistic there will be an event in August. Mavis told the Mount Vernon News on Friday that he expects to have an event the weekend of Aug. 8-11, when the festival was originally scheduled to take place.
“I think it’s safe to say this year would probably be a bridge year to something that looks a little bit different in 2020,” Rinehart added. “But what that’ll look like? That’s yet to be determined.”