There will be a festival this summer, and it will take place in downtown Mount Vernon.
Organizers issued a press release Monday night announcing that this year’s festival will proceed as planned on Aug. 8-11. The Saturday night headliner will be Lee Greenwood, who played in front of a sold-out crowd in 2017.
2019 will serve as a transition year, organizers stated, as the festival board will be gathering public input to prepare for a rebrand in 2020.
“The festival is part of our community and we want it to continue,” board chair Joe Rinehart said. “We do, however, think it’s time to re-evaluate the festival and what it means to everyone. We are in the process of preparing a survey to collect feedback from the community about things such as length of the festival, location, name, etc. The festival belongs to everyone and we want to ensure the rebranding reflects our community and the rich music and arts available, present and past.”
After longtime festival co-directors Pat and Sandy Crow announced their resignation from the festival on April 26, current board members and community leaders joined forces to make sure Mount Vernon’s 31-year tradition stayed alive.
The festival board has since been reorganized; according to Monday’s press release, the executive committee now consists of Rinehart, chair; Liz Lutwick, vice chair; Trina Trainor, secretary; and Heather Brayshaw, treasurer. Alyssa Lawrence, Rodney Cheek, and Mayor Richard Mavis round out the board at this time.
The festival’s website is undergoing updates and will be finished soon, the press release said. Organizers also created a new logo for this year’s festival, which brings a fresh look while staying true to the event’s musical roots.
Festival organizers had to assemble quickly to make this year’s festival a reality. Pat Crow told Mavis after his resignation that organizers would need to begin planning within “the next couple of weeks” if they wished to continue the tradition this summer.
Organizers faced significant pressure to keep the festival going, in any form, this summer. Taking a year off could have severely damaged the festival’s momentum, Mavis noted, leading to a drop in attendance and overall popularity.
Mavis said after Monday night’s city council meeting that he was proud of the community for rallying together to keep the festival alive.
"I feel very good about what's happening and where we are going,” the mayor said.
Festival organizers plan to make future announcements about this year’s festival on its Facebook page. There will also be an online community survey soon, where the public can share its thoughts on the future of the festival.
While Mavis mentioned the idea of taking the festival out of downtown Mount Vernon in recent interviews, he told Knox Pages Monday that there seems to be momentum heading in the opposite direction.
"From the discussion I heard ... as we move forward, I think the feeling is still to have it in the downtown area,” he said.
Mavis believes there will be more collaboration between the festival and downtown merchants in the future, which will be key for the festival’s future there.
"One of the things pointed out to me is that the committee that existed, but never really met, could have done a better job of communicating with the downtown merchants," he said. "I get the feeling that the new board will have a different philosophy. I think they will try and embrace more people with more cooperation.”
Kim Weitkamp, owner of The Makery and Main Street Makers Market, said the new festival board has already made efforts to include downtown business owners in planning conversations.
“I know for a fact, the merchants are thrilled it will be downtown this year,” said Weitkamp, speaking on behalf of Mount Vernon’s downtown merchants. “We are excited that there is a restructuring, excited to see what the future will hold, and we’ve also been asked to have a voice within the committee, so that’s very exciting because the merchants really believe in what the festival can do for Mount Vernon.”
The festival greatly benefits downtown businesses each year, Weitkamp said, as it oftentimes prompts people to return to the district after seeing it in August.
“Anything that makes people come into town, whether they’re local or from farther away, is good because then they can see the shops and the restaurants that are there,” she said. “And when they decide to go away for a day trip or even take a drive in the future – and I’ve actually had people say this to me, ‘Well we were here for this, saw how cute it was and came back another time just to walk around and eat.’
“So it brings commerce and some people even spend the night at the hotels, and they eat and they shop. And even if they don’t do that during the festival, it at least brings awareness to what is downtown for future visits, so it’s a ripple effect.”
The Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival began in 1988 in downtown Mount Vernon as a way of bringing the community together through cultural expression. Through years of hard work, including 21 under the Crows’ leadership, the festival blossomed into Knox County’s second-biggest annual event, behind the fair. Crow estimated that 20,000 people attend the four-day festival each year, filling Mount Vernon’s downtown corridor to watch local performers of all ages.
The schedule for this year’s festival will be announced in the near future. Those interested in discussing sponsorship opportunities can contact Trina Trainor at 740-485-9185.
Correspondent Cheryl Splain contributed reporting to this story.