WIN TICKETS: For one lucky Free Weekly reader, Blues in the Natural State attendance is on us. Get a chance to win two weekend passes and a gift certificate to Jose’s? by emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) or texting (479-387-8794) your name and favorite musician on the line-up (www.ozarkbluessociety.org) by March 28. Winner announced March 31.
By Terrah Baker
For three years organizers of Blues in the Natural State Music Festival have been attempting to grow their event to reach more of the fans that love the genre. Last year they grew from a one day event to a two-day, the true mark of a music festival. This year, they’ve grown even more — from two to three days, with new events, locations and bigger headliners to promote the festival and the music it encompasses.
The festival has continued to grow this year thanks to a partnership with the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau that will make Blues in the Natural State an important part of the 2014’s first First Thursday on the Fayetteville square. The theme for First Thursday is going to revolve around the festival that’s happening the following two nights, including a fun blues segment just for kids. Organizer Roger Plourde said the kids’ event will be interactive and fun, to get kids involved and familiar with the genre.
After the kids stage, Thursday will feature renowned acts like headliner Samantha Fish — who has blown fans away with her strong voice and understanding of the genre, all at the age of 24 — and 2013 Blue’s Challenge winners.
“[Samantha Fish is part of] a trio, and it’s sort of high energy, rock blues. Once she starts playing all of the questions people have in their minds go away,” Plourde said.
They were also able to put together an International Blue’s Challenge winner showcase for Saturday at the 324 Ballroom in Fayetteville, which will feature three international winners in the solo category. Ozark Blues Society winners who went on to the competition will also be featured, along with 2009 solo winner Joe McLaren from Tulsa, then 2012 winner Ray Bonneville.
The goal on Saturday is to hit festival goers with three venues, but steer people back to George’s Majestic Lounge on Dickson that night for the headlining musicians Tab Benoit, Royal Southern Brotherhood and more.
Organizers wanted to help bring the festival to communities outside of Fayetteville, so a few weeks ago, the Blues Society and the Wal-mart Museum in downtown Bentonville cosponsored a free concert/festival preview featuring Bonneville. They’ll be holding a similar concert on April 2, the night before the festival begins, by joining forces with Downtown Benvonville Inc. at the 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, featuring McLaren.
The other way organizers have to look at future growth is through a financial lens. Luckily, they’ve received significant sponsorship from Wal-mart and the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, that’s helped them with bringing in higher level headliners and spend more money on advertising and promoting the event in local media.
Based on the number of ticket sales a few years ago, about 500 people attended the event. Last year, they estimated that number grew to 800 over two days. Their goal this year is 1,200 tickets sold. With the limited size of the event space, they have to cut off ticket sales at 600 per day. While the indoor festival atmosphere doesn’t lend itself to huge crowds, Plourde said it’s one of the things that sets them apart.
“In a lot of ways a smaller venue makes for a more intimate evening or show,” he said.
Plourde said he attributes some specific things to the growth of the festival in such a short period of time: top notch blues performers with a very specific following, and the excitement that’s created around that.
“There are people that are coming to the festival that follow Tab Benoit. Whenever he’s in the area and it’s remotely possible for them to come and see him, they’re always there. The Cate Brothers, they don’t play out all that frequently, so when they do they have a very strong following of people in NWA that go out to see them,” Plourde said.
He explained that the festival would not be possible without their sponsors, especially Wal-mart, Fayetteville A and P, First Security Bank and Telecom of Bentonville, among many others.
To learn more about the festival and to purchase tickets, visit www.ozarkbluessociety.org.