words: Marla Cantrell
image: courtesy Kathy Lumpkins
For forty-two years, downtown Van Buren, Arkansas, has hosted its Old Timers Day Festival, an event that celebrates the area’s past. This year, the festival, on April 28th and 29th, is getting a makeover, and going steampunk. If you’re not familiar with the word, it originated in the 1980s when like-minded individuals imagined a world that was a mesh of the Victorian era, the Industrial Revolution, and science fiction.
Artist and downtown Van Buren shop owner Kathy Lumpkins says the easiest way to explain steampunk is to think about what today would look like if we didn’t have electricity or the technology that stems from it. Invention would depend on brain power and imagination (think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Moving large objects would require steam power, fire, cogs and wheels.
As for fashion, steampunk is radiant with top hats and tails, corsets and ruffles. Kathy’s vintage shop, Key Lime Crush, features many steampunk items, from clothing she makes to lamps she designs with found objects. She’s thrilled about the new twist on the old festival and can’t wait for visitors to see it.
There will be performers at all five intersections of downtown
Main Street performing shows at one stop and then moving to the next so that everyone in the crowd gets a chance to see them. There will be several acts, including Irish sword dancers, fire dancers, stilt walkers, jugglers. Some come from far away, while others, including Sacred Somatics, a group from Fort Smith, will only have to travel a short distance.
While those acts are mobile, the nationally traveled steampunk sideshow from Tulsa, Carnival Epsilon, is set to perform on stage. And at the end of the street, Airship Iron Rose will wow the crowd not only with their act but with their life-size gondola bridge, where high-wire stunts take place, as well as tons of special effects.
Cedric Morley, a magician who does balloon art and face painting, is attending, as is Professor Jefferson Parker and his Penny Farthing Bike. All these performances are free. If that’s not enough to entice you, there will be a steampunk costume contest for you and your dog.
As for food, you can expect some traditional festival fare. But there are other adventurous choices, like the food truck from Miami that’s set to serve shrimp kabobs, jambalaya, and even mahi-mahi. Another is making drinks served in pineapples.
Of course, there will be traveling arts and crafts vendors with unique merchandise. The stores along Main Street will be open, as will downtown restaurants.
There are a few paid events. On Saturday from 5-7pm (after hours), there’s a tethered hot air balloon. A tea and panel discussion on all things steampunk is still being organized. There will be a workshop for making your own steampunk hat. And there will be horse and buggy rides.
Kathy believes the new twist on this old festival will bring in people of all ages and is perfect for everyone, from the littlest visitors to those who’ve attended every Old Timers Festival these past four decades.
Old Timers Day Steampunk Festival
Downtown Van Buren
April 28: 9am-5pm
April 29: 9am-4pm