words: Marla Cantrell images:courtesy venues
July, the month of independence, of hand-cranked ice cream and trips to the waterpark, to the nearest pool, or to the snow cone stand. But it’s also when three festivals rock downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Various locations in downtown Fort Smith
The excitement starts July 23, when The Unexpected mural festival gets underway. This is the event’s third year, and already it’s become the hallmark of downtown. A select number of mural artists from the U.S. and beyond will come to Fort Smith and spend a week adding art to some of our oldest buildings. Visitors use a map, either picked up at the festival’s pop-up shop on Tenth Street, or online, and go to the sites where the artists are working. Day by day, these murals grow, some as bright as rainbows, others as subtle as a sepia photograph. There are no barriers between the artists and the fans who watch them, making it an intimate experience. The artists paint, they sandblast, they work magic. There are sculptures as well.
The Unexpected is curated by JUSTKIDS and organized by 64.6 Downtown. Co-founder Claire Kolberg has watched excitement build since the festival’s inception in 2015. “There have been several occasions where I’ve been around downtown and chatted up someone taking a photo of a mural to learn they came to Fort Smith from out of state specifically to check out The Unexpected,” Claire says. “That’s real impact.”
The Arkansas Tourism Department agrees. This year, it awarded the Henry Community Tourism Development Award to The Unexpected. Because of the festival, those who live and work in Fort Smith, get to see world-class art every day. “The most photographed title is held strong by D*Face’s 2015 ‘Trail of Tears’ on Fifth and Garrison, and followed closely by Guido Van Helten’s triptych, at OK Foods, in 2016.” Claire says, “The artworks are all so different that it’s hard to pinpoint the favorite – it’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
Some have asked if the city chips in to bring The Unexpected to town. The answer is no. All the money raised is through donations and fundraising.
Peacemaker Music and Arts Festival
Riverfront Park, 121 Riverfront Drive, Fort Smith
Last year, the Peacemaker Fest drew in 8,000 music and art lovers. Attend this year and you’ll find everything from artwork to sculpture to jewelry, as well as live music spanning several genres. (See website for pricing.) Headliners are Gov’t Mule, and Jamey Johnson.
Gov’t Mule has a new album, The Tel-Star Sessions, remixed from demos made in 1994, in Florida. At that time, the group was a side project for Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, who were on a break from their work with the Allman Brothers Band. They’ve recorded fifteen albums, performed thousands of times, and have a devoted following.
The Washington Post calls Jamey Johnson “one of the greatest country singers of our time.” He’s earned two Song of the Year Awards from the CMA and ACMs.
North Mississippi Allstars began in 1996 with brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson. Their blues-rock album Prayer for Peace shares a message of positivity, family, and hope.
Singer-songwriter Hayes Carll says his music isn’t about getting on the radio. Instead, he plays from the heart, using the lessons he’s learned to tell a story his audiences love.
Natalie Stovall and her band, The Drive, spend a lot of time on the road. She’s a Tennessee native who’s played everywhere from the White House to The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Andy Frasco & the U.N., from California, have been described as infectious, entertaining, and feel-good.
Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube make up the Austin duo, The Greyhounds. Their newest album is blues and R&B-laced rock and roll.
Split Lip Rayfield, from Kansas, have been around for two decades, playing music that mixes acoustic bluegrass, country vocals, metal, and punk.
After two nights of music, the Peacemaker Fest will end with their signature “Praise God and Pass the Biscuits” event at the Riverfront Pavilion on Sunday, July 30. Beginning at 10am, local churches and community leaders will feed anyone who shows up. The brunch includes live gospel choirs and inspirational speakers.
Art on the Border
Blue Lion, 101 North Second Street, Fort Smith
Art on the Border features more than thirty artists and artisans from across the region. They’ll be at the Blue Lion Gallery, with their paintings, pottery, hand-blown glass, baskets, jewelry, ceramics and more. The show is free to attend, and all artwork will be for sale.
The list is impressive and includes artists Do South® has profiled in the past, including Dell Eddins, Sydney Clayton, and to our great joy, Dr. Kris Gast. The remaining roster is: Steve Brewster, Jeanne Rorex Bridges, Lorrie Bridges, Elisa Cossey Brock, Theresa Cates, Lisa Jan-Bohne’ Clay, Rebecca Dunn, Linda Faber, Josephine Fugett, Sara Galbach, David Gates, Angela Green, Jane Hartfield, Stephen Holmes, Helen Howerton, Ed Importante, Just For Pearls, Suzanne King, Jimmy Leach, Maggie Malloy, Marsha Martin, Julie Mayser, Ling Ling Moorman, Rhee Reamy, Sherrell Rodgers, Teresa Schlabach, Mac Werthmuller, Anna Sue Wilcox, Saber Woodard, and Bob and Virginia Wright.
Funds raised from the show will benefit the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House, U.S. Marshals Museum, and The Center for Arts and Education Van Buren.