Riverfront Blues Festival and Bordertown Brew Fest


words: Marla Cantrell
images: courtesy Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Festival

The Riverfront Blues Festival is a two-day event that will take place on June 23-24 at Harry E. Kelley Park, 121 Riverfront Drive in downtown Fort Smith. More than 100 volunteers make sure things run smoothly. Buy tickets at the gate, and be sure to bring sunscreen, lawn chairs, and blankets. Food trucks will be on site, as well as stations for drinks. Admission is $15 per day, $25 per weekend. Kids twelve and under get in FREE with an adult. No pets allowed.



Friday, beginning at six in the evening, the music starts with the Willie Stradlin Duo, JP Soars and the Red Hots, and The Cate Brothers.


Arkansas’ Willie Stradlin Duo have been together since 2005, and are heavily influenced by Red Dirt music, southern rock, and blues. Their newest album showcases original blues songs.


JP Soars and the Red Hots have played twice at this blues fest. JP is a Crawford County native, and in 2008 he and his band won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. They’ve played all over the world and have a faithful following.


The Cate Brothers, twin brothers from Northwest Arkansas, Earl and Ernie Cate, have one of the richest histories of any band in the south, performing for nearly fifty years. The two were inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2016.



On Saturday, the fun begins at 5:30pm. Bands playing are Goodluck Slim, Oreo Blue, Kenny Neal, and Jesse Dean and Left of Center.


River Valley musicians, Goodluck Slim, are excited to bring their four-piece band to the Blues Fest. You’ve likely heard them on Garrison Avenue, or playing Warren’s Rec Room in Alma. Always a hit!


For more than twenty years, local band Oreo Blue has been playing and recording the blues. They’re so talented it’s predicted this performance will be the “perfect storm of the blues.”


Kenny Neal, who lives in Baton Rouge, joined Buddy Guy’s band at age 17. His sizzling guitar work, sturdy harp, and gravelly, aged-beyond-his-years vocals, earned him multiple Blues Music Award nominations and a Grammy nomination.


Northwest Arkansas’s band, Jesse Dean and Left of Center, recently released their album, Arkansas Amplifier. Their high energy and original music electrifies crowds wherever they play.


More fun at Harry E. Kelley Park in downtown Fort Smith gets underway on July 8. The Bordertown Brew Fest (Ales for Trails) is a family-friendly event that includes beer tasting for those twenty-one and older, a kids’ area that includes root beer tasting, as well as games like ring toss.


While the big draw is the 250 craft brews available to sample, many come just to hear the live music. This year, the Jillia Jackson Band, the Escape Tones, and Space 4 Lease will be performing.


Food trucks will be on site to offer something for every taste, and vendors like bike companies and Fayettechill will have kiosks where you can shop, and many will be giving away promotional items.


There’s also a baggo/cornhole tournament, a 3.11-mile Beer Fun Run, life-size beer pong, a cooling area where you can escape the heat, and a chance to give back. Proceeds from the festival will be donated to Park Partners, a non-profit that supports the continuation of trails in the city.


Last year, in its inaugural event, the group raised $22,000. One thousand people attended; this year they expect that number to rise to 2,000.


Bordertown Brew Fest Ales for Trails Details:


•General Admission – $10 – Access to Harry E. Kelley Park, 121 Riverfront Drive, and concerts. Kids five and younger get in free with parents.

•Brew Pass – $35 – Admission and access to the craft beer tasting tent.

•VIP Brew Pass – $75 – Admission, access to the craft beer tasting tent, plus access to ultra-rare craft beer tent with chef prepared appetizers and backstage passes.

•Beer Fun Run – $10 – Beer Fun Run race registration. Does not include access to the beer festival.

•Only service dogs with documentation will be allowed into the festival.

•Visit brewfestfs.com until July 7 for registration and event tickets. Tickets can also be purchased on the day of  the festival at the gate.


Drink responsibly! Never drink and drive.

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