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Huge crowds for 2017 Foothills Festival

The Foothills Festival continued its second and final day with continued success, impressing officials and visitors alike with its quality performances and variety of activities.

After a tremendous success on Friday night, garnering comparisons to a major block party, the day kicked off again at noon with a smaller by still impressive number of people.

The day began somewhat warm, but overcast skies soon arrived, and a few raindrops could be felt in early afternoon. However, cooler air also came with those clouds, if but briefly. The weather grew warmer during the afternoon, with no outburst from the skies.

While the crowds were smaller than the peak on Friday night, the early afternoon numbers still looked good to observers.

“Us being the opening act, I was surprised at the crowd already here,” said Neville Bearden of Shelby County. He performs bass and vocals for the band De'Ja Blue, which performed from noon to 1 p.m. He was energetic, pleased and amazed in his reaction.

“It’s a tremendous crowd! This is a big function!” he said. “I’ve heard about it for years. This is an opportunity for us to get back up here to play. And — gosh, what a crowd! And it’s only noon! This is tremendous.”

The crowds only got bigger as the afternoon progressed, mirroring what happened on Friday. The early afternoon featured local talent. Starting late in the afternoon, the line up included John Paul White, Muddy Magnolias, North Mississippi Allstars and the highly anticipated Spin Doctors. The Spin Doctors took to the stage after 9 p.m. in front of a crowd of thousands.

Singer John Paul White, who played to a large receptive crowd late Saturday afternoon, thanked the crowd for being quiet and attentive. “That’s a very beautiful thing. We don’t take that for granted,” he said, before introducing his tour manager, former Jasper resident Maggie Mitchell, standing on ground level right of the stage. “Thank you for letting us borrow her for a while.” He then launched into “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” which led some in the crowd to quietly sing along.

The fans were also delighted in the festival, too.

“The music has been a lot better than I expected it to be, for it to be just like a small town,” said Karl Hallmon of Oakman. “It’s to the point I can’t get my granny to leave. And the food is real good. I’m really impressed by it. I wasn’t expecting there to be this many booths.”

Another visitor, Jennifer Winholtz of Oak Grove, said just after the White concert, “I think (the festival) is awesome. I like that it is free and its quality music. It’s free but still quality.”

For Jasper Special Events Coordinator Lisa Myers, Friday and Saturday could be excused for morphing together in her mind. She said Saturday that she left downtown at about 12:45 p.m. and returned at about 5:30 a.m. or so to greet additional vendors who were setting up from 6 until 8 a.m.

Myers was seen at 1 p.m. walking up 19th Street, taking phone calls and doing additional work. However, she said her biggest activity was in talking to people and vendors on the streets, getting input.

“I’ve not heard any complaints,” she said, noting some vendors and non-profits had been complimentary. “All I’ve heard is good.

She said the only need she had noted was perhaps the need for more electricity for some of the booths, but she would know more over the coming week.

Debra Nix, the head of the Jasper Animal Shelter, noted, “We’ve had a ton of people” to see the caged animals in a pocket park on 19th Street, as well as one “pet and play pen” for young children to play with puppies. She said the young children have loved the petting area, which demonstrates how friendly the potential pets are.

Many people came Friday night when it was almost too dark to see the animals, yet so many lined up in front of the pens that one would have had trouble seeing the animals anyway, Nix said.

“We’ve had one adoption so far,” she said in the early afternoon. “We’ve had quite a big of interest that we feel will lead to adoptions by next week, if not by the end of the day. It’s a big event for us.”

The shelter was also displaying animals at Tractor Supply that day and would at one point in the afternoon be bringing those animals to the festival area

At 1:30 p.m., Jasper Mayor David O’Mary was still raving about Friday night.

“Last night was as close to perfection as you could hope to get,” he said. “We had a big crowd. Some people have ventured to guess 3,000 to 4,000 people. I don’t really know. We had a lot of people here. We really didn’t have an estimate.” 

He said visitors enjoyed the music that night, adding the entertainment went well.

“Things have just been clicking along. I think we will see that through the afternoon, the evening and tonight,” O’Mary said. “The organization is good.” The sponsors also did a good job, he said.

“I am optimistic that this Foothills will rank with many we’ve had in the past,” he said.

 The mayor said the food vendors showed “good diversity.” He said one significant improvement has been in this area, noting past organization there drew a good bit of criticism that was justified.

 

 “We talked a good bit about it at city hall,” he said. “What we did, we identified the various types of food vendors that we would like to have, and I think there was five of them. We put those slots out for bid. The person or company that bid the most got the slots. It’s fair and that has worked. The feedback I am getting from the food vendors is that they have been very pleased with the volume of business they have had, so that has been an improvement.”

O’Mary, who noted this is the first time he has been involved with the festival as an elected officials since he took office late last year, said he was pleased but added that he knows ways exist to always improve the event.

“I have yet to hear a single complaint,” he said. “When you have this many people and no complaints, you have to feel like everything is going OK.”

City Planner Keith Pike agreed. “For the most part, I think everything ran problem free, other than being hot. If the clouds would hang around, it would be nice.” He said only minor complaints that one typically associates with a festival have been registered.

Meanwhile, a number of public safety officials were seen roaming throughout the festival, including police officers, some on bicycles. Booths were set up by gubernatorial candidate Mark Johnston, sheriff candidate Nick Smith and superintendent candidates Jason Adkins and Joel Hagood. Restaurants appeared to still do good businesses, and the children’s area remained busy. A number of non-profits were seen on Saturday, including Bevill State Community College, Camp McDowell and the American Red Cross.

Vendors were pleased with the results.

“We’ve had a few people come up and ask about some items,” said Tracy Handley of Jasper of Thirty-One Gifts.

Jenny Odom of Shop Stevie with Jenny had a booth next to Twisted Barley Brewing Co.

“This is my first year to have a for-profit booth instead of a non-profit booth and my first year being at this end” of the street, she said. “It’s been really busy down here. It’s been really good. It’s been very steady, and I’m very pleased. It’s good weather, too, and I think that has made a difference, too.”

At the Alabama Sweet Tea Co. booth, Connor Farricker of Montgomery said, “It’s been really good. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a good crowd and a good environment. The other vendors have been real good. It’s a fun event. We love it. It’s been busy the whole time. It’s very constant. It’s been very good for us.”

While the big stage featured music into the afternoon and night, it was not the only place to find music. Restoration Hall featured artists in the morning and afternoon. Griff Waid was found playing a set in the early afternoon to a small but faithful crowd of listeners.

Reprinted from the Daily Mountain Eagle



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