Cabotfest, an annual celebration hosted by the city of Cabot (Lonoke County), was first held in 1978 to commemorate the city’s recovery from a devastating tornado that struck in the spring of 1976. Since its founding, the festival has become Lonoke County’s largest, attracting thousands of visitors each year.

On March 29, 1976, five citizens of Cabot died in an early afternoon tornado that also destroyed a large portion of the business sector. As the town neared complete recovery, local officials decided to organize a celebration for the fall of 1978. Committees, under the direction of local banker James M. Park, organized the event and chose the phrase “Cabot, We’re Back” as the festival theme.

It was decided that the festival should coincide with the high school homecoming, with the first festival being held on the last weekend in September. The inaugural festival began with a Friday afternoon parade in downtown, followed that night with a spaghetti supper, the high school homecoming football game with Bryant High School, and post-game receptions held in several locations. A typical festival with food vendors, music, an art show, a talent show, and other activities opened early Saturday in downtown with special events for children. The second night of the festival concluded with street dances.

Sunday, the third day of the festival, was a day of commemoration and remembrance of the losses from the tornado. Early in the afternoon, citizens gathered in front of the newly constructed Cabot Community Services Center (now the Willie Ray Cabot Community Service Center) to reflect on the past and to dedicate the new building. Music was provided by school band members and choral groups, followed by the official dedication speeches with Governor David Pryor as the keynote. The first Cabotfest concluded with the dedication.

In subsequent years, it became apparent that scheduling Cabotfest on the same weekend as the high school homecoming was problematic. While vendors and other participants in the festival were required to make their schedules months in advance, the homecoming was based on the school football schedule that was usually not set until the spring. After a few years, the festival was officially set for the second Friday and Saturday in October. The festival, which today is held over two days in downtown Cabot, has grown both in the number of available activities and the number of visitors, though it no longer features a parade. The festival attracts more than 20,000 visitors each year.

For additional information:
“Celebration Plans Continuing.” Cabot Star Herald, September 1, 1978, p. 1.

“It’s the Biggest Event the Town Has Ever Had.” Cabot Star Herald, September 29, 1978, p. 1.

“‘We’re Back’ is Theme of Planned Celebration.” Cabot Star Herald, August 18, 1978, second section, p. 1.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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