Festivals and Events

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Entry Category: Festivals and Events

Greek Food Festival

aka: International Greek Food Festival
The Greek Food Festival, which is organized by the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County), is an annual three-day event that raises money for the church and for charities around Arkansas. In 2008, approximately 30,000 people attended to enjoy the food and entertainment. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox church was founded in 1913 and, a few years later, received an official church charter. By 1921, the members had their first building, at 15th and Center streets. For more than thirty years before they began the Greek Food Festival, members had a church pastry sale offering Greek food. The church moved to Napa Valley Drive in 1983 and began the first official Greek Food Festival that June. The one-day …

Hope Watermelon Festival

Hope (Hempstead County) annually celebrates its claim as the home of the world’s largest watermelons with a yearly watermelon festival. The event first originated in 1926 and has been ongoing, though not continuous, since 1977. There is no admission fee for the four-day event scheduled for the second week in August at Hope Fair Park. It is sponsored by the Hope–Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce. Activities include watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, fiddling, arm wrestling contests, as many as 200 vendors displaying their wares, and much more. The competition for growing big melons was a creation of John S. Gibson, who, in 1916, began to offer modest prizes for the largest vegetables and watermelons. Hugh and Edgar Laseter, local farmers, developed …

Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF)

The internationally recognized ten-day Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (HSDFF) takes place each October in Hot Springs (Garland County). It also maintains a year-round schedule of film-related activities. Since its inception in 1992, sponsored by the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, the HSDFF has become renowned as a prestigious venue for showing documentary films and attracting celebrities, filmmakers, and audiences from around the world. It bills itself as the oldest nonfiction film festival in North America. The festival has been awarded grant funding by organizations including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Deltic Timber, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. It also receives sponsorships from local businesses. The festival is a qualifying event …

Hot Springs Music Festival

The Hot Springs Music Festival is a non-profit organization whose dual mission is, first, to provide exceptionally talented young musicians with intensive mentoring to prepare them for the early stages of their professional careers, and, second, to have them share the music they make with people in central Arkansas. To fulfill its mission, the festival organization produces a two-week annual event by the same name every June in the historic downtown district of Hot Springs (Garland County). The festival was founded in 1995 by Richard Rosenberg, an orchestra conductor and music educator, and Laura Rosenberg, an arts administrator. Prior to founding the festival, Richard Rosenberg had been acting director of orchestras at the University of Michigan, associate conductor of the …

John Huddleston Day

Since 1984, Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro (Pike County) has been sponsoring John Huddleston Day to honor the discoverer of the first diamonds found in the area, John Huddleston. Hundreds of hopeful diamond hunters show up to take part in the activities and to try their luck at diamond mining. There were 1,322 paid admissions to the festival on June 16 and 17, 2006, along with 400 to 500 visitors taking part in the free activities and/or observing the festivities. In 1906, John Huddleston discovered diamonds in Pike County on his 160-acre farm located two and a half miles south of Murfreesboro. This is now the site of the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Beginning in 1984, the …

Johnny Cash Heritage Festival

The Johnny Cash Heritage Festival is an annual event held in Dyess (Mississippi County), the small town where Johnny Cash lived until he was eighteen years old. The festival, begun in October 2017, features several days of music, arts and crafts, scholarly lectures, and appearances by Cash family members and nationally known performers. The event is sponsored by the Cultural Heritage Program at Arkansas State University (ASU), headed by Dr. Ruth Hawkins. The festival is held in October, traditionally a month of good weather in northeastern Arkansas as well as the period when farmers are harvesting cotton. From 2011 to 2014, ASU held the Johnny Cash Music Festival in Jonesboro (Craighead County), featuring concerts by such country music luminaries as Rosanne …

Johnson County Peach Festival

The Johnson County Peach Festival arose from the area’s successful peach industry, which got its start in the 1890s. In 1893, James R. Tolbert and Johnson J. Taylor decided to purchase and grow Elberta peaches in Johnson County. Their success spread throughout the region into other states. In 1897, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company became interested in this rising industry and, after negotiations, created a partnership including the peach farmers, the county, and the railroad. Despite financial and environmental setbacks over the years, the industry thrived and became an integral part of the county. Plans for a peach festival were discussed as early as 1937, but no festival was held until the summer of 1938. The first festival was held at …

Jonquil Festival

The Jonquil Festival takes place the third weekend of March each year at Historic Washington State Park in Washington (Hempstead County). Along with people from surrounding communities, it attracts visitors from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma who are eager to see the flowers, the crafts, and a culturally significant historic park covering the period from early settlement to Reconstruction. In 1966, a small tour around town during the March blooming of the jonquils (a type of daffodil) was started. In 1967 or 1968, the tour was established for one weekend and named the Jonquil Trail. What was then called Old Washington Historic State Park was established in 1973, and the park took over what had, by then, become the Jonquil Festival. …

Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a celebration held during the month of June in Arkansas and throughout the nation to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration originated in Texas in 1865 to mark the date when the emancipation of slaves could finally be enforced by the Union army at one of the last outposts of formal chattel slavery. Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the actual emancipation of the slaves came on different dates in different regions. In Galveston, Texas, for instance, it was on June 19, 1865, that a regiment of Union soldiers arrived and were able to enforce the freedom of enslaved peoples. June 19 became a day of celebration in …

King Biscuit Blues Festival

aka: Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival
The first weekend in October, the Mississippi River town of Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), about seventy miles southwest of Memphis, Tennessee, becomes a thriving community of blues musicians and their fans, gathered to celebrate the King Biscuit Blues Festival. The festival grounds now lie along a levee, but during the early years, the festival was held on the back of a flatbed truck in front of an old train depot, which is now a museum and the site of the Delta Cultural Center on Cherry Street. Cherry Street, which parallels the Mississippi River, is a National Historic District and the historic commercial center of the town. What began in 1986 as a one-day event with a crowd of 500 has …

Lepanto Terrapin Derby

The Lepanto Terrapin Derby is a festival that has been held in Lepanto (Poinsett County) every year since 1930. It occurs on the first Saturday in October on Main Street. The Terrapin Derby was the creation of the Willie Lamb Post 26 of the American Legion, which designed it as a fundraiser for its various community projects. It was originally called the Annual American Legion Turtle Derby. Turtle racers were charged an entry fee, and the top three finishers shared in a cash prize. The turtles raced down a sixty-foot course toward a finish line that was lined with slices of watermelon. Delta residents, desperate for a diversion of any kind during the Great Depression, gathered their entrants and flocked …

Lindbergh Day

aka: Guggenheim Tour
Not long after Charles Lindbergh completed his successful transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, France, he returned to the United States and toured ninety-two cities in forty-eight states. His flight tour began on July 20, 1927, at Mitchel Field in New York, and ended at Mitchel Field on October 23, 1927. His landing in Little Rock (Pulaski County) at the Little Rock Airport (now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport) on October 1 and the following festivities marked one of the biggest events in the city’s history to that point. Lindbergh’s tour was officially known as the Guggenheim Tour, as it was financed by industrialist and multi-millionaire Daniel Guggenheim. Guggenheim, and his son Harry, were proponents of aviation …

Little Miss Arkansas Pageant

The Little Miss Arkansas Pageant was one of the first children’s beauty and talent pageants for young girls in the state. The Little Miss Arkansas Pageant was founded in 1979 by Barbara Johnson of Hot Springs (Garland County). She had followed the Miss Arkansas Pageant for many years and consulted with Bob Wheeler, then the director of the Miss Arkansas Pageant, who encouraged her to establish something similar for young girls. The pageant was first held at the Ramada Inn in downtown Hot Springs but moved to the Hot Springs Convention Center in 2001. The pageant started with four age groups: Tiny, Petite, Pre-Teen, and Teen, adding the Baby division in 1982. The pageant is open to any Arkansas girl …

Little Rock Marathon

The Little Rock Marathon, the largest marathon in the state, began in 2003 with 2,527 registered participants and has grown to well over 10,000 runners and walkers as of 2013. It is traditionally held each year on the first Sunday of March. The course begins in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County) and runs through the River Market District and Quapaw Quarter District, and then by the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park, Little Rock City Hall, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Philander Smith College, Central High School, the Arkansas State Capitol, and Murray Park before reaching the finish line in Riverfront Park. The Little Rock Marathon began in 2003 as a fundraiser for the City of Little Rock’s …

Malvern Brickfest

The Malvern Brickfest commemorates the importance of bricks to the history of the city of Malvern (Hot Spring County). Abundant clay in the vicinity makes it a prime location for brick production, and, since 1887, the industry has played a leading role in the area’s economic development. Beginning in 1981, Malvern has recognized and celebrated that fact with a community festival each summer. In 1980, three brick companies were manufacturing in the city and nearby Perla (Hot Spring County), with Acme Brick Company having just upgraded its operation by opening a new plant in Malvern. At that time, the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce declared the city to be the “Brick Capital of the World,” and, the following year, …

Miss Arkansas Pageant

The Miss Arkansas Pageant officially began in 1939, though two competitions before that year set the stage for the pageant. The pageant is Arkansas’s preliminary for the Miss America Pageant, which began in 1921. Forty-five smaller pageants lead up to the crowning of Miss Arkansas. The competition is managed by a non-profit organization and co-sponsored by the Miss Arkansas Scholarship Foundation, Inc. The first winner of the pageant was Vivian Ferguson. However, she was later disqualified for being married, and the competition was halted until 1938, when the winner was Lorene Bailey. The next year, for the first time, the winner of the pageant was sent to compete in the Miss America pageant, thus marking the official beginning of the Miss …

National Championship Chuckwagon Races

The National Championship Chuckwagon Race is held every Labor Day weekend at Dan and Peggy Eoff’s ranch in Clinton (Van Buren County). Spectators from across the United States travel to the small town nestled in the Ozark Mountains to see the largest outdoor chuckwagon race in the country. The chuckwagon is associated with Charles Goodnight, who designed the first wagon to follow the cattle trails in the 1800s. Stories hold that, at the end of the cattle drive, the cowhands would collect their pay, pack up their supplies, and race into town. Legend has it that the last one there had to buy the first round of drinks for all. The races were started in 1986 when Dan and Peggy …

Oil Town Festival

Smackover’s Oil Town Festival, which is held the third weekend in June, is one of the state’s oldest festivals and attracts more than 10,000 visitors each year. The first festival was held in 1971 and was sponsored by the Smackover Chamber of Commerce and Lions Club. The year 1971 was the fifty-year anniversary of the Busey No. 1 well, which was being celebrated in neighboring El Dorado, so the town of Smackover (Union County) organized a celebration of the Smackover oil field discovery well, the Richardson No. 1. Over the years, the festival has grown in size and events and has changed locations to accommodate the growth. Originally held in downtown Smackover, the festival has moved to Tennyson Park, which …

Old Folks’ Singing

What became known as Old Folks’ Singing started on May 17, 1885, with the dedication of a new Methodist church and cemetery in Tull (Grant County). The event was multi-denominational, with the entire community participating in the singing and midday dinner. The annual event, which celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2010, is held in Tull at the Ebenezer United Methodist Church on the third Sunday in May. It is believed to be the oldest continuous singing day held west of the Mississippi River. While the shape-note system of learning music is no longer part of Old Folks’ Singing, the musical heritage of the event can be traced back to the shape-note singing popular in New England and moving to rural …

Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair

aka: War Eagle Fair
The Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair (a.k.a. War Eagle Fair) is an arts and crafts festival held each October. The event takes place on historic War Eagle Mills Farm, seventeen miles east of Rogers (Benton County). The fair, begun in 1954, grew out of an exhibition hosted by a local handweavers guild and into an institution that some have described as the “granddaddy of craft fairs.” Each year, hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of visitors flock to this rural community in the northwest corner of the state. Throughout its history, the fair has served as a major economic stimulus within the state and contributed thousands of dollars to scholarship funds at major universities and colleges throughout Arkansas. The War Eagle …

Ozark Foothills FilmFest

The Ozark Foothills FilmFest takes place in Batesville (Independence County) and was established in 2001 by Bob and Judy Pest. The Pests had previously operated the City Movie Center in Kansas City, Missouri, for seven years. The festival soon became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to excellence and accessibility in the media arts. The festival supports and encourages Arkansas filmmakers and strives to serve the people of north-central Arkansas. The first festival in 2002 had Arkansas native and musical icon Levon Helm as the headliner; more than 300 people attended a concert he gave. At the historic Melba Theater, festival goers also watched several films in which he appeared. Helm spoke to the audience and encouraged them to help the festival succeed, which …

Ozark Golden Wedding Jubilee

The Ozark Golden Wedding Jubilee was a commemoration of couples who had been married fifty years, during which they reaffirmed their wedding vows. Taking place in 1949 and 1950 in Rogers (Benton County) and hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, the celebration was open to couples across the country and featured a recently married honor couple at both June events. The day of June 23, 1949, marked the first golden wedding event, at which seventy-eight couples celebrated their renewed vows. Married the preceding Wednesday during the Bride and Groom radio broadcast in Hollywood, California, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Tandy Gardner of Seattle, Washington, both pre-med students at the University of Washington, were the honor couple, awarded a week’s honeymoon in …

Pea Ridge Mule Jump and Show

The Pea Ridge Mule Jump is an annual event held each autumn in Pea Ridge (Benton County). Each year on the second Saturday in October, spectators come from Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma to enjoy this unique competition. In 2008, the crowd numbered more than 1,000. Mule jumping events occur mostly in the South. Mule jumping originally began when raccoon hunters taught their mules to jump fences on hunts. The riders dismounted, climbed over the fence, placed a blanket on the fence so the mule could see it, and urged their mules to jump over. The Pea Ridge Mule Jump began when local resident Colonel Negel Hall, along with his friend Don Shockley from Powell, Missouri, set up the event …