(September 2020) NEW ALBANY, Miss—Another weekend filled with music, friends, and family is in the books. The City of New Albany’s Tallahatchie Riverfest 2020, while small in attendance compared to last year’s event, was an outstanding event.
The community support for downtown merchants, restaurants, Main Street Marketplace vendors was obvious with folks perusing arts, crafts, and novelty items up and down Bankhead Street. Business owners welcomed shoppers and diners with SHOP the BLOCK and Riverfest deals, discounts, and give-a-ways.
A special online staged reading of, Untethered written by Judy Klass, was organized by Magnolia Civic Center manager, Emily Draffen. The piece was the 2019’s winning one-act play in the Union County Museum’s William Faulkner Literary.
While this year’s BNA Bank Tallahatchie RiverRun was cancelled, New Albany Firefighters did run the route in the cool of the early morning, with US Flag in hand.
Park Along the River was bustling with food vendors, live music, Friends and Family Play All Day, and NERF wars. Southern Soul & Co, a local group comprised of native New Albanians, opened the evening at the Riverview Stage and played a great set with songs like Proud Mary, The Thrill is Gone, and Tell Mama. HlsBebotis, a rap artist from the area, brought rhythmic lyrics to the stage followed by Shameless All-Star Country Band from Tupelo that entertained with classics as they set the mood for headliner Steve Azar.
Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud said she was pleased with this weekend’s Tallahatchie RiverFest despite limitations caused by the corona virus pandemic.
“It was a good event,” she said. “I was real pleased with our local talent.”
Stroud said people liked Southern Soul and it was good to give an aspiring rap artist like Hls Bebotis a boost. “Of course our two headliners, Shameless and Steve Azar, were tops,” she added.
She was mystified by one common misunderstanding, however.
“People don’t get it, that this is a free event,” she said. Stroud received numerous calls about ticket prices for the concert despite that it has been publicized as free – and has essentially been free for the past 23 years.
“Of course the Kids Zone was not free but you could play two full days for $10,” she said. That cost might not have been necessary but the event had no major sponsors this year. “People just were not interested.”
Tallahatchie Riverfest has been rolling for over 25 years. Billye Jean Stroud, director of Main Street and Community Development noted, “This free concert is one of two annual fests offered by the City of New Albany leaders. It is funded through the city’s tourism budget, it is not set up as “for profit” event but an avenue to increase tourism. This year we met folks from Atlanta, Olive Branch, Memphis, West Point, and Oxford.” Tallahatchie Riverfest is weekend for friends and family to gather and enjoy their city. It also welcomes visitors to see what has been called the Best Southern Small Town, Most Beautiful City in Mississippi, and Coolest Small Town in Mississippi.
While Stroud was pleased with the event overall, she said one of her biggest concerns was about the merchants, who needed a boost. In fact, that was a main consideration in whether to hold the event at all. “The merchants said they had an unbelievable weekend,” she said. “Some said this was the biggest year yet in terms of sales.”
“An integral part of the festival is New Albany Light Gas & Water, our police and fire departments, the staff at City Hall, and of course the Street Department,” Stroud’s assistant, Tracy Vainisi, “We could never get this weekend rolling if not for them. They help with all of the logistics, a lot of the heavy lifting, and all of the cleanup.”
Stroud plans to take what was learned from the event this year, especially given the unusual circumstances, to help plan for next year. “We have a lot of talent here and we should use our talent,” she said.
The next projects for the community development office include the Kaboom grant and improvements to the Alabama Street park, she said. She also wants to complete the renovation of the Wilson Street community center so it can be used by the public.
For more information about the funding and goals of the annual Tallahatchie Riverfest, please call Billye Jean Stroud’s office at 662-534-3438 or email her assistant, Tracy Vainisi, at email@example.com.
2020 Tallahatchie Riverfest (photos courtesy of New Albany Main Street):
Community Development, Steve Azar, Tallahatchie Riverfest