Main Street El Dorado to bring back festival

A view of the intersection of Main Street and Washington in downtown El Dorado. Main Street El Dorado announced $6,500 in mini-grants.

Main Street El Dorado is filling out its 2020 events schedule with the return of a popular spring festival.

This year will mark the return of Bugs, Bands and Bikes, the annual event that celebrated and showcased crawfish, live music and motorcycles. The date has tentatively been set for April 18.

At the height of its popularity, Bugs, Bands and Bikes drew hundreds of people to town and became one of the most highly anticipated annual events in El Dorado.

BBB had a 15-year run before it was scrapped in 2014, reportedly due to waning participation from bikers.

The event went through a couple of iterations following its start in 2000, going from the Crawfish Boil, which Main Street presented in conjunction with the annual Mayhaw Festival that is hosted by the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society.

The Crawfish Boil would eventually stand on its own as Main Street changed the schedule from the first weekend in May — the traditional date of the Mayhaw Festival — and would come to be known as the Crawfish Boil/Battle of the Bands, which featured a competition between local and regional bands.

In 2007, a motorcycle parade and show were added to the activity roster and Bugs, Bands and Bikes was born, turning El Dorado into a regional destination for bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts over the next few years.

Other activities that were incorporated into the festival — a poker run for bikers, celebrity appearances (Miss Kay from the former reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” was the special guest in 2013) and popular musical acts, including Frank Foster and Confederate Railroad — in the early 2010s prompted Main Street to expand BBB from one day to a full weekend.

Following the 2013 event, several questions arose about the future of BBB.

El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc., the private, nonprofit organization that launched the multi-million-dollar Murphy Arts District, known as MAD, project, had just announced plans to develop the entertainment district.

At the time, members of the Main Street board of directors said they did not know how the massive project would affect Main Street events, which are largely outdoor concerts and festivals that are held in downtown El Dorado.

Activities for BBB were typically concentrated in the area of Jefferson and Cedar, with the performance stage and other amenities set up in Oil Heritage Park.

The Rialto Theater was also used for some BBB activities.

Main Street board members and then-executive director Mark Givens said then hat they were not sure if they would still have access to the area and they wanted to meet with MAD to see how the footprint of downtown would change with the development of the entertainment district.

The following year, Main Street changed the name and theme of BBB to fall more in line with the goal of Festivals and Events to promote and celebrate southern culture.

The Southern Folk Festival served as the transition from BBB and while it maintained many of the same elements, the new festival centered more on southern people, food and culture.

Givens also said that the focus of the festival shifted because fewer bikers were attending BBB.

Though moderately successful — rain washed out the first night —, the Southern Folk Festival was a one-and-done event.

After 2014, Main Street squashed the spring festival and as the development of MAD progressed, Main Street shifted the focus of its overall program to allow MAD to take the lead in booking large festivals and events in El Dorado.

Fast forward to 2019 and early 2020.

Beth Brumley, executive director of Main Street, said the group was approached by a major sponsor who was interested in reviving BBB.

As Main Street looks for more fundraising ideas — in March of 2018, the group revived its downtown St. Patrick’s Day celebration after a seven-year hiatus and last fall, Main Street launched the Smoke on the Square Festival, which revolved around nationally-sanctioned BBQ competition — in the wake of a partnership with MAD to host MusicFest, Brumley said the time seemed ripe to bring back BBB.

MusicFest, which was founded by Main Street had been the groups flagship fundraiser until 2017, when MAD opened and handled the “music” portion of the festival and handled booking the headliners, thus the ticketed events.

“They were interested and they said they had some money this year,” Brumley said, referring to the corporate sponsor who inquired about BBB.

“Plus, we’ve gotten lots of questions about it and lots of people asking why we don’t do it anymore. We had built it up to one of the biggest festivals in the state,” she continued.

In December of 2012, Brumley, then outgoing president of the MSE board, was lauded for her leadership, particularly in planning BBB, which had grown in crowd size under her guidance.

She announced Feb. 11 that the festival is returning this year, explaining that organizers were not sure if it was going to happen.

“If I hadn’t chaired it for so many years before, I would be panicking right now,” she said with a laugh.

Details about the festival are forthcoming.

“We’re working on getting sponsorships confirmed and booking talent. It will be kid friendly with inflatables and games. We’re really excited about that,” she said.

Other Main Street and Downtown Business Association events for 2020 include:

• First Thursday, the first Thursday of the month.

• The Harlem Globetrotters, Feb. 19.

• Shamrockin’ on the Square, March 14, 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Activities will include live music, a beer garden and games. La Bella will be selling crawfish, Brumley said.

• Grill Wars/Showdown at Sunset/Summer Concert Series, June 27, July 25 and Aug. 22.

• Airstreams on the Square, Sept. 10 - 13.

• Scare on the Square, Oct. 31.

• Downtown Holiday Lighting Ceremony, Nov. 19.

• Downtown Holiday Open House, Nov. 22.

• Shop Small Saturday, Nov. 28.

Details about MusicFest will be announced later and Brumley said Some on the Square may be rescheduled from Oct. 31 to Oct. 24.

“We looked at the scheduling because it’s the same day as Halloween and we wanted parents to be able to enjoy the day and not have to think about preparing for trick-or-treating at night,” Brumley said.