Wednesday, July 04, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Where were the crowds?

The Jacksonville Patriotic Spectacular on Sunday — an evening under the stars with free entertainment, face painting, miniature American flags and glow sticks — it’s all free, but the crowd was dismal.

Jacksonville’s population is around 30,000, and about 29,600 residents didn’t make the event.

All those people missed a good show, maybe not the best, but a good show well worth the price, which cost nothing.

Granted, the fireworks were canceled because of the dry weather conditions, but there was still the outstanding Gloryland Youth Choir from North Little Rock, up-and-coming country singer Candy Coburn and the iconic Marshall Tucker Band.

Everyone was there for an evening of fun, family, fellowship and celebrating freedom—everyone, except Jacksonville.

While Coburn was rockin’ and rollin’ with tunes from Johnny Cash, Eddie Rabbitt and songs from her newest album, the small crowd was embarrassing. Thank goodness it improved to dismal by the time the Marshall Tucker Band took the stage.

Sure it was hot, but at 95 degrees and dropping, it was cooler than the past few days and cooler than last year. A slight breeze floated through the football field frequently enough to make it comfortable. It was a cool 89 degrees by the time the Marshall Tucker Band started. The mosquitoes were almost nonexistent and the concession prices reasonable.

So Jacksonville, why weren’t you there?

One of the main reasons there is no Wing Ding Festival this year in Jacksonville is that the hard work of volunteers was not worth it because so few people attended. The same seems to be true for the Patriotic Spectacular — a lot of hard work for a small reward.

It would not be surprising if the spectacular goes the way of the dodo bird because people didn’t come out.

Sure you may not be a Marshall Tucker fan or maybe they aren’t as good as they were back in the 1970s, but it was a free, fun night to connect with family and friends and salute those who serve, which is a very large portion of the city’s population.

In 1987, when The Leader began publishing, there was not just one annual festival in the city, but two, and Jeannie C. Riley performed at a fundraiser for the Fraternal Order of Police. All had good turnouts.

But not anymore, it seems.

If residents don’t participate in these local events, Jacksonville will become the only town in the area without any local gatherings: No festivals, no concerts and no spectaculars.

Cabot has two festivals and a Fourth of July event. Beebe has a festival and a Fourth of July celebration and so does Ward.

Sherwood has an annual festival and a Fourth of July festival, and its Fourth of July program will go on this year without fireworks and without name entertainment but will probably have a bigger crowd than what showed up for Jacksonville’s free Patriotic Spectacular.

So, why weren’t residents at the Patriotic Spectacular?

Again, the excuse will be that the entertainment wasn’t good enough — by the way, those who were there will tell you the entertainment was very good — but it will never improve if attendance doesn’t increase. Much of the entertainment money comes from a grant from the city’s advertising and promotion commission, whose job is to promote events that bring people into the city. If crowds don’t come out for the spectacular and other events, the money will go elsewhere.

It was disappointing that the fireworks were cancelled, but as enjoyable as fireworks are that didn’t cause throngs of people to stay home. What gives?

For Jacksonville to grow, its residents must participate. Without crowds at free events, how can the city get investors to pour millions into a regional fairground or an events center on 440 acres of land as the city is planning?

Jacksonville, you must do better.