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Delta Family Gospel Festival Attracts 6,000

"The festival was 100 percent funded by the Delta Cultural Center and the Department of Arkansas Heritage... to present and preserve one of the musical genres of the Arkansas Delta and that's gospel m
( [email protected] ) Jun 02, 2004 10:42 PM EDT

Delta Family Gospel Festival Attracts 6,000

More than 35 groups performed at the fourth annual Arkansas Delta Family Gospel festival, which gathered around 6,000 last Saturday.

"The festival was 100 percent funded by the Delta Cultural Center and the Department of Arkansas Heritage," said DCC Development Coordinator Kim Williams. "The funding came from a part of the museum's yearly budget. The reason the Delta Cultural Center sponsors the Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Festival is to present and preserve one of the musical genres of the Arkansas Delta and that's gospel music. Gospel music has a diverse history over the last 200 years in this area."

Williams stressed that the Canton Spirituals performance turned out to be the highlight of the event.

"They are a well-known Gospel group from Canton, Miss.," said Williams. "They were exceptional. We were really happy to be able to bring them to Helena for a free event."

Williams expressed appreciation for two Helena natives who returned for their second Gospel Festival - Darryl Yancy and Kevin Davidson, who brought his group Kevin Davidson and the Voices.

"They are both well known in the Gospel music field and the fact that were able to bring them home to Helena where they grew up, was quite an accomplishment for the museum," Williams said.

Williams praised the performance of the Stillwells, a local group from West Helena.

"They have a large regional following and this was their first time to appear at the Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Festival," Williams said.

The Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Festival was declared a success, but the goal is to continue upgrading.

"I think it went great," Williams said. "Both the promoters that we used as well as our lighting and sound contractors, who have been involved in previous festivals, felt that it was our largest crowd yet."

Williams estimated 5,000 people turned out for last year's festival.

"We had over 35 groups and individual performers," Williams said. "We're looking at even bigger names next year. We'll probably announce the lineup by January 2005. We're looking at some very well known performers in the contemporary Gospel and contemporary Christian musical field."

According to Williams, the new Cherry Street Pavilion contributed to the festival's success.

"We were thrilled with the Cherry Street Pavilion," she said. "This was the first time the Delta Cultural Center has had an event on the pavilion. We were just ecstatic because it's a beautiful stage. Every artist that came on stage made a point of telling us that they were thrilled with the new facility. Even our sound guys commented that it was one of the nicest stages they've ever worked on."

Roughly 50 faith-based groups and other organization such as the Tri-County Rural Network and the Helena-West Helena 21st Century Network had booths at the festival. Walnut Street Works and AmeriCorp Vista, a part of Walnut Street Works, organized the booths.

"There are twice as many vendors here as there were last year," said Mary Olson of Walnut Street Works. "Through good advertising and the Delta Cultural Center's it was a chance for some local faith-based groups to make some money and they're very appreciative of it."

"We did have to close the stage for about an hour because of the rain and lightning," Williams said. "When we stopped we had our three last performers left and they stayed. They wanted to wait it out with the crowd and although we lost some of the crowd we still had a good turnout. They came back when the rain stopped and the concert went on as scheduled."