Summer Arts Festival brings a community together

He was Charlie Brown. Tim Rowe, executive director of the Springfield Summer Arts Festival, first attended the Springfield Summer Arts Festival in 1972 — and he was there as Charlie Brown. 

“The festival was established in 1967, but my first festival was five years later when I played Charlie Brown on stage in the play, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And I’ve been involved ever since, as most of our board members have been involved in the festival most of their lives. We see what it does for our community.”

Rowe has served as executive director since 2013. His passion for the festival has not waned over the years, only grown. 

“It is our mission to build a better community by sharing the performing arts with Springfield, Clark County, residents and beyond,” he says. “That has been our mission statement since 1998, with the Springfield Arts Council as the umbrella organization over the festival along with other arts organizations and partners.”

This summer brings the 58th festival, sponsored by the Dr. Robert and Jane Bennett family. The festival begins Friday, June 7, at 8 p.m. with a performance by Springfield native, Griffin House. It is the opening act to a long and colorful list of events, all held at the Veterans Park Amphitheater, 250 Cliff Park Road. The festival runs through July 13. 

“To our knowledge, it is the longest-running, free admission event in the country,” Rowe says. “That’s what makes us unique. You can attend every event without spending a penny.”

 "In addition to support from sponsors and annual fundraisers, attendees at the Festival support the nightly events when we ‘pass the hat’ for donations, which generates the final $65,000 needed to present the Summer Arts Festival." It costs about $350,000 to $400,000 to run the event each year. 

Courtesy Springfield Summer Arts FestivaAt the Springfield Summer Arts Festival, you can attend every event without spending a penny, making the festival a unique entertainment event.“So we have a fundraiser each year, and our many sponsors help,” he says. “We pass the hat and gather donations at the events if anyone wishes to donate. Volunteers help to staff our events. Although we don’t keep an accurate count, we estimate about 65,000 people attend the festival each year.”

The biggest attractions bringing in the crowds, Rowe says, are the “tribute acts” — acts that honor living or deceased stars or organizations, such as a Disney tribute or a Motown Review. Those pack in the audience. 

On Saturday, June 8, at 6 p.m., the annual Parrothead in the Park party plays popular Jimmy Buffett hits along with their own original hits, a combination of Zydeco, rock and country music. On June 12, 13, and 14, at 8 p.m., audiences are treated to a musical comedy written and directed by Springfield’s Dan Hunt. The Last Pirates of the Vast Golden Treasure features the Pirate Earl and his scallywag pirates, the vicious Ladies of Anarchy, and fair maidens who must be rescued from dark dungeons. Resurrection, a tribute to Journey, takes the stage on Saturday, June 15, at 8 p.m.

Kids Fest brings an afternoon of family-friendly activities beginning at 12:30 p.m. and continuing through 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, June 16. Other activities include a magic show with Mike Hemmelgarn; Insect Fun with the Bugman; Hula Hoops and Bubble Fun with The Amazing Giants; Springfield Symphony’s Instrument Petting Zoo & Crafts; career kits from Springfield Clark Career Technology Center; fun with Sunflower Yoga; Chalk on the Walk, and more. Spiderman and Moana will make an appearance. Activities and shows are free, as always, but cold drinks, snacks, and a family picnic will be available for purchase.

For older children, a coming-of-age musical performance by Youth Arts Ambassadors, called 13 Jr., will show at 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. It is the story of a boy named Evan Goldman, who moved from New York City to a small town in Indiana during his parents’ divorce. He learns about friendship and being true to himself as he finds his place in a new school and town. 

These performances are but a few of the line-up of free events and performances that include the musical group Allison Road; The Next Generation; Honky Tonk Chicks; McGuffy Lane; Motor City: The Motown Revue; The Little Mermen – The Ultimate Disney Tribute Band; Brass Tacks Band; Heart of Rock and Roll: Tribute to Huey Lewis and The News; Big Bam Boom: A Daryl Hall and John Oates Tribute; Moving with the Ladies of Song; Elton Rohn: North America’s Premier Elton John Tribute Show; the Springfield Symphony Orchestra with special guest Siobhan Cronin; Turn to Stone: A Tribute to ELO; Jim Donovan and The Sun King Warriors; Phil Dirt and The Dozers; and Boys in the Band – The Alabama Tribute. 

Friday and Saturday, June 28 and 29, beginning at 6 p.m. in Veterans Park, adults are invited to a Sip of Summer Wine-Down. Live music will be free but a selection of wine will be available for purchase.

“There is something for everyone at the festival,” Rowe says. “We welcome people of all ages and from all walks of life to come together and enjoy these many free events.”

The show will go on, Rowe says, rain or shine, “as long as it is not dangerous. We encourage people to bring a lawn chair or blanket to sit on and seating is first come, first serve.”

Chairs may be placed in Veterans Park on the day of an event beginning at 6 a.m. and must be removed at the conclusion of each performance. A small number of VIP seats are available for a donation of $15. These are located in the orchestra pit in front of the stage. 

“The Springfield Arts Festival was meant to bring people together when it began in 1967, during the Vietnam War and Nixon’s presidency,” Rowe says. “People were looking for a reason to come together back then — and they still are.”

Charlie Brown, it seems, can still bring the neighborhood together for a good time.

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