Last Saturday, the first annual Forward Fest: Blues Batter and Brew, sponsored by Go Forward Pine Bluff, drew more than 15,000 spectators who gathered downtown to celebrate the city with live musical performances, food and fun, according to festival organizers.

Go Forward’s Steering Committee anticipated 10,000 attendees but were pleasantly surprised to see that they had surpassed that number with attendance reaching 9,230 visitors alone during the headline performers, according to Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff.

Onlookers traveled from central and south Arkansas, as well as neighboring states, to partake in the new celebration hitting the city’s downtown area behind the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Watley attributes a lot of this success to the efforts of the Advertising and Promotion Commission, to whom he extends his gratitude.

“Joseph McCorvey, who is the Convention Center director and served on the Forward Fest Steering Committee, has the experience and passion for Pine Bluff to consistently offer experiences such as Forward Fest and has disproved the perception that Verizon Arena in Little Rock inhibits Pine Bluff’s ability to have successful concerts and other events,” Watley said when discussing those who lent a helping hand in the event’s planning and outcome.

Despite the victory experienced with the Forward Fest, it is only a small portion of a larger plan that’s been dubbed the Delta Celebration Series, Watley said. This series was created with the purpose of establishing events that celebrate Pine Bluff’s heritage with cultural, musical and historical events focusing on the entire Delta region.

“The idea was formulated by volunteer citizens during the Go Forward planning period under the Quality of Life pillar,” Watley said. “This has a significant benefit to the community through increased tourism and new opportunities for residents to celebrate the city of Pine Bluff.”

According to Watley, members of the Steering Committee are using valuable lessons learned from Saturday’s festivities to implement new ideas and strategies in hopes of growing the festival in future years. The committee has already began meeting and recording said lessons in order to get a head start on next year’s event.

“We will also ensure stage viewing monitors and speakers are placed throughout the downtown corridor and provide an even better kids zone experience more proximate to vendors,” Watley said in regards to the event’s future plans.

“However, we are currently focused on the remaining Delta Celebration Series Events for 2018.”

Nevertheless, Watley and the committee’s main concern is security as they anticipate larger crowds in the future.

“Thus far, Go Forward Pine Bluff has been accountable and transparent as to how we have arrived at these results,” Watley said. “It is critical for the citizens to know that the work to organize and produce Forward Fest is the work that Go Forward Pine Bluff asserts into each pillar of the pillar initiatives.”