Scorching temperatures didn’t keep crowds away from Forward Fest: Blues, Batter and Brew Saturday at Hestand Stadium. The festival was forced to move to the stadium after historic flooding inundated Regional Park and the amphitheater.
Event organizers have not yet said how many attended Forward Fest, which is sponsored by Go Forward Pine Bluff and the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Last year’s event was held downtown and drew thousands. At least several thousand were at Hestand Stadium Saturday.
“I wish I would’ve brought my umbrella, but we thought they weren’t going to let them in,” said Pine Bluff native Gail Davis, noting the high temperature in the mid-90s. “I’ll just sweat like crazy, but I love it.”
Although Davis didn’t bring an umbrella, she didn’t forget her lawn chair. She and others found the perfect spot across the lawn to watch the various musical acts.
“I wanted to get outside and just enjoy Pine Bluff,” Davis said. “I’m looking forward to the On Call Band and Anthony Hamilton.”
In partnering with the City of Pine Bluff, Go Forward Pine Bluff created Forward Fest: Blues, Batter and Brew as part of the Delta Celebration Series of Festivals and Events in 2017.
According to its website, the 2018 festival, which featured Angie Thomas, drew 15,000 people to Pine Bluff. James Cassidy brought his family to enjoy in the fun and action packed festivities this year at Hestand Stadium.
“We’re here for all of the local talent, Anthony Hamilton and all of the local vendors who have their booths set up,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy, a Pine Bluff native, expressed how Forward Fest filled a void in the community for those seeking an event centered on entertainment, food and family.
“It’s major,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve been lacking for a long time and needs to be incorporated on a more regular basis.”
The family-friendly event had something for everyone. Children jumped in bounce houses while others stood in line for a treat to cool them down at the kid zone. The area also included a 90's themed concession stand, arts and crafts, and a DJ.
“We’re a sucker for family,” said Impact Kids Academy founder and kid zone organizer Carolyn Pridgeon. “We’re a sucker for community. So, we just put this on to promote unity and show that it is a heart of people in the community called Impact that do care about the kids in the community and the type of festivities that they engage in.”
As night fell, attendees came out in droves to see acts such as Christone “KINGFISH” Ingram and Grammy-award winning singer/song-writer Anthony Hamilton. Hamilton took to the stage just before 11 p.m. belting out crowd favorites such as “Best of Me,” “Point of It All,” “Her Heart,” “Sista Big Bones,” and “Comin’ from Where I’m From.”
During his performance, Hamilton acknowledged the major flooding Arkansas experienced in late May.
“We know ya’ll went through a storm,” he sang. “We were praying.”
Hamilton closed out his show grooving to a mix of funk and oldies with his background singers, but not before singing “Charlene” as the crowd sang along with him.
The night was capped off with a fireworks show. Pine Bluff business owners Jenn Brooks and David Miller confirmed they plan to continue to support events like Forward Fest as Go Forward Pine Bluff works to push the city in a new direction.
“It brings the community together,” Brooks said. “It promotes diversity. You see young, old, all races, all walks of life out here together and everybody is smiling, everybody is just cohabitating and it’s extremely important.”