MOUNT VERNON — The status of this year’s Dan Emmett Music and Arts Festival is still uncertain, three officials associated with the event said Monday. Two of them confirmed that a major “headliner” musical act — associated annually with the Saturday lineup for the four-day festival — has yet to be booked. In addition, the event has yet to see someone volunteer to run its day-to-day operations. The festival is scheduled for Aug. 8-11, leaving just a few months to try and pull the event together before it may have to be canceled.
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis, an ex officio member of the Dan Emmett Festival board, and Joe Rinehart, a current board member and professor of communication at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, provided comments on the festival’s status for this year. So did Pat Crow, who announced April 26 via email that he and his wife, Sandy, were “done as (the festival’s) operational managers” due to what he described as a “hostile work environment.” Crow added that the trouble involved those on the current CVB board who would not tolerate his devoting significant time necessary to work on Dan Emmett planning and operations.
Pat, who works at CVB, along with Sandy, have been the festival’s volunteer directors for 21 out of its official 31 years in existence. The festival’s unofficial origins actually go back even further, to the 1950s when it was known as “Dixie Days.”
“We don’t know,” Crow said of the festival’s chances of happening on schedule in August. “There are a lot of people involved in this who are at a higher level than me.” He declined further comment.
Mavis and Rinehart said the longer the festival goes without potential organizers getting together to meet, including the festival board, the less likely the event will happen this year. They also agreed that a replacement is needed for Crow, and quickly, to run day-to-day festival planning.
“Someone would have to step up very soon and be a leader,” Mavis said. “The later it gets, the more difficult it then will be.”
Mavis added that he has talked with people involved with the festival and has learned that the two largest sponsors, Ariel Corp. and First Knox National Bank, have not yet committed as major sponsors due to uncertainty surrounding the event. For these reasons, he said, Mavis believes the Dan Emmett Music and Arts Festival may need to focus this year on being a somewhat smaller, locally based festival.
He added that its chances of surviving into the future, if it went dormant for an entire year, would not fare well. He also said the festival is known for its highly organized Operations Committee, from which dozens of volunteers take on coordinating different events like musical entertainment, the car show, food and concessions, and other essential festival components.
“My information I have learned tells me that people involved with the festival can pull all of this local talent together in a very short time,” Mavis said. “They’re used to that.”
Rinehart noted the composition of the Dan Emmett Festival board has waned over the past several years, with several board members no longer serving since some are no longer part of the CVB board.
The festival board has not met in the same room for about three years, he noted — while offering that without a day-to-day volunteer director to right things, the festival likely needs to reconvene, and soon, to make some decisions starting with whether there will be a festival this year.
“I don’t think any of us want to see the festival go away,” he said. “This community is known for working together. That’s our hallmark. I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case here. And I want to be a positive voice in that process. I don’t know about all of the politics that are involved.”
Rinehart, who is radio station WNZR’s afternoon drive co-host, said the key to making sure the festival happens is steady communication with meaningful dialogue.
He still believes it’s not too late to line up a headliner for Saturday night of the four-day festival, which would fall on Aug. 10 this year.
Rinehart said now is the time for festival volunteers, including those on the Operations Committee, and event sponsors to assert themselves. “They all have a voice in this as well,” he said.
Rinehart said if the festival does not come together in time to have the event this year, he believes it can still survive being dormant for a year. That might provide an opportunity to re-focus and re-brand the festival, which some in the community believe is necessary, he added.
“Even if there was a year off I think it could come back a very strong festival,” he said. “There’s a lot of community buy-in with this festival — across the board.”