There are several events in Springfield and Washington County that would be considered staples of the community. We always have a celebration for Independence Day, Christmas, and other holidays, and there’s a fine festival that takes place each fall, known as the Kentucky Crossroads Harvest Festival. That event replaces the Sorghum Festival, which was gone when I arrived in Springfield more than five years ago. I hear it was always a great event, and many people tell me it was the best event in town.
Well, with the Sorghum Festival gone, a new event has reared its head to take the title of the best event in the community.
The African-American Heritage Festival, which just celebrated its seventh anniversary this past weekend, is the best community event in town, in my opinion.
From the start of the parade, right up through the evening with good food and music, the African-American Heritage Festival entertains me and my family as well as anything around each year, and judging by the large crowd I saw Friday night, we’re not alone. We have only been here five years, which is a short time compared to most people in the county, but we love to see people we’ve come to know since moving to town, and they always turn out in big numbers. This year’s festival packed the streets with one of the largest crowds I’ve seen at any event since I’ve been living in Washington County.
The music, as I said earlier, is always good. Until this year. This year’s music wasn’t good, it was great. The Jimmy Church Band, based out of Atlanta, Ga., came to Springfield to entertain the crowd, and they didn’t miss the mark. By the end of the night, people of all ages were dancing in the streets and quite obviously having a great time.
The name of the festival shouldn’t mislead you to believe that it’s only for the African-American members of the community. On the contrary, people from all walks of life, black, white, Hispanic and more, were in downtown Springfield to enjoy the festival, and they did.
The event is to celebrate the accomplishments of the African-Americans in the area, and it does a great job. This year’s theme celebrated the contributions of two men from the area who had a great deal to do with Motown music. Obie Slater and the late Hyleme George were the honorees at this year’s festival. They were known for bringing great artists to Lebanon and the area in the 1960s, many who went on to become huge stars, such as Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Tina Turner. Well, on Friday night, they also helped bring the Jimmy Church Band to town.
You see, Church got his start in music with the help of Slater, and it was that connection that made Church determined to come to town and perform for the crowd at the festival honoring him. Another connection to Slater and Church is local musician and entertainer Charlie Walls, known as The Music Man. Walls once opened for Church at Club 68 in Lebanon, which was operated by Slater. With those ties, having Church and his band was a no-brainer.
Bringing The Jimmy Church Band to town was no small expense, and the rest of the work behind the festival came with a price tag, too. But when you see the positive impact an event like this can have on individuals, as well as entire segments of the community, it’s well worth it. The tab for this festival, as is the case with others, is largely picked up by tax payers. Many local events are funded in part or whole by money from a local restaurant and hotel tax passed in 2008 by the Springfield City Council. The tax of 3 percent puts money into a pot that is divided by the city and the Springfield Tourism Commission. The catch is that the money all must be spent to put on events and other tourist-related activities that can boost tourism for the community, and after seeing this weekend’s African-American Heritage Festival, as well as many of the other events, the tax is obviously doing its job. The local hotel was packed, and even hotels in surrounding counties were occupied by visitors for the festival, as well as Holy Rosary Catholic Church’s annual homecoming, which goes hand-in-hand with the African-American Heritage Festival.
If you attended this year’s event, you probably had a good time. I know I did. The only bad news is that you have to wait a whole year for it to return!