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Beware of Festival Fatigue

A couple of weeks ago there were two big events in Pickens on the same weekend, the popular Jasper Downtown Live now in its third year, and the brand-new Bronco Stampede in Talking Rock. It’s unusual to have two on the same weekend, but the way new events are popping up left and right in our community we’re not surprised. 

 If we think back to say 15 years ago, we had the old faithfuls – Georgia Marble Festival, Heritage Days, Tate Days, Fourth of July, and the Night of Lights Christmas parade, and that was pretty much it. For a few years, the city of Jasper tried a New Year’s Eve event but that fizzled out mainly because people didn’t like standing in the cold so long and attendance plummeted. There were also Main Street Manias for a while, but those ended as well, and some sporadic arts events. 

In the last few years events are growing like wildfire – you can hardly throw a rock without hitting one. In addition to those others we just mentioned, we’ve now got the huge Sheriff’s JeepFest, Jasper Downtown Live, and ArtWalk Jasper – which are both several times a year – Bronco Stampede, BBQ and chili cookoffs, cornhole leagues, and a rodeo. And these aren’t to mention special holidays and times of the year when organizations host their egg hunts or trunk-or-treats or movies under the stars, etc. Jasper also has funds for a new amphitheater on South Main Street, a dedicated spot for music and performance.

We believe successful events help a community in several ways — they bolster the economy by bringing people in to spend money with local vendors and businesses. We had at least two Main Street business owners tell us the new events on Main Street are critical to their bottom line. 

Events also enhance the culture of a town and make it feel alive and vibrant; they can give us a reputation outside of town, the whole “putting us on the map” thing. JeepFest does this with most of their attendees traveling from out of town and quite a few from out of state. 

There are plenty of reasons we love events in town, but we also know there’s a tipping point where events take over and locals can’t enjoy their public spaces anymore. We’re not at that point now, but there’s no question our pool of happenings is growing.  Reports from the most recent Downtown Live are that numbers were down some, and with Bronco Stampede on the same weekend, maybe we showed our limits with two events at the same time, especially with both offering concerts at the same time. 

An NPR article from 2013 talks about how small towns that host big events have been boons to the local economy, but residents in some of those places grow tired of the tourism that keeps them from enjoying their own public spaces. The article cites Traverse City, Mich., which has hosted festivals since the 1920s, including the Cherry Festival and others that give their residents “festival fatigue.” A tourism researcher told NPR about a tiny Michigan town, Caseville, that started a cheeseburger festival in the early 2000s. The town of 800 first drew 5,000, and in 2012 they sold 300,000 cheeseburgers. He said, “Festivals like this fit with the way Americans are vacationing now: shorter trips with less advance planning.”

Every year when JeepFest rolls around we have members of the public who complain about Jeeps taking over and getting roads muddy for Labor Day weekend. We’ve heard complaints about other ongoing events taking up public space as well. 

We disagree. These events are a major boon to our community but “festival fatigue” is something to keep in mind as we continue growing in Pickens. 

That being said, we think well-planned, well-spaced-out, and well-timed events are essential for our community. 

We just don’t want to get to a point of too much of a good thing down the road.

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