Over the last few weekends two successful events were put on here – Jasper Downtown Live and ArtWalk Jasper. The events are different animals, but both brought sizable crowds to Main Street. One is a large concert with a professional stage, lights and vendors. The streets are closed and participants bring chairs and set up in the road to listen to the bands. The other is a juried arts event that brings foot traffic into downtown businesses where artists are placed. There are other artsy elements, and many businesses stay open late for the event.
Organizers and business owners are excited about the new happenings, both of which had their inaugural years last year. We’d like to offer some thoughts about Jasper’s meandering history of downtown events in light of the excitement.
First, we want to acknowledge that downtown now is a much more conducive backdrop to be able to support events like these than it was before. Not only is there a brewery, a distillery, a wine bar, several restaurants, and a new outdoor public seating area, but the city also had the good sense to adopt an open container ordinance that allows people to walk around Main Street with their beer, wine, or cocktail. This isn’t always the case. Even some of the neighboring cities with more tourist offerings hamper festivities by not allowing you to buy a beer in one place and then walk down the street.
We’re excited about these new events, but want to offer a cautionary reminder that this is not the first time downtown Jasper has had big events.
Rewind back to 1958 and on into the 70s, Main Street was home to a hopping 4th of July celebration hosted by the Jasper Lions Club. Organizers once told the Progress it was the party of the year, with people coming out of the woodwork to stay all day. It was reported in 1968 to be the south’s biggest 4th of July celebration.
“You’d see people come out that you’d never see any other time of the year,” longtime attendee and volunteer Tom Lindsey told us. “They’d come out of the hills to party – and some were kind of rough around the edges.”
While they didn’t remember any major infractions, people would drink and an occasional fight would break out.
“People would come drunk and everyone wanted to dance,” said Lions Club member Lawton Baggs, who recently passed away. “No alcohol was sold but they had it from somewhere.”
The event eventually moved off Main Street due to state concerns over the road closure, but the crowd dwindled after the move.
Just over a decade ago the city started Main Street Mania events. The concerts became popular, with several scheduled each year. They were eventually stopped because of rowdy attendees and public safety concerns. The former mayor said they pulled the plug before Jasper became known as a place to bring coolers of beer and get drunk.
There was also the New Years’ Eve event and ball drop, which started off with a bang, but then dwindled away after several years with poor weather and shrinking crowds.
Big events we still have around are the annual Night of Lights Christmas Parade and the JeepFest Show N’ Shine, which both draw thousands to Main Street. JeepFest is hands down the largest event of the year.
We’re not aware of any major issues with the crowds at events already staged this year, but several members of this staff have witnessed attendees who want to revive the old July 4th atmosphere complete with adult beverages galore. We know of a couple of downtown business owners who have been left a mess by nights’ end at bathrooms or storefronts.
We support the city’s no-cooler policy for Downtown Live and the city’s watchful but not heavy-handed policing.
We hope that the crowds who attend will be mindful that with the loosening up of rules for festivities downtown comes the responsibility to behave so that no one decides to revisit these decisions. As we saw with Main Street Manias just a few bad apples did indeed spoil it for everyone.