Our lives in Northwest Arkansas aren't all about work. It seems hardly a week goes by without some special cultural event that draws people together, highlights local history or celebrates some characteristic that helps to give the region its identity and flavor.
That is, unless there's a pandemic.
What a sad series of announcements we've witnessed as organizers of local events realize they cannot achieve the fun and fellowship their events usually deliver with this pesky and dangerous virus. For some events, it's the concern of bringing hundred or thousands of people together, creating fertile ground for a virus to spread. For other events, the inability to attract vendors and entertainers severely constrain their capacity to maintain the standard their past efforts have met and exceeded.
This week, it was Rodeo of the Ozarks organizers who joined other area rodeos in signaling they've got to get off what's been a rough ride in 2020. The board of directors voted unanimously last Monday to cancel this year's edition, despite a strong desire to not let the coronavirus buck all the work already invested in the event. Organizers' estimate 2,500 tickets would need to be sold each night to make the event fiscally possible. Given the challenges facing Northwest Arkansas when it comes to the spread of the virus, it's a fair question whether residents are ready to be in large crowds. It's also fair to consider whether it's wise to hold events that promote large crowds.
The cancellations have spread almost as effectively as the virus itself.
A sampling of the kinds of cultural events we're missing this year includes the Tontitown Grape Festival, which delivered the sour news in May that its scheduled August event, what would have been its 122nd edition, wouldn't happen this summer. Then there's the Decatur Barbecue, which announced it would not return this year and, perhaps, not ever after its 66-year run. The town's chamber of commerce says the impact of covid-19 restrictions was the final nail, but interest in the event had dwindled in recent years. They'll think about its future or perhaps plan another event.
In Gentry, the Freedom Festival and fireworks display won't happen, for the first time in more than 100 years. The 34th Annual Cane Hill Harvest Festival won't be part of this September. In Fayetteville, the Gulley Park Concert Series will take a hiatus until next year and city promoters say the economic impacts of covid-19 will force them to scale back the annual Lights of the Ozarks on the downtown square.
NWA Equality couldn't venture into the streets of Fayetteville for its annual Pride Parade, but creatively kept the spirit of the event alive with online collaborations and events.
Goodness, we're losing a lot of terrific events that express the unique identities of our communities and the entire region. These are wise, neighborly decisions. But what's next, county fairs? Football games?
The good news is the people behind most canceled events are shifting their focus toward 2021, confident that next year can't possibly worse than 2020. We're thankful for the people who devote themselves to these events and more.
What’s the point?
A lot of Northwest Arkansas events have been canceled, but we’re glad organizers of most remain committed to their return in the future.