The Beatles never traveled northeast Arkansas’ Rock ’n’ Roll Highway, but the Fab Four did once change planes in Walnut Ridge. It gave the Lawrence County town the distinction of being the only Arkansas town visited by the legendary band.
The mop-topped quartet had performed in Dallas and were headed for a weekend vacation at the Pigman Ranch in Alton, Mo., changing planes at the Walnut Ridge airport on Sept. 18, 1964. When they returned two days later, much of the town’s younger population was waiting for them.
The town began celebrating the event two years ago. This year’s third annual Beatles at the Ridge Festival takes place in downtown Walnut Ridge, “Where Abbey Road Meets the Rock ’n’ Roll Highway.”
The former is a British thoroughfare with a now-prominent recording studio that lent its name to a Beatles album;the latter is a stretch of U.S. 67 between Pocahontas, north of Walnut Ridge, and Newport to the south.
Residents and businesses have gotten into the spirit of things by decorating storefronts and buildings with Beatles song titles and artwork.
“We estimated last year that we had a crowd of about 10,000 people,” says Charles Snapp, a Walnut Ridge businessman and promoter of the event. “And that was with an all-day misty rain. We’re expecting more this year, especially with the prospect of a dry weekend. We’ve noticed that a lot of folks really enjoy taking photos of each other, walking with the Beatles in our Beatles Park.”
A 20-by-10-foot hand etched metal sculpture, based on the photo on the cover of the Abbey Road album, lets fans join the band’s pose for their own photos. There’s another photo op a couple of blocks away at Guitar Walk at Cavenaugh Park, where fans can walk through a 115-footguitar design on the ground next to the train station and read and listen to brief histories and music clips of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Billy Lee Riley, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Wanda Jackson and Sonny Burgess.
Entertainment will take place on three stages, including early rock ’n’ roll, Beatles music, country and bluegrass. More than 100 vendors will offer food, arts and crafts and musical memorabilia. The event will also feature a Beetle-Bug car show, a dog costume contest, inflatables and games for children, including a duck-calling contest.
BritBeat, a Beatles tribute band, will perform at 8:45 p.m. Saturday. The list of performers also includes Sonny Burgess & the Legendary Pacers, Stan Perkins (the son of Carl Perkins) and the All Star Band and 2 Mule Plow.
The Nuttin’ But Talent show will award cash prizes in music and dance categories and determine the opening act for BritBeat.
Author Jude Southerland Kessler will speak on “ Lennon’s Liverpool” at 7:30 p.m. Friday in The Venue, 117 W. Main St.
“It’s on the ground floor of the historic Hotel Rhea, which will reopen this week,” Snapp explains. “Kessler, who is an artist and Beatles expert, will host a multimedia presentation of photos and slides from the 1950s and ’60s that show the different places in Liverpool that had a direct impact on the early years of the members of the band and the places that influenced their lives. She has photos that are seldom if ever seen and this will be the first time that the show has been presented south of Chicago.”
The Friday night entertainment will be at the Beatles Park stage on Abbey Road (formerly Southwest Second Street).
Ringer Star, an impersonator of Beatle Ringo Starr, will return to the festival, making random appearances throughout the event, and will serve as the master of ceremonies for main-stage events.
Beatles at the Ridge Festival
7 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, downtown Walnut Ridge
Saturday lineup: Stan Perkins at 5 p.m., Sonny Burgess & the Legendary Pacers at 6, Stunning Cunning Band at 7:15, BritBeat at 8:45
Weekend, Pages 34 on 09/19/2013
Print Headline: Walnut Ridge remembers Beatles with festival