The city of Walnut Ridge is the only city in Arkansas where the Beatles ever set foot during their touring days as a band, and seven years ago Mayor Charles Snapp and a group of civic leaders wanted to commemorate the event with a festival. This year, it struck gold.
Beatles at the Ridge was chosen by the Arkansas Festivals and Events Association (AFEA) as its Gold winner, or the best festival in the state in 2017. Snapp told Talk Business & Politics he can’t believe this event, without a single paid staffer, has been selected as the best in Arkansas.
“We were very honored … it blew my mind that we won,” he said. “This is a big honor for our town and this part of Arkansas.”
Each year, the festival attracts about 10,000 visitors in mid-September. It takes about $36,000 in donations to put on the festival, and a committee of about 12 volunteers are in charge. The day of the festival about 30 unpaid volunteers man the streets. The money is used primarily to bring in bands to play, including the Liverpool Legends, a Beatles tribute band based in Branson, Missouri. The festival won Gold as the best new festival in Arkansas when it launched in 2011.
The celebration is held on or near the anniversary of when the famed music group came to a small agricultural town in the heart of Lawrence County. Business owner Jack Allison saw a peculiar aircraft in flight over his hometown late night Sept. 18, 1964. It was large, and as he spied it from a parking lot, it was clear to him the plane was headed to the Walnut Ridge Airport.
Allison instructed three teenage boys to investigate it. When they arrived at the runway, the plane door opened and immortals strolled onto the tarmac. It was the only time the Beatles – George, John, Paul, and Ringo – ever set came to the Natural State as a group.
The Beatles landed at the airport that night on their way from Dallas to New York. The foursome was tired, and they decided to take some time off from their tour and rest at the Reed Pigman dude ranch, near Alton, Missouri. Their plane was too big to land at most airports in the region, so it was decided that Walnut Ridge’s Airport, a former pilot training base during World War II, would be the best place to land.
A smaller plane waited on the runway to whisk the band members away when they arrived. Paul McCartney was scared to fly in the small plane, and he left in a truck. The band came back two days later. Teenagers throughout the Ozarks learned the famed band was in the region, and turned out in full force to greet them before they left. Snapp’s sister, Carrie Mae Snapp, along with a few others, sneaked onto the plane and stole items, including cigarette butts and pillow cases.
Carrie Snapp took Gold at the recent AFEA awards ceremony for best t-shirt design, and Walnut Ridge Alderman Jon Walter took silver for best web site design. A group of judges from the Memphis in May committee judged this year’s contest.
The Beatles at the Ridge festival has garnered worldwide attention. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other publications have done extensive feature stories. A list of the top ten places to view Beatles history around the world was released a few years ago, and Walnut Ridge was listed as the fourth place to visit. The town appears on many Google searches involving the famed musical group.
The notoriety of the festival is well-known in business circles, Snapp said. Many prospective companies do research on the town, and when they do, the Beatles festival appears in many searches.
“I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody who has shown interest in locating a business in Walnut Ridge that hasn’t heard of the festival … it’s been a great marketing tool for us,” Snapp said.