After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the largest festivals in Northeast Arkansas is set to return Saturday (Sept. 17) in Walnut Ridge. The Beatles at the Ridge Music Festival will be held downtown for the first time since 2019, Mayor Charles Snapp told Talk Business & Politics.
The festival will be limited to one day, but the mayor said he hopes the crowds return. The first event was held in 2011 and it has become a staple in Lawrence County since then.
“I’m glad to see the Beatles at the Ridge return to Walnut Ridge. The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce has missed it, as have city businesses and the city itself,” Snapp said. “While this year is a new beginning for the event, I anticipate Beatles at the Ridge will redevelop into an improved event, benefitting the county and NEA region.”
The festival this year will cost about $40,000 and that will be paid for through sponsorships. City officials expect anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 visitors. Typically, it draws 10,000 or more, but with it being reduced to one day, the crowd size will likely be smaller, Snapp added.
About 70 vendors will be set up. Bands such as Bodagus, Trippp, and Lockhouse Orchestra will play throughout the day. It will culminate with the Liverpool Legends, a Beatles tribute band playing on the main stage at 7:30 p.m.
Walnut Ridge is unique in Beatles lore as it is the only city in Arkansas the famed group ever set foot in.
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 the iconic band members strolled onto the tarmac. It was the only time the Beatles – George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr – visited 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, Mo. 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.
The Beatles at the Ridge festival has garnered worldwide attention. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other publications have published 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 musical group.
Through the years, it has lured several famous guests with Beatles ties including Harrison’s sister, Louise Harrison, and New York Times best-selling author Vivek Tiwary, who wrote a novel, “The Fifth Beatle.” Tiwary produced Broadway productions including Green Day’s rock opera, “American Idiot,” and “The Addam’s Family.”
Snapp and his wife Jackie co-founded the event. He wanted to start a festival that would help drive tourists’ dollars into the local economy. Rock-n-roll tourism has become increasingly popular and Walnut Ridge had one unique distinction that Snapp said locals needed to capitalize on. Before the festival, Snapp said Lawrence County generated limited tourism dollars.
In connection with the festival, two monuments dedicated to the rock-n-roll era were erected. The Beatles monument, a 10-foot by 20-foot aluminum mural, depicts the famed “Abbey Road” album. It was handcrafted by local businessman Danny West who spent thousands of hours carving the tribute. He did it free of charge.
The city also sports another monument, the Guitar Walk. Famed musicians Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and others played at honky tonks and other venues along U.S. Highway 67 that runs through Walnut Ridge. This tribute, erected just south of the Lawrence County Chamber building, is shaped like a guitar on the ground. Visitors can walk on it, listen to recorded displays about these and other musicians who got their start in this region of Arkansas. The two monuments serve as an axis the festival revolves around.
Now that the pandemic has subsided, the mayor said he hopes to reignite the event’s growth more than a decade after it was founded.
“Bring lawn chairs and a smile and don’t forget to try the ‘Trivia at the Ridge’ phone game at the Guitar Walk and Beatles Park and gain a better understanding about the birth of rock-n-roll and the early legends’ influence on The Beatles,” he said.