SEARCY, Ark –As Searcy’s recurring downtown festival, Beats & Eats, enters the closing run of its third year, it looks to make the most of a Revolution that has over-taken the town thanks to Deluxe and the Small Business Revolution.
The October theme of Beats & Eats—which happens this coming weekend—is “Choirpalooza”; a night of live musical performances from area choirs and musical groups.
But when Beats & Eats began back in 2017, there were no themes. No anticipated high turn-outs. Just an idea born from a few Searcy residents and the hopes of some downtown Searcy merchants.
Beats & Eats began as a way to bring the community together — residents, restaurants, retailers, and artists – into downtown Searcy. Downtown merchants were interested in an after-hours event in the area. Residents had long clamored for some type of after-hours activities to spur nightlife in the downtown area, as well as fun things to do with the family.
Thanks to individuals like Mat Faulkner of Think Idea Studio, Amy Burton of Main Street Searcy, volunteers like Heather Kemper and Marka Bennett, and local businesses like Burrito Day and Benajmin’s, Beats & Eats held its first event in May of 2016.
What began as a simple outdoor festival with food trucks, music, vendors and artists, has grown exponentially in size and attendance each year.
“Our first year we had crowds around 1,000 people,” said Bennett. “In my experience in event planning, it takes at least three years for something to really make its place. We did that in the first year. Now we regularly see crowds of four and five thousand. Of course, we would certainly like to see more.”
The event reached peak attendances this past March and June when they held their “Do Well By Doing Good” and “United We Stand” events that also served as the “kickoff” and ‘finale’ filmed events for the ‘Small Business Revolution’ hit show.
“We had somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people at those events,” said Marka. “That’s a lot of new people who had their first taste of Beats & Eats that we think will come back.”
“It worked out very well. Our volunteer committee is used to throwing large community events each month, with not a lot of time to plan. So, when we won the show and needed to throw large events for the community to be involved as well as create visuals that show well on-screen, we knew exactly what to do, and the collaboration is a testament to how well this community works well together,” explains Mat Faulkner.
Photo by: Ashel Parsons. Take in the talents of local artists as they work on their creations in Art Alley in Downtown Searcy.
One way to guarantee a good crowd; give the people what they want. That’s why the “Choirpalooza” theme was brought back for a second time this year.
All of the choirs and musical groups who will perform this Saturday are from White County, mostly Searcy. The 11-act line-up will feature some repeat performers from last year as well as some new acts.
“We were very conscious in our efforts to reach out to all kinds of groups including schools and other groups to perform this year,” said Bennett. “We will also have three winners from the White County Talent Show.”
Marka Bennett says there are a couple of reasons that they chose to repeat this particular theme. One being the guaranteed turnout.
“Every group brings their own cheerleading team,” said Bennett. “The church choirs have their fans, the school choirs bring parents and families, and then [of course] people who are just interested in hearing them.”
While a large and captive audience is important, the opportunity to showcase Searcy and White County’s unrealized talent is incredibly beneficial to the community.
“There is a lot more talent around here than people realize,” said Bennett. “This lets us show the range of talent, whether that’s from a church, school, or a member of the community. We’ve got talent of all ages. There’s this great group that sings at a church in Kensett. I had no idea about them. They’re wonderful. We want to get the awareness out and build some pride in our community.”
The music will run nearly the full duration of the event, from 6 until 9:45 pm.
Singers aren’t the only local talent that attendees can experience and enjoy at Beats & Eats. Food trucks are a big part of the event, with a number of “regulars” that attendees can expect to see just about every time.
“They love it,” said Bennett. “They want to be here and put it on their calendar. We have the regulars like Say Cheese, Philipino chow, KnightFire, and of course joyful. They usually sell out. They know they’re going to get a lot of exposure.”
Multiple repeat vendors have seen their businesses grow, thanks in part to Beats & Eats.
“The KnightFire BBQ food truck was able to make it a full-time gig,” said Bennett. “They were working to support this when they started but Beats and Eats has helped give them the exposure to go full-time with the food truck.”
“Beats and Eats has helped put KnightFire BBQ on the map,” said Elise Knight, owner of KnightFire BBQ with her husband Matt. “We are so happy to be growing and moving towards serving full time in the future! Thank you, Searcy, for supporting your local BBQ food trailer.”
“We’ve got talent in so many facets,” said Bennett. “We’ve got awesome cottage bakers that are thriving because they’ve had a way to show what they can do.”
While the Beats & Eats committee likes to stick to the themes, an opportunity presented itself this year that they couldn’t turn down.
“We were approached – as a result of the revolution – by the non-profit organization El Puente,” said Bennett. “They’re at Hispanic Services Center in Searcy. They approached us and asked if they could have a salsa competition. We loved the idea.”
The Searcy Salsa Standoff will feature somewhere around 20 participants split between local restaurants and individuals, who will bring their best salsa recipe. There will a traveling trophy for the winners – restaurant and individual – who will be chosen by event-goers.
Those interested in taste-testing and voting on the salsas can do so for just $5, with the funds going to support El Puente’s efforts.
Along with the salsa competition, the Central American students at Harding will offer free salsa dancing classes at Center on the Square. Classes will be 30-minutes in length and occur at the top of every hour from 6 to 9 pm.
Beats & Eats has also officially been relocated to Arch Avenue just off the historic downtown square.
Photo by: Ashel Parsons. Beats & Eats has moved to Arch Street. Musical performances for “Choirpalooza” will be held on the Citizen’s Park Stage, paid for in part by Deluxe and the Small Business Revolution.
“Three years in, we learn something new every time we do this,” said Bennett. “Our August event on Arch was a hit. We love the close feel of Arch Avenue. However, if we want to stay there, we have to start limiting the number of vendors so we leave plenty of room for people to move about.”
Art alley will be open with artists painting live.
“There is also a stage now in the little nook in Art Alley,” said Bennett. “The materials were paid for by First Security Bank.”
Along with the stage, visitors to Searcy will now be able to sign the signature wall located on the south end of Art Alley near the “shoe” mural.
Ever since Deluxe brought their show Small Business Revolution to Searcy almost a year ago, interest in the White County seat has been growing. Now with all eight episodes of Season 4 available (you can find them at GoSearcy.com), the Beats & Eats committee hopes to see more out-of-towners make their way to Searcy for the event.
You can check out October’s Beats & Eats, “Choirpalooza,” on Saturday, October 19thfrom 6-10 pm located on West Arch Avenue between North Gum Street and North Spruce Street. You can find more information, including the full musical line-up on the Searcy Beats & Eats Facebook page.