They asked for cooler, rain-free weather and some gritty, hot-sounding blues music Friday evening, and they received.
The board members of the 29th annual Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Festival scurried backstage, moving from behind the bands to the front-of-house sound booth and all points in between during the all-ages festival at Harry E. Kelley Park. The crew members carefully kept all eyes and ears on the performing bands, audience members and their fellow stagehands.
Postponed from its original June dates due to the recent flooding and taking place as a one-day festival Friday, the event drew fans of live music and the outdoors from across the Fort Smith area and beyond. Debbie Jackson drove from Northwest Arkansas to soak in the sounds of Mr. Sipp, The Halfway Crooks, Jerry Forney, Tom Ware & Lacey Thomas and others.
"The people here in Fort Smith need to be proud of this blues festival, they really do," she said. "We try to make it down here every year. I'd say they have it going on in a good way here with the Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Festival. I never want to miss it."
Local musician and entertainment fan Dale Fraze Sr. was among several festival officials seen working on and near the stage.
"This weather is great," he said as the members of The Halfway Crooks cruised through a multi-layered set of music. "The breeze feels great out here."
Denise Messamore stood next to Fraze, grinning and nodding her head to the beat of the music.
"It does feel great out here," she said.
Possessing lead vocals and harmony vocals that blended a bit of raspiness with smooth-sounding textures, The Halfway Crooks sang and played their instruments in a seemingly effortless way. Several songs sounded like original material, selections that sounded comfortable next to the quintet's covers of The Rolling Stones' lesser-known gems from the early 1970s, "Loving Cup" and "Hide Your Love."
"The Halfway Crooks sound good," said Jami Davis as she sat in the event's VIP tent. "One of their guitarists played in Copesetic and some other groups around here. They have a good sound."
A few hours before his performance, local singer-guitarist Tom Ware strolled through the grassy park as a young relative in shorts and a "Shazam!" T-shirt stood nearby.
"It's fun out here," Ware said. "I know the sound guy tonight, so we're all friends here. It's a good time at the festival."
Wearing black clothes, Forney politely asked the stage crew about logistics.
"Have you seen Jerry Forney perform before?" one man asked another. "He is something special. He's great on the stage. It's because of him that I play myself play music."
Blues Festival secretary Robert "Bob" Marsh spent part of Friday greeting other crew members and the performers behind the stage. If backstage stress levels ever rose, it didn't show. Festival officials and musicians acted and spoke in relaxed tones.
"Next year will be our 30th year, and that's exciting; that's something that we think is special," Marsh said before the festival. "We've got some ideas for next year, so it should be a fun time then, as well."