Hailed as one of the Best Big Muddy Festivals in recent memory, this year's performances set no boundaries because the sky was the limit.
Friday night’s opening performance boasted an array of talent. From Boonville’s own adopted daughter Phyllis Dale, to groups from as far away as New Mexico, music could be heard from Thespian Hall almost until midnight. Festival goers did it all over again on Saturday as well.
Dave Para, who often is always singing or playing instruments with his other half Cathy Barton, was very excited about the turnout and music caliber this year.
“I think this year’s lineup was one of the best as far as what we’re trying to do such as performers like David Olney and Artemisia. All of them expressed gratitude for being included in a fine and talented lineup,” Para stated. “I had favorable comments about how good Thespian Hall is, how great the audience is and I had the general feeling from them that they were all happy to have their music as part of the program.”
Para added that the musicians had wonderful times helping with the workshops.
“Liz Carroll barely stopped playing fiddle throughout Saturday, playing in a workshop or a jam. The instructional workshops were fun and inspiring, and pairing the songwriters worked well. The Creek Rocks and former Ozark Mountain Daredevils extended their workshop to concert length Saturday afternoon at Turner Hall,” he added.
Meredith Ludwig reprised her role as audience favorite Tilly Tyrell. Ludwig made sure the audience was fully aware of what to expect at the festival as she introduced each group. Of course, a performance would not be without Ludwig making sure the audience was very much involved. This year, she had the audience do sound effects from a night scene. No one could fall asleep as she kept all audience members on their toes.
“We had a particularly fabulous group of musicians this year, wonderful workshops and great audiences. By establishing the River of the Big Canoe Fund we are able to put more money towards our guest artists and that has really helped. It's an ongoing artist fund managed by Friends of Historic Boonville and anyone is welcome to join. For me personally and my co-hosting Gemini twin, Tilly Tyrell, it is a thrill to step out on that stage in that sweet old hall knowing that for 160 years it has given us a spectacular place to perform. David Olney, who drove up from Nashville to perform, said the whole event, including the theatre was such an inspiration to him and I feel the same way,” Ludwig stated.
While the festival seemed to have been flawless, festival directors had to work tirelessly throughout the weeks in advance to correct plans and circumstances that had fallen in their lap.
“Working with Melissa Strawhun (Director of the Friends of Historic Boonville) was in its own way inspiring as well. We were hit with some substantial and last-minute obstacles and she didn’t seem to waste much time complaining about it or giving up. We were lucky in some of this, sure, but her good-natured determination really made it happen,” Para stated.
In the end, the festival was deemed a success. Not only was the audience impressed, but the performers were too.
“Thank you so much for inviting us - we had a wonderful time at the Big Muddy. I hope y'all had half as much fun as we did. You had a wonderful lineup. I especially enjoyed spending time with Liz Carroll (one of my fiddle heroes), Jimmy Keane, and Pat Donohue. What a treat,” the Adobe Brothers stated in a message to Dave Para. “And the theater was spectacular. We've got one in town, the Kimo, that was built about 1925 and remodeled about 15 years ago. It's about the same size, design and scale as the Thespian. Though the Thespian is considerably older, its subsequent remodels give the two theaters a similar feeling. However, the Kimo was done in a very southwestern style with southwestern/Native American trim and fenestrations that are very unique. Especially the cow skulls around the top of the walls with red light bulbs in the eye sockets. You really need to see it when you come to New Mexico.”
Another letter accounted the amazing work of the dedicated people at the festival.
“Dave, the pleasure was all ours. Thank you so much for including us in this festival. We couldn't have had a better time, and were so honored to share the stage with so many talented musicians, like yourself. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the amazing work you have done and continue to do. Hope to connect somewhere down the line,” Alexandra of Artemisia stated.
A final note could not be expressed without mentioning the river, the namesake of the festival.
“P.S. Professionally speaking, I loved the river,” Bruce of Adobe Brothers stated.