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River Days are here again

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Festival Returns Sept. 12

By Michael Webster

The seventh annual Mount Vernon River Days Festival starts Friday, Sept. 12, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 14. This year there will be 149 vendors, including 41 selling food. Attractions include historical demonstrations, a wide variety of musical entertainment, the Smoke on the Ohio Barbecue Cook-off, a beauty pageant, a parade, a pet parade and a fireworks show among many other attractions. In addition to everything else, children can enjoy inflatables, clowns, a zip line, a monkey booth and more.

River Days began as an opportunity to celebrate the Lincoln flat boat coming down the Ohio River, and although, it has grown into a full-fledged festival with all the trimmings, it has continued to strengthen, rather than lose, its historical foundation. 

“River Days is a festival that celebrates Mount Vernon’s historic heritage in relation to the Ohio River,” says  local historian and Renaissance man Jerry King. “The Ohio River is so important to our community’s history. We’re celebrating how it helped our economic, social and politics development.  Back then, all of the industries were linked to the river: agriculture, shipping corn, salted pork, timber and timber products, as well as other commodities, were shipped to markets all the way down the river to New Orleans. That laid the foundation for the agriculture, petroleum, and plastics industries we have today.”

“Friday is a field day for a lot of the local schools,” said Kay Kilgore, one of the event’s organizers. “Last year we had over 600 parents and teachers and kids there on Friday morning. Larry Williams and IGA provide them with lunch. The historical demonstrators love it.”

For River Days, King and his wife, Marsha, set up a Civil War field hospital that is visited by hundreds of local children. They act the parts of Governor and Mrs. Alvin P. Hovey and also portray a Civil War Union Army Doctor and nurse and display historical items. The Kings’ display even includes a Union soldier. 

“Ben Gibson was a corporal in the 25th Indiana regiment who was wounded in the head and leg at the battle of Shiloh,” says King. “We care for him in an army field tent.”

“We try to keep alive this part of our Posey County history,” continues King. “Our primary purpose is to educate students, children and adults about that important time in our country’s history, which encompasses the Civil War. Posey County contributed much to the Union’s efforts. We provided soldiers, low ranking officers and generals. Mount Vernon provided campgrounds and converted buildings into hospitals to take care of the wounded. Everyone was affected in some way by the Civil War and many volunteered their specific talents.”

“As we continue to grow,” says Kilgore, “we’ve added another 17 booth spaces which, for the first time, took us north on Walnut St. with vendors.  There is an even greater variety of food choices along with some of the teams from Smoke on the Ohio serving their goodies to the public.  The historical demonstrations will be returning to showcase their talents in Sherburne Park as well as numerous craft vendors selling their goods and local businesses or organizations present to share information about their group.  

This year’s musical entertainment has something for everyone.  Friday night at 7:30 p.m. hosts a Posey County favorite in The Works with Katie Beste York.  Saturday’s music includes The Gospel Sounds, Rootbound’s bluegrass, The Allan Baker Variety Band, and classical and patriotic music by Wolfgang Orchestra & Chorus.  Sunday, an area favorite, Blend, returns to River Days for the morning Worship Service singing its a capella Southern Gospel music and then performs again in the afternoon with their 50’s & 60’s doo-wop tunes.  Also, on Sunday, Meghan Nicole, a tri-state up and coming country singer will be performing some of her own music.

New activities on Saturday are The American Legion Riders Bike Show, the River City Clowns and an ultralight plane fly-by.   Returning festival favorites are the Great American Tow Boat Race and Shove Off Competition, the Little Miss & Mister Pageant, the 5k Color Run, the Pet Parade, evening Parade, the Keck-Gonnerman Tractor display, the landing of the Air Evac helicopter, and of course River Day’s much anticipated fireworks display.  Adding to the children’s activities this year is a zip line and a monkey bridge joining the inflatables, dunking booth, and the other anticipated activities of the past.”

“It’s a time when the community comes together,” says King. 

“River days is a very family-friendly event for the whole community,” says Kilgore. “It filled a void, and then some, after the old street carnival on Third Street, which many referred to as the ‘scum fest’ left,” says Kilgore. “We’re not a carnival atmosphere, we’re a festival atmosphere. We have paid security, we have FOP involvement, and there are always police officers around. Red Cross is always on site, and we’re working with Larry Robb to have a mobile EMT vehicle around. We even worked with Homeland Security to put a plan in place to cover all possibilities.” 

River Days is now a not-for-profit organization, a 501c4, which allows advertisers in their guide to deduct their advertising expenses. “We wanted our donors to get the benefits,” said Kilgore. “We needed to go out on our own. Before this year, we were under the city. Now, we have our own insurance and pay the city for security. We get a small amount of income from vendors, but most of it comes from advertising in the festival guide. We don’t charge our vendors a whole lot.”

There will be handicapped parking (for those with a plate or sticker) in the Vectren parking lot on College and Water St. as well as on the street at College between Second and Water.  The drop-off area for those participants that need to get closer but don’t have a handicapped sticker is also at College and Water.

More information is available in this week’s Democrat or at  www.mtvernonriverdays.wikispaces.com, including a schedule of events, map, a listing of all the vendors as well as other helpful information.