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It was 1986. Des Arc Mayor Merlin Hendricks organized a community celebration to observe Arkansas’ 150th birthday. A carnival was brought to town. Local bands filled the air with 80s rock. Moms and dads let loose during the Street Dance. And thus, “Steamboat Days” was born.
The festival was named for the town’s vital link to the outside world in its early days: steamboats on the White River. In the decades since, Steamboat Days has become a staple in this small river town where there’s not a whole lot else to do.
As a kid, I looked forward to the first weekend in June almost as much as Christmas. Getting out of school was good. But summer hadn’t really begun until I’d seen Main Street blocked off and carnival rides being assembled. It’s the one weekend a year when I could roam the streets with my friends, eat funnel cakes for dinner, and purchase bottles of “invisible ink.” Life was good during Steamboat Days.
I’m all grown-up now, but I still look forward to the first weekend in June. Because, it turns out, experiencing Steamboat Days through the eyes and smiles of your kids is just as exciting. When my kids pick up a rubber duck to examine its belly, beam while spinning around on the carousel, and hold hands with their friends while they walk the blocked off streets… we’re all in our happy places. The cycle of small-town life has come full circle, and the magic lives on through them.
This year, Steamboat Days is celebrating its 30th Anniversary with new attractions and many of the same old favorites. On Tuesday, June 2, there will be a “Party Like It’s 1986” dinner and dance. Tickets to this event are $15. The annual Miss Steamboat Days pageant will be on the Courthouse Square Thursday night, along with the opening of the carnival, which promises to be even better this year. Other events throughout the weekend include a pet show, duck calling contest, children’s activities, arts and crafts, vendors, a chili cook-off and much more. Live entertainment will include Ricochet, Billy Jones Bluez, Kyla Horton and more. You can find more information about Steamboat Days at www.SteamboatDays.net or at Facebook.com/SteamboatDays.
I, for one, have been counting down the weeks ‘til Steamboat Days for, well, weeks. And my two girls are their mama’s daughters for sure. They ask me every other day or so when Steamboat Days will be here. I can’t really even put into words what it is we love about this simple, three-day event. It’s something about strolling past familiar faces you know well but haven’t seen in a while. It’s something about stepping out your front door and hearing music and laughter and teenagers squealing tires. And it’s something about the fried food. (Let’s just be honest.)
For 30 years now, we’ve been serving up freedom, good memories, and camaraderie on the first weekend in June. I invite you to join us and experience small town life at its best!
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