By James Beaty
It’ll be the best Wild West Fest ever.
So say the planners of the Wild West Festival set for Oct. 5 in McAlester’s Old Town.
Although the Old Town Festival has been ongoing for years, this will mark the second year it has been billed as the Wild West Festival, with even more of an emphasis on Western culture. This year’s festival is dedicated to the famed Western novel and movie, “True Grit” — part of which features J.J. McAlester, the founder of the city of McAlester.
It will include a free outdoor showing of “True Grit” featuring John Wayne’s Academy-Award winning performance as Rooster Cogburn, on the night of the festival.
Live entertainment — including a well-reviewed Johnny Cash impersonator — a shoot-out, a bevy of food and crafts vendors, stagecoach rides and numerous other activities will be ongoing during the festival, set to begin in the morning and extend all day and into the night.
Meanwhile, volunteers are set to work at Hutchison Park, beginning at 9 a.m. next Saturday and Sunday, to try and get the first phase completed of a project to re-create a traditional Choctaw village and stickball field at the site.
This year’s festival will mark a first for the event.
“We kick-off with our first-ever parade,” said Eddie Gray, president of the Old Town Association.
This year’s Wild West Festival is set to begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday, with the McAlester Public Library’s downtown parade opening the event.
Parade participants will gather in the lot adjacent to the North Town Church of Christ, and will head north on North Main Street.
Organizers said there is still time to enter the parade by contacting the McAlester Public Library.
“We’re looking for floats, horseback riders, old-time wagons — anything that will fit,” said MPL Assistant Librarian Ellen Barlow.
Costumed participants are especially welcome.
“We’re looking for cowboys, Indians, Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers, pioneer women, mountain men,” Larkin said, presenting a few examples.
One library worker, Candy Larkins, is coming dressed as Belle Starr, Barlow said.
Walkers and animals are also welcome. she said, noting the parade distance is about a quarter of a mile, she said.
“We have about 17 entries already from churches and businesses,” Barlow said of the parade participants. Application forms are available on the library’s Web site at www.mcalesterlibrary.net, she said. The library can also be contacted at 918-426-0930.
Simultaneously with the parade, a Little Buckaroos Skittle Dash will be held, for children 12 and younger. Similar to a fun run, the dash calls for the youngsters to lead the parade down the street, then turn off North Main Street at Krebs Avenue, where they can help themselves to a trough full of packaged Skittles, Gray said.
When they finish the race, their clothes will be doused with colored powder, so the clothing should be something that’s OK to have colored, organizers said.
It’s similar to the Wild Color Stampede 5K Run for grown-ups, organizers said. The Color Run is set to begin at 10 a.m.
Another area with activities for youngsters will be the Kid Corral, said Pam Kirby, who is helping with some of the planning. It will include inflatables and other items for children, organizers said.
Meanwhile, there will be a lot of action on-stage, where Stage Manager Lacey Sudderth will shepherd a variety of acts throughout the day.
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison is set to proclaim Oct. 5 “True Grit” Day in McAlester, organizers said.
Former Mayor Kevin Priddle will serve as emcee in the morning, and Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin will be the emcee for the afternoon, Gray said.
The new re-created Choctaw Village is set to be formally dedicated at Hutchison Park at 11 a.m., organizers said.
At high noon, a shoot-out is set for downtown, which will also include some scenes from “True Grit,” and is set to feature Rooster Cogburn, Tom Chaney, Frank Ross and Mattie Ross, and others characters from the movie and novel.
Assistant Librarian Cathy McGilberry said there are still several roles to fill.
Also, Choctaw dancers will participate in the Wild West Festival, Gray said.
Festival organizers were enthusiastic about the booking of Johnny Cash impersonator Phillip Bauer, who will pay tribute to Cash through a 90 minute concert. He’s set to perform at 3 p.m. Saturday on the main stage.
Another new feature this year is stagecoach rides, which will feature an authentic stage coach, according to Gray. Stagecoach rides will be available around the festival area for $5 each, he said.
Also during the festival, a shuttle hay ride will be available to transport festival-goers to the Tannehill Museum, which will also be open for viewing.
Meanwhile music will be ongoing throughout the day.
Additional performers include:
• Levi Parham, a local musician who sings and plays blues, folk and Americana music, who has performed across the Southwest.
• Kyle Martin, another local performer, who recently moved back to the area from New Mexico. He plays country favorites as well as originals, organizers said.
• Hunter Gotcher, a 17-year-old musician from the McAlester area, winner of the recent Spaghetti Western Talent Show at The Grand Event Center.
• Stan Ward is also set to perform during the event.
Additional performers include trick roper Richard Heinrich from the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show.
Also new this year is Steve Crawford, who will come to the festival as a snake-oil salesman with a medicine show featuring Doc Crawford’s Water Experiments.
In the evening, the movie “True Grit” is set to be shown, utilizing the city of McAlester new inflatable outdoor screen. While some bleachers will be available for the audience, those attending may want to bring their lawn chairs, in case the bleachers are filled.
For the movie, the McAlester Public Library will offer chili dogs “with all the fixin’s” to the first 200 people to attend.
In addition, the Old Town Association will host an ice cream social.
Wild West Festival organizers plan to use 10 tents the city recently purchased to be used for festivals and other community events.
In addition to other activities, the Pink Garter Saloon will be opened, in a tent next to the Whistle Stop Bistro, organizers said. The Wild West Festival will have its very own labeled beer for the event.
A variety of vendors will have booths set up for the festival.
“We have a pretty good turnout of vendors,” said Wes Carter, another of the individuals helping plan the festival. He said approximately 40 vendors have already signed up.
Anyone needing more information about vendor space and prices can call the Whistle Stop Bistro at 918-423-8620, and ask to speak to Carter or Gray.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.