Toad Suck Daze not looking at big-name entertainment in 2015

Originally published: Feb. 14, 2015 in the Log Cabin Democrat | Link to article

The familiar toad races will remain at this year’s Toad Suck Daze, but quite a few aspects of Conway’s annual festival will be noticeably different.

Toad Suck Daze, held May 1-3, will shift to more of a local, southern feel, with lesser-known performers on the entertainment lineup and high-quality art vendors joining the new Oak Street Galleria.

Event organizers are quick to say that the changes are an attempt to grow the three-day festival without alienating those who have attended the festival in the past.

Mary Margaret Satterfield, director of Toad Suck Daze with the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival will continue to maintain its family-friendly atmosphere.

“The core of it is the same,” she said. “We’re still going to be about education, we’re still about giving money in scholarships, we’re still about giving money to pre-K education, we’re still about giving money to help with things downtown.”

Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, said the changes will allow for a “definitive change in the type of entertainment.”

”The whole festival is changing but the things that people love will not be changing,” he said.

Toad Suck Daze draws more than 100,000 people throughout the weekend each year, making it one of Arkansas’ largest festivals.

Satterfield said, with the future growth she anticipates as a result of changes, Toad Suck Daze will be able to award more money to more students.

“Toad Suck Daze always has tried to evolve, whether it’s adding a new event here or doing something new,” she said. “It’s more of that but we’re also trying to bring a community aspect into that and those changes.”

One of the most noticeable changes will mean lesser-known entertainment acts headlining at Simon Park during Toad Suck Daze.

The reasoning behind the change – increased costs over the years to bring in acts and a desire to make the festival more of an up-and-coming artist experience.

“We looked at [the term ’local’] as the states surrounding Arkansas, so our headliners and our larger entertainers might be recorded from Memphis or they might be from Oklahoma or Texas or Arkansas,” Satterfield said, adding that several have Conway and Arkansas connections.

Performers at this year’s Toad Suck Daze are expected to be announced in late March. The same number of acts as in the past is projected again for this year.

Satterfield said the budget cut happened as a result of evaluating where the money could be spent best for the festival.

“We give a lot in scholarships to education and we’ve always given some money to downtown as well,” she said. “We kind of really wanted to look at that and give to those two things. Entertainment, while important, those prices just keep creeping up and up and up.”

Lacy said, as a free festival with a smaller concert venue, Toad Suck Daze is limited in the types of performers it can bring.

“We’ve had some really great acts that bring in really, really large crowds,” he said. “Really large crowds don’t mean more revenue.”

She said the artists selected still have recording contracts but they might not have the same mainstream notability that previous performers have had at Toad Suck Daze.

“We’ll still do one night that is more country,” he said. “I don’t know if the band we have booked would be considered country but it has that country sound to it.”

Satterfield said another night would have more of a rock feel. Christian music will make a return this year, and similar to last year, she said local churches will perform.

While the plans are not finalized, she said Toad Suck Daze organizers are in talks with [the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN)] to create a Family Day.

Oak Street Galleria, described as a “high-end” shopping experience, will run down Oak Street toward the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce building.

Lacy said clothing, housewares, art and antiques are a few of the items that attendees of Toad Suck Daze will likely see. He added that he believes the Galleria will be the most visible change this year.

Satterfield said the “high-end” phrasing is mean to imply higher quality rather than high cost.

The Galleria will replace the business expo that has previously been part of the festival.

“Our downtown merchants that want to help will have a hand in selecting some of the booths that go in there,” Satterfield said. “It’s going to be more a high-end boutique with a fine art area.”

In evaluating the changes, Satterfield said after discussions, Toad Suck Daze organizers determined that the addition would enhance the mix of options available to festival goers.

“I’ve always wanted to do more a fine arts side of [Toad Suck Daze],” she said. “In talking to downtown [Conway business owners], they wanted an area that had less commercial product and had some more arts and crafts or fine art. Even some boutique-type items that complimented their stores as well.”

Satterfield said, as much as she loves the waxed-dipped hands and sand art options at the Toad Market, attendees will not see the booths as part of the Galleria, though the options will still be a fixture at Toad Suck Daze.

About 60 booth spaces are available at the Galleria. Applications are the same as Toad Market applications, with businesses awaiting committee approval following a March 1 application deadline. Late applications will be accepted through April 17.

Other changes will involve splitting the carnival rides into two sections of the festival’s layout.

“Currently, [rides sit] in the big parking lot that’s kind of across from Lenders Title and Conway Corporation,” Satterfield said. “We’re still going to have a large carnival area there and it’s going to involve kind of our teen rides, our larger and thrill rides.”

Child-friendly rides will move to the Toadal Kids Zone in the parking lot of the Faulkner County Courthouse.

Satterfield said the change will remove some of the congestion that has been in the area previously.

The festival will also see marketing tweaks in branding, T-shirts and advertising. Satterfield said Toad Suck Daze will go back to its southern roots.

“This year, you’ll still see the trademark toad that we use,” she said. “But in the past it’s been pretty graphic in the design and in the lettering. We’re kind of pulling that back and giving it a look that looks more stylized as a rustic, southern style.”

The logo has not been finalized and will be released as part of the festival’s 2015 unveiling event in March. The Toad Store will also open next month.

As for concerns about the change in entertainment for Toad Suck Daze, Satterfield said that she is not quite sure yet.

“I think that there will be people that are excited to hear the artists that we have,” she said “It might not be the people who have been excited in the past but there are people I know that will be excited to hear the artists that we have.”

Setup for Toad Suck Daze will begin a little later this year, with streets shutting down at about 7 p.m. the Thursday of the festival, compared to 5:30 p.m. in the past.

“It gives people who are trying to get from one side of town to the other after work or businesses in downtown to finish their day on Thursday,” she said.

Part of the decision to move setup to a later time involved businesses who were concerned about a loss in revenue.

“As we really started looking at our timeline, it makes for a later day setting up for us, but it won’t be too hard to do,” Satterfield said. “It’s something that we had actually never thought about or looked into. Once it was brought to our attention, we thought it was something easy to change.”