A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
It's been almost two years since Cliff Baker took over Wildwood, the arts facility in the wilds of West Little Rock started in 1989 as a home for operas. Since then, Baker, a founder and longtime director for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, has slowly redefined the programming. Wildwood's Harvest Festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, looks to use the whole of the park — the natural setting as well as the indoor stage — for a very lively mixture of food, bluegrass music and musical competitions and hay rides.
Cash prizes will awarded to winners of the Root Culinary Competition, a contest of recipes using root vegetables that will be judged at 1 p.m. Saturday (entry forms can be found at www.wildwoodpark.org). The Harvest Festival will have cakewalks and a bake shop where caramel apples and cupcakes provided by Blue Cake Company can be decorated. You can wash down the sweets at the afternoon beer tastings hosted by Diamond Bear.
The highlights of the kid-friendly attractions are a tractor-drawn hay ride to Pumpkin Hill and a hay fort built by Amoz Eckerson of Jameson Architects. If the kids have any energy left (and you know they will), they can bang on something at Paul Morphis' One Man Band Petting Zoo, see the Wolfe at the Door Puppet show, hear stories by Faye Hanson or sing along with folk musician Mare Carmody.
Or they could gander at the Arkansas Pickin' and Fiddlin' Championship, which begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday. According to competition coordinator Jonathan Trawick, the musicians who will fight it out for $1,000 in prizes in several divisions (from banjo to mandolin to band) won't be a bunch of grayhairs. Trawick, a 26-year-old insurance agent, is one of the young converts to the old school music.
“My dad is an Arkansas fiddle champion,” says Trawick. “My dad's dad was a fiddle champion. I grew up listening to that kind of music. In high school I was too cool for it. In college I started playing fiddle contests. My passion is to promote the music.”
Trawick expects about 100 or so competitors with some of those traveling from nearby states.
“Oklahoma and Texas hold a couple of these kinds of competitions each week,” notes Trawick. “Arkansas only has two or three a year and Wildwood is the only competition in the state with these many divisions. There are a number of young musicians who will be here and will be exciting to see. Jed and Harry Clark have competed in Silver Dollar City. I know a couple of hotshot fiddlers from Oklahoma will be here. One is 16 or 17 now.”
Perhaps the best indication of the level of talent that will be on hand at Wildwood are the judges. Trawick takes particular pride in the fact that Junior Marriott, a six-time Missouri state fiddle champion, will be coming in to evaluate the performances. Carl Cobb, member of the Cobb Brothers, will be the MC for competition.
The music won't be confined to the championship. On Sunday The Hartley Family, Posey Hill, The Itinerant Locals and Downtown Divas will perform.