Peacemaker Festival Returns For Socially Distanced Edition, Donates $150K To Charity

Attendees of Peacemaker Festival
Courtesy Trent Goins
– Attendees of Peacemaker Festival
enjoy performances while seated in between lines maintaining social-distancing guidelines.

In the middle of a pandemic, while most large in-person festivals are still banned, organizers of Peacemaker Festival in Fort Smith, Ark., managed to not only safely host a sold-out event without a spike of COVID cases linked to the fest – but also raised its largest sum yet for charity.

“The community proved that if people take these safety precautions seriously and the volunteers and your organization are committed to enforcing that safety, a festival of this nature can be successful,”  Peacemaker Festival spokesperson and volunteer Jordan P. Johnson says.

The sixth annual Peacemaker Festival was held July 24-25 on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith at the Riverfront Amphitheatre just a mile from TempleLive, which made headlines in May for hosting Travis McCready as one of the first in-person performances during COVID. Peacemaker featured a lineup with an emphasis on red dirt and Americana acts including Koe Wetzel, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen, and Casey Donahew Band.

Peacemaker has always been a labor of love, guided by organizers’ passion for music, helping develop downtown Fort Smith and raising money for children’s charities. The festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization run by a 10-member volunteer community board, along with help from 60 volunteers. 

Wade Bown and Randy Rogers
Courtesy of Trent Goins
– Wade Bown and Randy Rogers
co-headliners of the “Hold My Beer and Watch This Tour,” headline Friday night at the Peacemaker Festival.

Though the amphitheatre was allowed to be at 66 percent capacity, the festival kept the event at under 50 percent capacity, with 4,600 tickets available. Peacemaker welcomed 2,437 fans on Friday and 2,560 on Saturday, compared to 3,500 to 5,000 per night previously. 

In planning the 2020 festival, Peacemaker co-founder Trent Goins, who is also one of the co-owners / managing partners of The Majestic venue in Fort Smith and president/CEO of OK Foods, says organizers crafted its COVID-19 protocol based on CDC guidelines and those outlined by the Arkansas Department of Health for “large outdoor venues.” The plan was then approved by the Arkansas Department of Health. 
The COVID protocol included mandatory temperature checks at the entrance gates, face masks required at all vendor points of contact, and social distancing required throughout the park, with grids painted in the grass to seperate groups of families. After Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statewide face mask mandate effective July 20, Peacemaker modified its protocol to add that masks were required any time fans moved throughout the park. 

“There were volunteers directing people: ‘You go this way. No, you walk this way.’ It was very well spaced out. Lots of fencing and guardrails to help further spread out people,” Johnson says. “It was an unequivocal commitment to safety.”

In addition to volunteers monitoring the crowds to make sure social distancing was enforced and attendees were wearing masks, artists on stage reminded fans about the protocols. Koe Wetzel also recorded a PSA to help spread the message. 

“We ran it between set changeovers and it’s one thing to have somebody from the festival up there on the video board telling people to wear a mask and social distance, but it’s another when you’ve got your headliner trying to help be proactive,” Goins says.  “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to describe how much we appreciate him helping us out.”

There were reports of a woman who had supposedly gotten tested prior to the festival, attended Peacemaker and received positive results after the event, but Goins says to his knowledge it was an unsubstantiated story. 

He explains “she never contacted us and the festival was never contacted by the Arkansas Department of Health for contact tracing.” 

The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which had five agents at the festival, issued two violations to the Peacemaker Festival: Failure to Be a Good Neighbor and Failure to Maintain Health, Safety and Sanitary Standards.
“While the festival had a solid plan and intent to enforce COVID-19 directives, there were several instances in which portions of the crowd were not following guidelines. Our agents worked closely with festival staff and volunteers to address concerns in real time although the crowd was ultimately too large to effectively enforce guidelines,” ABC spokesperson Scott Hardin told Pollstar. 
Goins notes that most attendees followed the COVID-19 protocols: “I would say that 85 percent of the patrons that came through the doors followed the directions the entire time. Fifteen percent didn’t. Of that 15%, probably 5% we bounced out the door for not following the guidelines that they clearly signed up for when buying a ticket. We gave everybody at least one chance and … if you just couldn’t get the hang of it, you were asked to leave the premises..”
He added, “Our board of directors paid [the $600 fine] out of our pocket and it did not come out of money we were giving to charity. We were more than happy to pay the fine so that we can raise money for charities that desperately need help during this COVID time.”  
Peacemaker Festival
Courtesy of Trent Goins
– Peacemaker Festival
board members and production crew gather for a masked photo-op: Mike Hart with Peacemaker co-founders Jeff Gosey and Trent Goins.
The economic turmoil of the pandemic had a drastic effect on sponsorships, which is usually between 40 and 50, compared to 12 sponsors in 2020 – but the fest was able to far exceed its donations this year with more tickets sold.

“Depending on your level of sponsorship [previously] you might get 100 to 150 free tickets. Because the economy is hurting, people just don’t sponsor on a large scale. So when I say we sold 4,600 tickets, we sold 4,600 tickets. We did not give any tickets away this year,” Goins says. 

“In 2019, we were able to donate $45,000 to charity, and to come back in 2020 and be able to donate $150,000, I don’t think anyone expected that we would be as successful as we were.” 

Awards were given out in five, ten and 20,000 dollar increments to 11 charities including Fort Smith Children’s Emergency Shelter, Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club, Abilities Unlimited of Fort Smith, Reynolds Cancer Support House, Ronald McDonald House, and Interfaith Preschool.