By Callie Hietala
Music, mud, motors, and magic were just a few of the things you find do if you were looking for entertainment in Martinsville and Henry County last Saturday. Several community-driven events, most of them free, all hosted either by community institutions or volunteer groups, took place all around the area. While each event was its own, unique experience, one common thread tied them all together—a desire to create a vibrant, thriving Martinsville-Henry County for residents and visitors alike.
Smith River Fest
Henry County Parks and Recreation, Visit Martinsville-Henry County, the Smith River Sports Complex, the Boys & Girls Club of the Blue Ridge, the Dan River Basin Association, and the YMCA all came together to present the 14th (or 13th, if you don’t count last year) annual Smith River Fest.
Lucky festival-goers were greeted near the festival entrance by a giant reticulated python, a pet of Scott Reeves who, along with Martinsville City Police officer Jayme Clark, of the department’s Animal Control Division, talked with the fascinated and fearful alike about proper care and handling of the snake. A jungle python and monitor lizard also wandered the grounds.
“We want to show people that these are exotic companion animals that you can own in the Commonwealth,” said Clark. “They’re not gonna harm you. You just have to use proper care.”
After grabbing a photo op with the snake, visitors could browse the booths of local merchants like CharmCat LLC and Imagination Lavender Farms; chat with members of area organizations including the Master Naturalists, the Center for Pediatric Therapies, and Fairy Stone State Park; and grab a snow cone, pizza slice, hot dog, or even a giant pork chop sandwich from one of the many food trucks on site.
After a good deal of slipping and sliding at the start line, runners in the ever-popular Helgramite Hustle Mud Run dashed through a racecourse littered mud pits, creek crossings, and cargo nets, cheered on by friends and family.
Intrepid souls scaled the sides of a rock-climbing wall and friends challenged each other to duels in the water gun battle zone. The demo paddling pool, run by the Dan River Basin Association, was a runaway hit, with children and adults alike coming back again and again to try their hand at kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Also popular was magician Joseph Young, who traveled all the way from Big Stone Gap, VA, to perform.
When the sun got too hot, there were plenty of opportunities to cool down. Two hammock gardens were set up in the shade of the trees alongside the river, perfect for a quick nap. Tubes and life jackets were available for anyone who felt like a leisurely float down the river.
“We host the festival simply as a way of celebrating the Smith River and its importance to the history of the area and the lives of the citizens who call this place their home for so many years,” said Brandon Martin, Henry County’s Public Relations and Community Liaison. “Ultimately, it provides a community-oriented activity for our residents and drives tourism from other areas into Henry County. We are known far and wide for the quality of our natural amenities and the Smith River Fest displays that full range, including our Blueway and trail systems.”
As the Smith River Fest was winding down for the day, the Bassett Cruise-In was just getting started.
“A bunch of us hometown guys, we just wanted to help the GBAC (the Greater Bassett Area Community,) said Allen Alderman, chairman of the Bassett Cruise-In Committee, as he watched car after car, polished and glistening in the summer sunlight, arrive in downtown Bassett.
The GBAC is “a group of people that wanted to preserve what they could of Bassett,” said Alderman. Their efforts include everything from organizing events throughout the year to mowing the grass along the roadsides.
“Several years ago, I went to the president of the GBAC and I said, ‘I want to help you grow Bassett with a cruise-in.’” It took a few years, but the event got off the ground, according to Alderman, who works with a committee of 10 or 12 people who handle everything from finances to logistics.
“I felt like there was something here that I could help with,” said Alderman. He found others who felt the same. “You put an idea out there, and you find out other people are thinking about the same thing. So, I think the Lord’s got a way of putting people together to make things happen. And lo and behold, here it is. The community is coming together.”
By the event’s 3 p.m. start time, there were more than 200 cars on the lot, and more coming, from Stuart, Mount Airy, N.C., and even West Virginia.
“The year before last, we had a car from New York,” Alderman said. “To have this many people here in this short a time is phenomenal. You don’t do that in the cruise-in world. Usually, you do two or three and it’s done.”
He credits the success to the amount of effort he and his team put into advertising and organizing the event.
The event is free for everyone to attend, thanks to community sponsorships. The main sponsor is Bassett Funeral Service. Other sponsors include Bryant Radio, radio station B-99.9, and Papa’s Pizzeria.
“This little town is coming back. That’s what we’re all about. We’re about community. We’re about town. We’re about family. We’re about togetherness. We just can’t stand for our town to be dead,” he said.
“This cruise-in is not for me, it’s for my children and my grandchildren. I feel like it’s something the Lord has called me to do. If it’s the Lord’s will, then it’s going to happen. And it’s happening,” he added.
Uptown Music Fest
The day ended with the inaugural Uptown Music Fest in front of the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville. Hundreds of people, lawn chairs and blankets in tow, filled the parking lot to listen (and dance) to music from The McFlys, The Executives Band, and the headlining soul band, the Chairmen of the Board.
The fest is the newest event organized by the Matthew Wayne Wade Foundation; a nonprofit organization created in honor of Matt Wade who unexpectedly passed away in 2010. The foundation is best known for its annual Wine by the River event held at the Smith River Sports Complex each fall.
While the fest wasn’t a free one, it was affordable—only $10 at the gate, and for a good cause.
“We give all our proceeds to charity,” said Tanya Martin, a volunteer with the foundation. “We have given to Henry County Public Schools, we have given to Laurel Park Middle—we bought their AED machines when no one else could. Last year was Project Lifesaver with the” Martinsville Sherriff’s Office.
“We try to stick to health and general wellness within the community. Whoever’s in need,” said Martin.
The MWW Foundation is an entirely volunteer-driven effort. Martin said she comes home from her regular day job in the evenings and gets to work on foundation efforts. “We’re not just proud of what we try to do for the community, but we work hard.”
They chose to hold their new music festival at VMNH because “we wanted to do something good in the Uptown area for revitalization, just common good. The more events the better. The more traffic Uptown the better,” Martin said.
“We’re inspired to provide resources to other community partners to bring activity for all citizens of Martinsville and Henry County to enjoy,” said Dr. Joe Keiper, executive director of the Virginia Museum of Natural History who donated their facility to the effort.
Enjoy they did. The McFlys started off the party with popular 80s hits like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which had people singing across the parking lot. The Executives got folks out of their chairs and on their feet, dancing in the crowd and in front of the stage. When the Chairmen of the Board took the stage at 10 p.m. as a nearly full moon crested the museum roof, the energy in the crowd was electric.
Martin promised the first Uptown Music Fest would not be the last.
“We just want to see good things,” she said. “We want to see positive things and everyone collaborating together to make it happen.”