The 2021 Festival of the Bells promises to be “bigger and better,” according to committee president Rick Williams, who told The Times-Gazette that the artists scheduled for this year’s cancelled edition have agreed to return next July.
He also made one other positive announcement, courtesy of the city of Hillsboro and the administration of Mayor Justin Harsha.
“Next year’s Festival of the Bells will return to uptown Hillsboro,” Williams said.
In particular, Williams extended heartfelt appreciation to not only Harsha, but also to Hillsboro Chief of Police Eric Daniels, Paint Creek Joint Fire/EMS District Chief David Manning, Hiullsboro Public Works Superintendent Shawn Atkins, Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Brianne Abbott and others for “their hard work in getting us back up town.”
“They had permitted us to return to the uptown for 2020,” Williams said, “and then this pandemic happened and we had to set on some things for a while before we could make a formal announcement.”
In a Friday news release, the festival committee said: “The COVID-19 pandemic had brought restrictions that would not allow us to have a safe and healthy experience at the festival. Protecting people in our community and visitors to our community during the festival is our top priority. The health and safety of all is paramount. We are currently working with agents, managers and vendors to create a great event for 2021 and are hopeful that community members, festival attendees, and artists are understanding and cooperative with our decision.”
Williams confirmed Tuesday that all three entertainers originally scheduled for this year agreed to come back for next year’s Festival of the Bells, which is scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 1-3, 2021.
Georgia native and ACM New Female Artist of the Year nominee Caylee Hammack will kick off the 36th edition of the festival on Thursday night, July 1.
She is currently touring with Reba McIntyre and during the summer will tour with Luke Bryan.
Filling the “tall” order of entertainment on Friday night, July 2 will be Matt Sell, who before finding his passion for music was a 6-7 collegiate basketball standout.
His romantic debut single “Prayed for You” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Air Chart in October 2019. This summer he’ll be touring with Rascal Flatts, who appeared at the Festival of the Bells in 2001.
“We’re excited to have Jordan Feliz for next year,” said Brian Robinson, who has worked with the FOB committee for the last 15 years in bringing Christian and gospel music to the festival. “He has had quite a road that God has led him on to use his talents and gifts to share his music, that oftentimes comes from personal experiences.”
Feliz was the GMA Dove New Artist of the Year in 2016, is married to his high school sweetheart and resides in Nashville, and will take the stage Saturday night, July 3.
Robinson expressed his appreciation to the Highland County Ministerial Association and area businesses for the sponsorship of not only the Saturday evening contemporary Christian show, but also for their support of the other artist’s performances on Thursday and Friday.
Williams said there was just something special about having the festival return to the comfortable confines of the center of Hillsboro.
“People like to eat their hamburgers, French fries, tenderloin and funnel cakes out on the street under the traffic light,” he said.
He said it also afforded the city the opportunity to showcase itself while welcoming both out-of-town and out-of-state visitors, and to enjoy top-notch entertainment, all for free.
“I’ve always been a big proponent of giving back and that’s what our committee is all about,” Williams said. “We all work here, we live here, and I don’t know of any other fair or festival that has the quality of entertainment that we have, and they can enjoy it for free.”
He said he could remember numerous times when someone stopped him on the street just to say thank you for bringing in quality artists to the festival that they wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise.
Some of the past music concerts featured up-and-coming performers such as Brad Paisley in 2000, Joe Diffie and Rascal Flats in 2001, Dierks Bentley and Trick Pony in 2004, Blake Shelton in 2005, Taylor Swift in 2007, which was one of the largest in memory, Julianne Hough and Lady Antebellum in 2009, The Band Perry in 2011 and Parmalee in 2014.
Celebrated each year around the Fourth of July, Hillsboro’s Festival of the Bells is an outgrowth of a successful 1976 bicentennial celebration of the country’s founding.
“We are thrilled that Hillsboro’s new administration has allowed us to come back uptown,” committee co-vice president Tom Zile said. “We feel like for all of these years that the festival is a homecoming or reunion type of a setting, and it just fits better uptown.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.