Comfortable temperatures and mostly clear skies are in the forecast for the 2016 Festival of the Bells, which kicks off Thursday in Hillsboro and runs through Saturday.
Rick Williams, now in his 30th year as entertainment chairman for the festival and 32nd year as a member of the festival committee, said Tuesday he welcomes the predictions of good weather, noting years past that sometimes have seen almost unbearably hot weather during the Fourth of July weekend.
The latest forecast Tuesday afternoon called for sunny skies and a high of 83 on Thursday, a chance of morning thunderstorms Friday passing by Friday afternoon with a high of 84, and mostly sunny skies with a high of 82 on Saturday. Moderate to low humidity is predicted, making for a pleasant outdoor experience in the afternoons and evenings each day.
Opening ceremonies are 5 p.m. Thursday at the main stage uptown, followed by the parade at 6:30 p.m.
Williams said he is excited about another strong lineup of entertainment for the event. He said that back in 2000, the festival ratcheted up the star power of the festival with Brad Paisley in the lineup just as he was becoming a national star. Before that, popular but more regional acts were usually featured, ranging from The Vogues, Phil Dirt and the Dozers, the Van Dells and Elvis tribute artist Mike Albert.
But after Paisley in 2000, festival acts have included big names like Rascal Flatts, Brad Martin, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Neal McCoy, Julianne Hough, Lady Antebellum, Justin Moore, The Band Perry, Hunter Hayes, Chase Bryant, RaeLynn and many more.
This year, the big headliners are Jana Kramer on Friday night and Phil Vassar on Saturday evening.
“Needless to say these two will probably be a little more known than some of the ones we’ve had here in the past because a lot of the others were a little on the newbie side,” Williams said in an earlier interview. “We’re pretty happy with who we have. Both will be big draws. There’s no doubt about that.”
Williams said the committee looks at about eight names of people “and then we see who’s available. It just comes down to who’s available, the money, everything else, and there we go.”
A recent hit by Kramer was “I Got the Boy,” a sentimental song about finally moving on and which serves as an entry point for an album that’s as much personal journey as it is musical expression, her website says.
The 2012 ACM Top New Female Vocalist of the Year, Kramer released her debut album not long before that. It included the hit single “Wy Ya Wanna.” She also played the role of Alex Dupre on the television series “One Tree Hill.”
Williams said Vasser plays a mean piano and will likely appeal to a little older crowd. His signature songs include 10 No. 1 singles and 26 Top 40 hits, including “Carlene,” “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Six-Pack Summer,” and “That’s When I Love You,” according to his website.
Vassar was racking up hits on the radio long before he began his own recording career that has seen the release of six albums, two ASCAP Songwriter of the Year trophies, ACM’s Top New Male Vocalist and soldout shows across the country.
Grammy Award nominated Building 429 will be the featured act when the festival opens with a Christian music act on Thursday, June 30.
“They’re upbeat, exciting, and we’re excited to have them,” said Hillsboro resident Brian Robinson, who leads a group that has brought a Christian concert in for the festival’s opening night for nine years. “They’re a little different from what we’ve had in the past, but the message is the same, and it’s very passionate.”
All main concert acts start at 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Opening acts featuring local talent begin around 7:30 p.m. and include the FBC Praise Team on Thursday, Jessica Aber on Friday, and Becky Goble and Sheri Smith on Saturday.
There will be several contests and events for local residents to enjoy at this year’s festival. Michael Bradford, festival committee president, said in an earlier interview that the committee planned more activities this year “to help attract more people to the concerts and we want to give people more things to see and do during the day.”
Williams said Tuesday that about 75 percent of the food booths at the festival are local vendors, and 85-90 percent of all other booths and exhibits are local.
The committee members and officers for the 2016 festival are: Bradford, president; Mary Fent, vice president and crafters; Beverly Carroll, co-treasurer; Connie Williams, co-treasurer and VIP tent; Debbie Walingford, secretary and information booth; Rick Williams, entertainment; Tara Pendell, food vendors; Sara Carroll, website and food vendors; Abby Hilterbrand, crafters and VIP tent; Nylah Rothwell, 5K race and events; Charlie Wallingford, information booth; Norman Fent, set up; Ronnie Whitenack, set up; and Justin Harsha, set up and city representative.
See a special section inside Wednesday’s Times-Gazette for more information, or visit the Festival of Bells on Facebook or its website at www.festivalofthebells.com.