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Ole Brook Festival organizers expect biggest crowd ever

With the 35th Annual Ole Brook Festival only one week away,Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce volunteer and Entergyworker Kenny Goza has lots of checking to do around downtown.

The festival logistics guru has to prepare more than 100electrical outlets scattered across Railroad Park, from which 150kilowatts of electricity per hour will supply around 200 food andcrafts vendors through approximately 7,500 feet of extension cords.With everything seemingly hinging on electricity, Goza’s job isimportant.

His job is also done, with a few days to spare.

“We’re ready, we’re good. We could have the festival tomorrow ifwe needed to,” Goza said.

The final preparations have been made, and what is expected tobe the biggest Ole Brook Festival ever will begin Friday night andcarry on throughout the day Saturday. Around 7,000 people or moreare expected to attend the free festival, which organizers bill asMississippi’s premiere family festival.

“The final details are being put together, and we’re tying upsome loose ends,” said Jeff Doremus, chairman of the chamber’sfestival committee. “The big stuff is all done. Now, we’re takingcare of the little things, watching the weather and waiting forpeople to show up.”

Doremus said vendors – the heart of the festival – will beginarriving Thursday afternoon, and by Friday he said the downtownarea would be jam-packed. With organizers observing vendors asindicators to success, this year’s festival should live up toexpectations.

“We’ve got most of our main areas completely filled. We probablyhave maybe 20 spaces left, which is not many at all,” Doremus said.”We always have folks who wait until the last minute, watching theweather, and if everything looks great, they’ll call in and say,’Have you got a space left?'”

Everything else, Doremus said, is right on schedule. Thefestival will include special guests, like Christian illusionistJared Hall, Mississippi School of the Arts senior and former”American Idol” contestant Jasmine Murray, who will serve as acelebrity judge in the talent show, and a NASCAR display featuringthe Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup Show Car.

Live music will fill ears across downtown on Friday night, whenlocal performers Vonda Laird, The Colonels and Ghost Town will bejoined by Southwest Mississippi youth performer Hannah BelleSutherland.

Everything for this year’s Ole Brook Festival is bigger andbetter, but perhaps no other area has been improved as much as theOle Brook Talent Show, which has been lengthened to run throughoutthe day Saturday and incentivized with bigger cash prizes. Thetalent show is sanctioned by the Mid-South Fair Youth TalentContest, and will serve as a qualifier for its nationalcompetition.

“Our sound is professional, our stage is state-of-the-art andour performers will have the opportunity to almost feel likethey’re in a live concert,” said Kay Burton, the chamber’s programdirector and talent show organizer.

Burton said around 40 acts would perform throughout the day intwo divisions – the senior division, for ages 13-21, which startsat 9 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m.; and the junior division, for ages3-12, which starts at 1 p.m. and runs until 5 p.m. The juniordivision will be further divided into ages 3-8 and 9-12, shesaid.

At 5 p.m., the first place finishers from five separatecategories and the next five highest-scoring performers willcompete in the talent show finals. The first place overall winnerwill win $500 and a bit to compete in the Mid-South nationalcompetition. Second place will receive $250, and third will receive$100.

Entry fees are $30 per solo act in the senior division and $20per solo act in the junior division. The deadline for entry isWednesday, Sept. 30, but Burton said the rules are lenient andencourage late-comers to call the chamber at 601-833-6961.

There’s a reason for Burton’s leniency. The chamber strives topromote local talent, she said, whether it be academic or artistic.Last year, four local performers made it to the Mid-Southsemifinals, she said.

“We have a strong community that’s rich in talent, and the onlyway these young people grow and learn and develop their skills isbeing able to sing, perform and compete,” Burton said. “We want tosee our community be all it can be, and however we can promotethose different aspects, we want to do it.”