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Mayor Maddox: Tuscaloosa auditioning in 2024 to see if the city can continue to keep Kentuck

City of Tuscaloosa

Plans are shaping up as the city of Tuscaloosa gets ready to host the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for the first time ever. The annual arts festival now enters its 53rd year and has always been held in Northport. However, the Druid City and Kentuck struck an agreement last month for Tuscaloosa to host the festival in 2024. This came after some back and forth between Northport and Kentuck leaders.

The nationally recognized event highlights local and national folk art and attracts large crowds each year. In the past, participants enjoyed a variety of arts and crafts, live entertainment, spoken word, food trucks and local craft brews. More than 270 local and national artists performed at the festival in 2023.

Walt Maddox is the mayor of Tuscaloosa. He said the legal details are still being hammered out on where the event will take place. The city explained in a press release that the exact partnership agreement will be determined once a site for the festival is selected. Maddox said while the venue may be different this year, the festival will still have the same feel.

“Our goal is to the best-supporting actor for Kentuck. They are nationally recognized because of what they do,” he said. “What we want to do at the city is support their efforts and provide them the best logistical support possible. That the artist, the patrons, the community that comes out to the event has an experience that meets our standard of excellence,” Mayor Maddox continued. “No different than if you attended Live at the Plaza or Holidays [on] the Plaza or a show at the amphitheater. We want that experience to be first class and memorable so that Kentuck stays another 50 years in our community.”

Maddox said there were other offers from cities across Alabama to host the festival, but Druid City leaders felt it was crucial to keep the event close to Northport.

“We felt it was important to keep Kentuck here. For all the work that's been done by Kentuck’s team and Board of Directors in the city of Northport, to lose that out of our community, to me would have been something we would have regretted down the line,” he explained. “So, I was very proud, at least for ’24, we've been able to do that. We'll have to work on ‘24 and beyond. In many ways, the city's auditioning this year to see if we can continue to keep Kentuck,” Maddox continued. “We realized that we're on the clock, and we need to do an outstanding job, which I know we will.”

Maddox said Tuscaloosa has a lot to offer as a host site compared to other cities in the Yellowhammer State.

“I think what we can host is the logistical support. Eight times a year, we become Alabama's biggest city for about 16 days by hosting Alabama football. Just that logistical support alone is powerful,” he explained. “But then you look at what we do all year-round. Nearly 10,000 people have come through Holidays on the Plaza for six weeks in downtown Tuscaloosa. The logistical support behind that is amazing,” Maddox continued. “Every Saturday, 1,500 to 2,000 people come through the River Market and city of Tuscaloosa. 15 times a year: shows that the amphitheater, Druid City Arts Festival. Our Arts and Entertainment Department is second to none. The logistical support behind that is second to none. We know how to host first-class events.”

Maddox said the yearly event helps work against the negative reputation and stereotypes of Alabama.

“When you host a nationally renowned festival like Kentuck, it gives people insight to just how amazing this city is, just how amazing our entire community is and just how amazing our state is,” he said. “That we're more than sometimes the stereotypes that are portrayed out there and in the national media. That Alabama is certainly a state that is continuing to emerge, and we know the cultural arts is part of that.”

According to the Kentuck website, the festival is set for October 19 and 20. More information will be posted on the site once it’s announced.

Baillee Majors is the Morning Edition host and a reporter at Alabama Public Radio.
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