BELPRE - The 80th annual Belpre Homecoming is believed to have been one of the most popular in recent memory, organizers said Saturday.
"Especially Thursday night with the 'Healthy Youth and Families' program and the New Hollow concert was the busiest opening night Belpre Homecoming has had in a very long time," said event co-chair Kathy Lott-Grahmkow.
Teresa Turner, with the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce which puts on the three-day event each year, said in the two decades she has attended and helped with the opening night she had never seen such a large crowd.
Rock band Modern Superstar performs as thousands of people filled Belpre’s Civitan Park Saturday evening. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Phil Mowrey and his son Nick, 4, left, go down the giant slide with Stacy Guisinger and her son Ethan, 3, Saturday in Civitan Park during the final day of Belpre Homecoming. (Photo by Jolene Craig)
Tyler Bayes, of Belpre, mouths a balloon Thursday during the opening night of the annual Belpre Homecoming event as his parents, Keith and Olivia Bays, stopped at one of the concession stands for a snack. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
"Because of the attention and positive feedback - not only from the kids and their families, but also from the organizations that joined Homecoming for that - we will be looking into doing the 'Healthy Youth and Families' night next year," Lott-Grahmkow said.
Lott-Grahmkow said the crowd was impressed by New Hollow, the Columbus-based band featuring Mick Clouse, Chad Blashford and Evan West which began as an anti-bullying music group and now has a national following.
"New Hollow not only performed to the biggest crowd Homecoming has had on a Thursday night, but also the members stayed at Civitan Park until 1:20 a.m. signing autographs and taking picture with all of the fans who waited," she said.
Another large crowd filled the park for Friday night's Casey James concert where the "American Idol" contestant performed a free show.
A slight change in plans for Saturday night's entertainment meant a big opportunity for rock band Modern Superstar.
The band's lead singer Jamie Fletcher is a Belpre native who makes a point to perform at every Belpre Homecoming. On Saturday evening, the band decided to take the earlier 8 p.m. time slot originally held by openers Mirror Mirror.
"Modern Superstar got a call after Homecoming started inviting us to perform four days at the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, S.D.," Fletcher said. "This is a huge opportunity for us, but we don't want to miss out on Belpre."
Sturgis is important because beginning Monday the 72nd annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins. The event is hailed as one of the largest motorcycle events in the world with an international audience of more than half a million people.
Fletcher apologized for any confusion caused by Saturday's performance time switch.
"Normally, because Belpre is my home, I wouldn't have even thought twice about changing the show, but because fate gave us this huge chance - there is usually a three-year waiting list to perform at Sturgis - we didn't want to lose out on the chance to play there and the exposure it will give us," he said. "All of the hard work we have been putting into the band through shows like Homecoming has given us this great opportunity."