Route 66 in the News

Organizers Report on Festival

2013-08-05 15:59:37

JOPLIN, Mo. — “This will be unforgettable!” wrote Dickie Maxwell, of Preston, Md. “Great job Joplin, Mo. We love to cruise. Trans Am power!”

“Always a traveler, never a tourist,” was the message left by Ellen and Lily Cummins, no address given.

“Just passing through Joplin on our way to Santa Monica on Route 66,” wrote the Bullaert family of Belgium.

“G’day from Down Under,” said John and Mandy from Hobart, Australia. “Fantastic.”

The handwritten messages were among hundreds left on the Welcome Wall during the Route 66 International Festival last week in downtown Joplin.

But as impressive as those messages were, that will not be what Rick Freeland, a co-founder of the Route 66 Alliance, will remember most about this year’s event. It was a moment before the showing of the movie “Cars” at the 66 Drive-in Theatre on Thursday in Carthage that he will remember.

“This woman stopped me and asked me if I was responsible for putting the festival on,” Freeland said during a telephone interview Monday from Tulsa, Okla. “I said I was a member of the organization that did.

“She thanked me, and then her 5-year-old son grabs me by the legs and gives me a great big hug, and then looks up at me and says: ‘Thank you.’ I got down on my knee and gave him a hug.

“It chokes me up when I think about it. He was not a Route 66 roadie, but he was grateful for what we were doing for him.”

This, Freeland said, was one of the lessons learned from this year’s festival that no previous festival in the 20 years of the event had managed to achieve.

“It’s got to involve the kids; that’s what was missing,” he said. “It’s all about the roadies. They come and do what they have always done. This time in Joplin, there were tons of things for the kids. There was the ‘Cars’ movie in Carthage. It was all about the kids. The ‘Cars’ characters in Galena, Kan., and Joplin, and the young roadies parade. We had never had one of those before.

“We learned this time you can include the kids and it’s a good thing for all of the parties. Joplin broke new ground all over the place.”

The other feature that distinguishes the Joplin event from previous festivals is that it was organized by the city of Joplin. Previous festivals had been organized by state associations.

“It was our alliance with the city of Joplin that made this such a great festival,” Freeland said. “We’re doing a post-mortem now (Monday afternoon) on the event here in Tulsa. We’re sharing notes and documents so that when we do Kingman, Ariz., next year, it will be even better in terms of organization, sponsorships and vendors.

“We’re talking about what to do and what not to do.”

Also attending the meeting was Michael Wallis, the other co-founder of the Route 66 Alliance.

“I’m on cloud nine about the festival in Joplin. It was just terrific,” Wallis said. “I knew even before the festival it would be good for no other reason than it was being held in Joplin, Mo., my home state, which had never hosted a festival before.

“When we got together with Patrick Tuttle (director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau), we felt their enthusiasm. It was a no-brainer. It’s not all about the crowd you draw. It’s more about the quality than quantity. But I was delighted to see the throngs of people on Main Street.”

Wallis, who provided the voice of the sheriff in the Disney-Pixar movie “Cars,” said he signed 2,200 autographs at the Carthage fairgrounds last week.

“These are future road warriors — all of those deputies I made,” he said. “When we pass on to that big ‘Mother Road’ in the sky, they will carry on what we have started. For me, having the ‘Cars’ franchise associated with this was the icing on the cake.”

When 50 or so movers and shakers along the route gathered last week in Joplin for a Route 66 summit, Wallis said, “There was not one iota of rancor or regionalism. In the past, states were not working together and cities were not working together.

“With this festival, we had major events in Missouri and a huge event in Galena. We had the departments of tourism in Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri promoting the heritage of the route from Carthage to Vinita, Okla. Never before has that happened.

“Route 66 is a linear village that has no state lines, county boundaries or city limits. We have to work together, and we saw that beginning to happen for the first time in Joplin.”

ROADIES FROM 14 COUNTRIES, including Portugal, Ireland and Guatemala, and 25 states attended last week’s Route 66 International Festival in Joplin, according to Patrick Tuttle, head of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau. Attendance on Saturday was estimated at more than 8,000 people.

“WHAT MADE THIS SPECIAL was that it involved a 30-plus-mile stretch of Route 66, and it was 100 percent on the route,” Tuttle said.

~Wally Kennedy, JoplinGlobe.com

 

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