published Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Bessie Smith Strut set to return


by Cliff Hightower
Crowds fill M.L. King Boulevard during the Bessie Smith Strut in this file photo.
Crowds fill M.L. King Boulevard during the Bessie Smith Strut in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry.

STRUT PRICING

Prices for this year's Bessie Smith Strut will be $5 in advance or $10 at the gate the night of the event, officials said. Riverbend pins will be honored, and those who have the pins will not have to pay an additional fee.

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Bessie Smith isn't singing the blues anymore.

The Bessie Smith Strut will take place after all.

Irvin Overton, chairman of the board of directors for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, said his organization has accepted responsibility for the event and is in the process of obtaining liability insurance.

"We are pretty much 99.9 percent sure the insurance will be obtained," Overton said.

Overton made his announcement during the City Council's Tuesday night meeting. He said the Strut will be possible because an anonymous donor has promised to pay for the liability insurance and also fencing around M.L. King Boulevard.

But there will be a cost. There will be an admission fee into the event that has traditionally been free since its inception more than 30 years ago.

Mayor Ron Littlefield was unavailable for comment. Richard Beeland, spokesman for the mayor, said the city would provide police security for the event, as well as the help of the Department of Public Works at closing down city streets for the event on June 11.

"Nothings changed," he said. "They have listened to the concerns of the city and it looks like it will be bigger and better than ever."

Littlefield has faced criticism for almost a month when he asked the Friends of the Festival, which runs Riverbend, to move the Strut to the Riverfront. The Friends of the Festival declined to hold the event and community members have been working since then to find ways to obtain liability insurance for the event.

The Friends of the Festival holds insurance for staging and entertainment. But the rest of the festival, such as food and alcohol, had been covered by the city.

Littlefield said he wanted to move the event because of safety concerns.

Overton said Tuesday night that about two miles of fence will be wrapped around M.L. King Boulevard. There will be three gates where people will be able to enter.

Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, said the same bands slated for that night still will be performing.

"We still have work to do," he said. "But we cleared some major hurdles."

Overton said he would not discuss how much money the donor would be giving for insurance and fencing. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Friends of the Festival and the M.L. King Merchants Association has been working diligently for the last three weeks on making sure the Strut took place, he said.

"They laid out a plan that's never been done before," Overton said.

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