Changes on horizon for Parkersburg Homecoming

Event back to three day schedule, new activities planned

PARKERSBURG — The 2018 Parkersburg Homecoming will return to a three-day format, and that’s just one of many changes on the horizon, Homecoming President Michael Cottrell said.

“We have been out on the streets for about three weeks talking to sponsors,” he said. “The response has been phenomenal.”

In 2017, its 35th year, the Homecoming was shortened from a three-day event to Friday and Saturday in an effort to cut costs and reallocate resources. But Cottrell said it didn’t work out the way some hoped.

“That was a mistake, financial mistake, ’cause that eliminated like 48 percent of our exposure time to do raffles, entertainment,” he said. “We eliminated some overhead on Sunday, but it was minute compared to the big picture.”

One reason the decision was made was because crowds had been lighter during the day on Sundays, leading up to what traditionally had been the headlining concert. Some people pointed to school being in session earlier as a factor, but Cottrell said there needed to be more happening that day to bring people downtown.

Now, “it’s back to three days,” Cottrell said. “Sunday is being targeted as Sunday Funday.”

Plans are for that to include events like hot dog and doughnut-eating contests, a firefighters competition and popular events from the past like bartender/waitress races and a “wacky bed” race.

“That was big back in the ’80s,” Cottrell said.

Chuck Lipps, a longtime board member who handles entertainment, said last year was an effort to “get more bang for the buck,” but he agrees with the move back to three days.

“That’s kind of been established at Homecoming,” he said.

Though he’s the new president, elected last fall, Cottrell isn’t new to Homecoming, having assisted with the event for many years before stepping away for a while due to medical issues. He recently returned to the area and rejoined the board last year.

“He jumped in head first,” Lipps said. “He’s been rolling since October.”

Some of the proposals for moving the festival forward amid financial difficulties and complaints about what it offers involve looking back to the event’s history. One result is a change of venue for the Saturday night pyrotechnics display.

“The fireworks have been, unfortunately, shot off the top of Fort Boreman” Hill in recent years, Cottrell said. “We’re taking them back to the river, and we’re going to keep them on the river; that’s where they belong.”

Cottrell, who served as fireworks director for 12 years, said that will improve the quality of the display.

Organizers also hope to bring the Rubber Ducky Derby back to the river as well. For many years, the ducks were dropped from a bridge into the Little Kanawha or Ohio River, and the order in which they crossed the finish line determined the winners of prizes. In recent years, the ducks have been drawn in a raffle format.

Cottrell said longtime Homecoming supporter Woody Miller is working to revitalize that event.

“His goal is to bring the ducks back to the bridge,” Cottrell said. “It takes a lot of logistics, a lot of work to make that happen.”

He wants to provide a boost to the Homecoming parade as well by bringing in the West Virginia University or Marshall University marching band.

Cottrell said he knows people have expressed a desire to see bigger acts take the stage at Homecoming. But prices have risen to the point where some popular performers are too expensive for Homecoming and similar festivals.

Cottrell said Rick Modesitt Associates still does a great job booking rising talent, like last year’s Friday night performer, Russell Dickerson, who “is coming up fast and furious” on country stations. Festival organizers will continue to target those kinds of acts and get the best entertainment for their money, he said.

Other new additions for 2018 include a performance by members of the Actors Guild of Parkersburg at the Point Park amphitheater, partnership with Blennerhassett Island for deals on museum tours and boat rides to the island and efforts to bring sternwheelers to the Point during the festival. A dance for teens is being planned, while a similar event for seniors is under consideration, Cottrell said, along with multiple other initiatives, some of which are still too early in the planning stages to be discussed.

“The list of new activities is something that really got us excited,” said Andy Parsons, creative director for CAS Cable, which is planning to be more involved with Homecoming than in years past.

While the largest sponsors have been able to determine certain areas or events to fund, other contributions in the past have gone into a general fund for the festival. This year, those donations can also be directed to specific events, Cottrell said.

“They can pick and choose where their money goes,” he said.

Cottrell is also looking for volunteers to direct events like a photography contest, bass tournament and an expanded car show, as well as folks to help out in other ways.

“I am looking for good people that can tackle a project and can lead and good people that can volunteer and want to help,” he said.