Love good music? Head to Mount Ida and bring your lawn or camp chair with you to the Montgomery County Courthouse lawn any Saturday between May and October to enjoy the sweet sounds from the Front Porch Stage.
For the past 13 years, the stage has seen the likes of country, Southern rock, bluegrass and gospel groups who come to share their tunes to a relaxed crowd of locals and visitors. And it’s absolutely free.
The idea for the project came from Mike Adams, who organized musicians to come play on the courthouse lawn back in 1999. Once the Chamber of Commerce got on board, the search began for funds to purchase a sound system and stage. During the winter of 2000, the town was struck by an ice storm that damaged power systems through the region. Electric crews came in and spent six months repairing downed lines and connections. They received such a warm reception from the citizens of Montgomery County that they donated a sound system.
Gerry Babbitt, the technical director for the project, went searching for a flatbed trailer on which to build a stage. Most of these ran in the $5,000 range, which Mount Ida just did not have. Eventually, Babbitt found an old mobile home that had been converted to use as a stage for performer Kitty Wells. Babbitt negotiated with the owner and had that stage brought to the courthouse lawn.
After a short period of time as an open stage, a crew worked together to make the stage into a “front porch” worthy for “pickin’ and grinnin'” upon. As work went on, whenever something was needed, someone from the community donated it, making it a truly local effort.
Concerts at the Front Porch Stage are funded by a concession stand that’s on the other side of the courthouse lawn. Those concessions and other fundraising efforts are handled by Possums Unlimited. The rumor is that one of the original organizers had a joke played on his wife in which she was delivered a sash designating her the Possum Queen, along with a tiara and a fox stole. The idea caught on, and many fundraising efforts are based around the ideas of possums.
Over the past 13 years, there have been 330 shows on the stage, and more than 35,000 people have come to hear the music. The first show of the 2015 season was May 2, when the Prairie Grove Band returned. This year, you’ll be able to hear bluegrass band Mountain Spring, Little Rock-based country band The Salty Dogs, father-and-son folk duo Dan and Jeff Clanton, blues musicians The Diamond Blues Band, classic rocker Dewayne Hodges and contemporary gospel group Harmony.
If you’d like to see the schedule for the Front Porch Stage, check out FrontPorchStage.org. All shows are on Saturday evenings and start at 7 p.m. Bring your folding chair or a blanket to sit on, and feel free to bring the kids.