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story.lead_photo.caption The Hope-Hempstead County County Chamber of Commerce and Hempstead Hall will soon host the "NOT The-Watermelon-Festival-Concert" Concert, an online event to include performances by the local band South Down Main, shown, plus the Watermelon Idol singing competition and Watermelon Masked Singer. (Submitted photo)

HOPE, Ark. — Even with Hope's Watermelon Festival and headlining music concert scrapped this year, organizers found another way to bring the music to the masses by going online.

The Hope-Hempstead County County Chamber of Commerce and Hempstead Hall will soon host the "NOT The-Watermelon-Festival-Concert" Concert as a streaming event to include performances by the local band South Down Main, plus the Watermelon Idol singing competition and Watermelon Masked Singer.

It's scheduled for Aug. 15. Watermelon Idol starts at 4 p.m. and South Down Main starts at 7 p.m. Tune in at HempsteadHall.com to see them.

In a statement about the event, chamber executive director Beckie Moore said the Watermelon Festival Concert is something they anticipate all year, but a virtual concert brings something new, too.

"Doing a virtual concert lets our local businesses and industries who would have sponsored the Watermelon Festival Concert have a chance to continue that support for the Chamber and be recognized in a pretty cool and modern way," Moore said.

In an interview, Amanda Lance, the director of Hempstead Hall and workforce development for the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana, said they wanted to find a way to still entertain people in August.

"With everything that's been going on with coronavirus and some of the precautions we're taking here on campus, we've been learning new techniques with virtual technology," Lance said. Back in March, they livestreamed a play.

They've built on that and when the Watermelon Festival was canceled they looked for a way to replace it. And in South Down Main, they found a great local band willing to work with them, Lance said, noting Watermelon Idol is an easy event to bring back, too.

"We're going to do that on the Amphitheatre stage, so that we'll have two totally different feels to the event: Watermelon Idol and then going inside for the full concert," Lance said.

As they planned, her mother suggested a watermelon costume for someone to dress up as a masked singer. A local celebrity will do the job, only to be unmasked later, and sing while wearing the Wally the Watermelon costume.

"Well, our chamber of commerce has a watermelon costume. We've got a secret singer who will be revealed the night of the concert," Lance said.

The concert will be free to see, but the chamber is selling sponsorships. Anyone can become a sponsor, if they wish.

"There's some pretty cool digital features that we're giving to all of the sponsors," Lance said. People also have a chance to donate, and the money goes to the chamber.

Hempstead Hall found success with the spring play broadcast online. "It was shown live to over 750 devices. By our best estimate, probably 1,000 people were able to watch that live, which is incredible when you're talking about community theater," Lance said.

They had more people see it virtually than they would have done live, she says.

"It was kind of a cool to bring something like that to a larger audience," Lance said.

Watching virtual concerts at home helped inspire the idea to do the same with a "NOT The-Watermelon-Festival-Concert" Concert. It's a way to stay connected with her favorite bands, and it's something Hempstead Hall can do to stay connected to the community.

South Down Main consists of Daulton Brewer, Orin Hampton, Dennis Hovarter, Dustin Johnson and Jeff Smith.

"In light of everything that's going on, even though we can't all be together in the same place and have a watermelon party like we usually do, we can still come together over our TV and computer screens to jam together," said Brewer in a statement. "We really are honored to have been asked to this. It truly means the world to us to do this for the community."

Lance said they're adding to the events of the day. They plan to announce a virtual watermelon eating contest that's similar to the ice bucket challenge. This will involve charity donations and challenges.

(More info about the concert and the event schedule can be found at HempsteadHall.com.)

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