As stories go, the way Carpenter’s Country Fest came about might have the makings of a great country song. Originally brought to life as Music on the Mulberry, the event had its first year in 2015 as a last-minute stand-in for Thunder on the Mountain’s cancellation, a mere two weeks before it was set to take place. “I had so many folks looking forward to it, I couldn’t just do nothing, so I contacted a venue close by that had a stage,” says Lance Carpenter, mastermind and namesake of Carpenter’s Country Fest and an award-winning country music artist. “Long story short, I spent about twenty-five to thirty-thousand dollars of my own money that I didn’t really have to create a three-day event with more than twenty-four artists, including Kevin Fowler, Keith Anderson, Matt Stell, and Kristen Kelly.”
Over the next five years, that stand-in festival became an incredible draw in its own right and a presence on the music festival circuit. Those early years were spent filling Byrd’s Adventure Center on the Mulberry River with music until 2020, when the event moved into the town of Ozark to provide a more convenient location. The move precipitated another change, as well, this time, to the name. “Without the Mulberry River, it was suggested I rename it Carpenter’s Country Fest,” says Lance, who partnered with the North Franklin County Fair and built a stage for their first year in 2022, with nearly 450 people in attendance.
Taking place May 20, 2023, this year’s lineup promises to be a talent-filled one. “Ryan Harmon will be returning this year, and we’ll have a first-time appearance by another popular local band, Highway 124,” says Lance. “There will be friends of mine from Nashville, and, of course, I will be performing with my band. I would love to get a big-named artist to play, but they are so expensive, and our budget is very small. Maybe someday a big sponsor will allow us to bring in a big-name headliner to help support the event; but the local and regional talent in Arkansas is on such a high level that, even if you don’t recognize their names, you should come experience their talent. You might even discover your new favorite artist.”
Each year, Carpenter’s Country Fest supports a military or lodge organization – the beneficiary of this year’s festival being the Ozark Area Youth Organization. “Growing up in Ozark, playing youth sports was important to me and taught me my first lessons in framework and leadership, and there were coaches who had a big impact on my life,” says Lance. “OAYO has struggled in the past few years with the cost of everything increasing, from hiring coaches to buying equipment, and the facilities could use some TLC. I’d love to be able to raise enough money to buy new scoreboards and give them enough funds to comfortably offer a spot to any kid wanting to participate.”In addition to supporting a chosen organization each year, Lance’s altruism shines bright in the eponymous scholarship he has created. “I’ve given a scholarship every year to students from Ozark High School, my alma mater, who are looking to further their education by going to college or a university,” he says. “A committee narrows it down to the best candidates, and a winner – or, as in past years, up to three winners – is awarded a $500 scholarship.”
Whether or not any of those scholarship recipients go on to write songs and sing about how country music changed their lives remains to be seen, but it certainly has changed life for Lance. “I wrote my first song in 1999 while attending Arkansas Tech University where I played football on full scholarship, but it was only a hobby for many years before I made a trip to Nashville to learn about songwriting,” he says. “I signed my first publishing deal and got my first cuts by Curb artist Dylan Scott in 2012. What I love about music is that it is a universal language, and there are songs that are basically the soundtrack of life. They say what we need to hear or what we can’t find the words to say, make us laugh, dance, cry, remember, forget…I remember how important songs were at points in my life, and the chance to write and sing one that could be important to someone is an honor I cherish.”
For more information, visit carpenterscountryfest.com, or find them on Facebook.