This Kind of Fun is Good for You!

For the past two years, southern Utah residents and visitors have heard the familiar refrain. It’s the motto (and guiding philosophy) of Georgefest, the popular community celebration that takes place in Historic Downtown St. George on the first Friday of each month. Soon to celebrate its second anniversary, Georgefest has become the premier southern Utah entertainment destination for locals and tourists alike.

What’s now an event attended by several thousand people monthly began as a wish by one longtime resident to honor the past. A few years back, documentary filmmaker – and Southern Utah University Adjunct Instructor – Melynda Thorpe was doing research for an upcoming project, and began immersing herself in the area’s history. Coincidentally, at the same time, an associate approached Thorpe, who also has an extensive resume in public relations event production, about putting on a first Friday event.

“While doing my research about the pioneers who came to the area in the mid-1860s, I learned that they loved gathering in the evenings at the center of town,” Thorpe said. “They would share meals together, sing, dance, and celebrate the fruits of their labors as the desert cooled in the evening air. So, as I began thinking about a monthly event, it made perfect sense to pay homage to those early pioneers and to recreate a similar sort of community celebration.”

Thorpe worked closely with the City of St. George, sharing her vision and ensuring compliance with stringent permitting and insurance regulations. She also presented what was at the time a revolutionary concept:  the addition of a “Jazz Garden,” a jazz venue where beer and wine would be served to the 21+ set. The Jazz Garden would serve as the economic driver for the event – making it possible to offer a free Main Street concert and DJ dance party to the community.

“The idea was that the Jazz Garden would address St. George’s increasingly diverse demographic, one that enjoys sophisticated musical offerings along with adult beverage offerings,” Thorpe explained. “While I anticipated that this would prompt some major pushback, I was delighted to see how receptive the Mayor and City Council members were to our vision, and how supportive the community majority turned out to be in making the Jazz Garden a reality.”

“From the first time the city council and I heard the idea for George Streetfest, we loved it!” said St. George Mayor Jon Pike. “We saw it as another opportunity to bring people downtown for fun, food, and entertainment. It was also important to us because downtown businesses were behind it.”

In June of 2015, George Streetfest on Main (now known simply as Georgefest) began as a relatively modest event, with the majority of the entertainment and family-friendly activities – including performances by local musicians, games, food vendors, and street artisans – concentrated downtown at the intersection of Main and Tabernacle streets.

Said Thorpe, “From the start, it was crucial to our team that we offer entertainment that would appeal to all age-groups, and that would inclusively draw parents with children.”

As word of the event spread, Georgefest’s coterie of fans steadily increased. With St. George offering the ideal climate for nighttime entertainment al fresco, Historic Downtown was soon the place to be every first Friday. Today, Georgefest has transformed into a sprawling monthly party spanning several Downtown blocks, complete with DJ-led dance party on Tabernacle Street, a food truck village, street buskers (singers, jugglers, musicians and the like) performing for tips, a photo booth, games and activities for the youngest of attendees, face-painting, artisans offering hand-crafted jewelry and other items, and the best of local, regional and national musical entertainment on Main Stage from 6 to 10 p.m.

At the Georgefest Jazz Garden the initial jazz fare has since been supplemented by blues and classic rock. Jazz Garden visitors (who must present a valid ID for entry) can also choose from a mini-menu of gourmet tapas, along with craft brews, boutique wines, and specialty sodas.

Thorpe, who is a member of the Arts to Zion board of directors and a passionate supporter of the arts, has been instrumental in cementing a connection between Arts to Zion and Georgefest, which sees special art exhibits and receptions offered during Georgefest each month. “We’re thrilled by our partnership with Georgefest, as the event brings thousands of people to downtown. And many of them find their way to our gallery for the first time,” said Bobbi Wan-Kier, Arts to Zion director.

On any given first Friday, it’s not unusual to see Mom, Dad and the kids sharing corn dogs from a food truck alongside DSU students celebrating the end of a tough week of studies, as well as revelers just off the bus from Sun River. At Georgefest, there’s something for everyone.

“My wife, Kristy, and I go to Georgefest almost every month and each time we are amazed and delighted at the number and diversity of those attending,” said Mayor Pike. “It is evidence that Melynda and the entire Georgefest team have hit upon something that is meeting a need in our community, and I’m thrilled about it!”

In short, it’s true what you’ve heard: This kind of fun IS good for you.

Written by Georgefest PR/Media Manager Marianne Hamilton, “This Kind of Fun is Good for You” has appeared in St. George Health & Wellness Magazine and Inside St. George Magazine.