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The slogan for this year’s Birthplace of Route 66 Festival — after two COVID cancellations — is an appropriate one. “Back on the Mother Road again.”
The 10th edition of the car show and festival is scheduled for Aug. 11-13 in downtown Springfield.
“It’s our third try at the 10th annual, but it’s going to happen,” Cora Scott, Springfield’s director of public and civic engagement, told a crowd at the History Museum on the Square Tuesday morning. “We are not only hosting the 10th annual Birthplace of Route 66 Festival this summer, we’re extending it. We’re going to actually start on Thursday night, Aug. 11, with a special kick-off event. We’re calling it the Rockin’ the Route 66 Kickoff Concert and Street Party. This will attract new interest to the festival and provide an opportunity for diverse entertainment for all ages.”
Expanding the event from two days to three is one of a few new wrinkles in the event, which started as a one-day car show in 2011. There also will be more vendors along the festival footprint, which stretches from Campbell Avenue to the Springfield Expo Center.
The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival will continue to offer free entertainment all weekend, starting with the Thursday-night show from the Emerald City Band, a cover band from Dallas, Texas.
“They are the perfect band to help us with a street party and dance party,” Scott said.
Other acts scheduled to perform during the festival include Machine Gun Symphony, Sixwire, John Elefante, Steve Augeri, The Rosy Hips, The Dirty Saints and more.
The Friday Motor Mile Parade also returns, at 6 p.m., while free entertainment also will take place on the Square and at Motorcycle Village.
“If you like rock music, if you like country music, if you like pop music, if you like to eat, if you like classic cars, if you like to be outside, if you like to party, this festival is for you,” Scott said. “We’ve tried to think of everything and become the nationally-renowned Birthplace of Route 66 Festival — and I think we can do it here in Springfield.”
The festival also has a charitable aspect. The Mother Roadster Foundation gives away a car every year to raise money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children. This year’s prize is a 1932 Ford Coupe.
“We actually wrote a check to the charity last year for $50,000,” said Jack Stinson, one of the festival’s founders. “We’ve given away over $200,000 with the four cars we’ve given away so far.”
The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival has a big impact on the city. Organizers reported 65,000 people attended the festival in 2019. They expect 70-75,000 this year.
“During the festival, it’s the biggest weekend of the year for our businesses up and down Downtown on the Motor Mile. It’s key to those businesses to have this event come back,” said Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association. “We saw firsthand how, after a year off because of the pandemic, people flocked back to Historic Walnut Street for Artsfest and Cider Days. We had record crowds. We anticipate that will be the case here as people come back to this festival and the impact it makes on downtown.”
That impact has grown exponentially. Stinson estimates the 2011 inaugural event had 40-50 cars and an attendance of nearly 700 people.
“The following year, 2012, the City asked us to come to the Square,” Stinson said. “At that point they had probably 100 cars, probably 5,000 or 6,000 people at that time. In 2013, we grew it to 300 cars and it just went off from there. Last time, 2019, we had 647 cars at the show and a lot of participants, a lot of fun doing it.”
The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival also has a reunion feel to it. The room buzzed with conversation as enthusiasts chatted and registered their cars for this year’s event.
“There are probably 80 people here and these are some of the guys that were here in 2011 when we started the festival,” said David Eslick, another festival founder. “These cars that were there at the start, they keep coming back every year. I’m excited about seeing these guys, I’m excited about having the festival again.”
More announcements will be made in the coming months at the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival website.