Those looking to see the creative side of the Coffee Country and surrounding area need look no further than the River Romp that will be held from 3-7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. The first-ever event will be held at Rotary Park and along the greenway in Manchester and will feature live paintings, vendors from across the region selling handmade art and crafts, food trucks, Silly Kids Yoga, acoustic music and more. Event partner L&H Distributing Company, Inc. will also provide a craft beer truck featuring some of Tennessee’s best craft beer.
Spearheading the event are creative husband-and-wife team Scott van Velsor and Kristin Luna. Luna, a Tullahoma native, said the event is a part of a larger effort to bring more art and family-friendly events to the area.
An Event is Born
According to Luna, planning for the event started two years ago.
“It all started with art,” she said. “For two years, we pitched the idea for a public art program to various commissions in Manchester and nobody wanted to take the mantle. We saw no need to wait any longer as Coffee County was missing out on some prime tourism opportunities, so we took it upon ourselves to launch an art movement with private donations, our connections in the art world and our own capital.”
That movement also led the couple to create DMA-events, which van Velsor said would help them move forward with bringing art to the area.
“We formed DMA-events while installing the first mural in May because we realized there was far more energy for an arts program then we had anticipated. The community expressed overwhelming support for continuing the efforts, and we realized we were in a position to bring art to the area because of our connections,” said van Velsor.
After hosting several successful community events over the summer, the couple began planning for something bigger and from there River Romp was born.
“We started conceptualizing River Romp earlier this summer right after the Luau we produced on the courthouse square, knowing we wanted our next big community event to take place in the fall, but L&H Distributing Company coming on board as our hero sponsor enabled the festival to truly come to fruition,” Luna said. “For as long as I’ve known them, the Hennigan family has championed community improvement projects and, as a company, L&H was excited to be involved with an event that directly supports installing art in Coffee County.”
The Hennigan family founded L&H Distributing Co. in August of 1958.
“Originally,” Luna said, “we wanted to host some kind of Oktoberfest, but we saw South Jackson was already doing one, and we didn’t see the need for two of the same event (plus, their event looks awesome), so we decided to come up with an entirely new approach that celebrated art during what we think is the best month of the year in Tennessee from a weather standpoint, and that’s by allowing artists from all over the area to come out and showcase their work along the greenway.”
Van Velsor added that Rotary Park adds a picturesque background for the event.
“Rotary Park at the Manchester Recreation Complex is an underutilized resource with fantastic green space, a huge amphitheater, a killer location and plenty of parking for attendees,” he said. “Part of our mission is to connect our entire community in new and exciting ways. Fall, with its gorgeous weather and sense of nurturing, fits right into that narrative.”
Luna, a seasoned journalist who has traveled the world, said her travels led her to see just how art can positively transform a community.
“In the past several years, I started transitioning from working exclusively for consumer publications to focusing heavily on destination marketing, specifically working with CVBs (Convention and Visitor Bureaus) and chambers across the U.S. Traveling to all 50 states and well over 100 countries and seeing how transformative art can be—not to mention, one of the easier, more cost-efficient ways of improving a community’s aesthetic quickly—has definitely shaped the way we approach Coffee County’s potential, particularly with it being a gateway to the most recognizable spirits brand in the world, Jack Daniel’s, and right off a very major interstate.”
She added that she wants to bring that positive change home.
“I was born and raised in Tullahoma and now live in Manchester and happen to think we reside in one of the prettiest sections of the country,” Luna said. “Scott and I believe this region is stronger as a whole than divided into stovepipes, so our long-term goal is to beautify spaces in Tullahoma, Manchester and the surrounding communities as a way to attract visitors, new businesses and residents.
“Ultimately, we want to make this an annual event, we want to bring more awareness to what we’re doing in Coffee County, and we want to encourage others to both start and attend more events that bridge the Tullahoma-Manchester divide.”
While not a native, van Velsor echoes his wife’s determination to bring more arts to the community through a number of projects that focus on the arts.
“The most immediate goal is to keep the momentum moving forward with our improvement projects across the area,” he said. “River Romp is designed to harness the creative spirit running through our veins and as a fundraising vehicle for current and future mural installations. The universal appeal of art is, among other things, a celebration of the soul and, in my opinion, the very essence of humanity. Events like these feed off of that energy and enable us to springboard onto the next piece of public art.”
The couple has no plans to stop the artistic momentum and they are open to helping facilitate and create other projects that will bring art to the community
“We’re open to anything,” said Luna. “While our main focus is our creative agency, Odinn Media, DMA-events is our passion project. So far, we have produced Road Riot, a car show and cruise-in on the courthouse square in May, and the Luau in June – as well as facilitated the installations of both the Magnolia and Manchester Postcard murals. So long as people are interested in attending our events and seeing more bold, beautiful public art, we’ll keep on keeping on, time and budget permitting.
“We’re hoping our next event is in Tullahoma, as we’ve been itching to do something on that side of Coffee County, as well. And there are definitely more murals in the works … in fact, there might even be a new one up by the time River Romp rolls around. Guess you’ll have to come down to the greenway and see.”
If You Go
The event is free and open to the public. Folks are invited to bring lawn chairs, family and pets. Parking will be available at the Manchester Parks and Recreation Complex lots. Overflow parking is also available at Fred Deadman Park, not quite a five-minute walk along the greenway from the festivities.