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The Governor's Conference on Tourism

by Richard Mason | March 15, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
Richard Mason, columnist, El Dorado

A couple of weeks back, El Dorado was host to the Governor's Conference on Tourism, and the town, especially our downtown, went all out to welcome our visitors.

Of course, the idea that several thousand attendees would flock to the center of town gave us the impetus to finally change out all of our Christmas lights and replace them with white lights. That in itself was one heck of a job, and add to that the changing from winter foliage in the multiple downtown planters, there was a lot of work. However, it was a needed spring cleaning project, and everyone pitched in.

The entertainment part of the Conference was kicked off the Saturday night before the official start of the Conference with a knockout performance at MAD's First Financial Music Hall by multi-award winning country music star Ashley McBryde. The concert was an opening home run, and set up the Conference's Welcome reception, which featured a performance by the South Arkansas Symphony on Sunday night. It may have been the Symphony's best ever. But it wasn't just the concert.

The pre-concert VIP reception at the Municipal Auditorium treated concert-goers to a delightful sampling of south Arkansas goodies. The atmosphere in the large open area in the auditorium lobby area gave our visitors a super Southern hospitality welcome. A number of the out-of-town visitors, some who had never been to El Dorado, gave us a two thumbs up for the friendly welcome.

Well, that welcome wasn't just a hello and a "Glad you're here." It was punctuated with a great spread of goodies, which were a lot more than a few nibbles of the usual fare, and it including our own Madison Murphy's Presqu'ile wine. The South Arkansas Art Center, which laid out the spread of tasty treats, also displayed some special artist demonstrations, and with the hors d'oeuvre tempting our taste buds, we gave our visitors a true celebration of what makes El Dorado unique. It was punctuated with background vocals from Andria Gleghorn and others from sellout hit "Mamma Mia!"

After an hour of welcoming our visitors to El Dorado -- easily the best kept secret in the state -- we were ushered into the auditorium where the South Arkansas Symphony, the longest running symphony in Arkansas, performed The Three Phantoms in Concert, directed by internationally-acclaimed maestro Kermit Poling.

Broadway's Craig Schulman was the lead tenor, and is the only tenor in the world to have performed three of the most extraordinary musical theatre characters ever written. He has appeared in the title roles of "Jekyll & Hide," Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera," and in nearly 2,000 performances as Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," on Broadway and around the world.

Of course, that was the highlight of the evening for me, since "Les Miserables" is my all-time favorite Broadway musical, and Vertis and I had seen Craig Schulman preform on Broadway.

However, the special part of the concert was the combination of the three tenors. Vertis and I sing in our church choir, and we make a joyful noise, but the voices of those three men would have to be heard to fully appreciate their talent. They held some of the high tenor notes until we were literally shaking our heads at the talent on the stage. We have certainly heard a variety of talented individual and numerous symphony orchestras over the years from Zurich, London and New York.

That Sunday night, with the three tenors, the combination was a rare event, which we are delighted to have experienced. If you missed that performance, you missed a world-class event.

Then, Monday, the Governor's Conference on Tourism officially opened in the Conference Center, where books and other gifts, and, of course, more nibbles with special El Dorado flare, were featured in the lobby. I was part of a presentation committee, which included Beth Brumley, Diane Hammond, Sylvia Thomson and Don Hale. Our job was to tell the Conference attendees how wonderful our town is, and when we finished, several folks were shaking their collective heads as if to say, "My gosh; we didn't realize El Dorado has so much going for it."

But we were just getting rolling, and later in the day at five, A Taste of El Dorado was held at the Union County Courthouse. Well, if nothing else, El Dorado's dining should impress our visitors. Our Courthouse is certainly impressive by itself, but with several hundred folks enjoying the food and friendly folks, it was a fun evening.

The next day, a full breakfast at MAD kicked off the last day of the Conference at 8 a.m., with sessions beginning at 9:30 at the Conference Center. Numerous sessions were presented throughout the day, and the Natural State's varied outdoor tourism entities were featured.

That night, the Henry Awards dinner and reception at MAD started at 6:30 to kick off the evening's events, followed by the Awards presentation at MAD's First Financial Music Hall. This was the final event for the 2023 Governor's Conference, and it featured a speech by Governor Sarah Sanders. Of course, the Conference attendees gave our Governor a warm welcome. Her speech focused on the "Outdoors" -- our State Parks and the Natural State's tourism potential.

Then, as the dinner ended, the hundreds of attendees swarmed the MAD Cabaret to drink and be entertained by former Governor Mike Huckabee and his band Capitol Offense, which featured our own Madison Murphy, and as an old country boy once said, "A good time was had by all."

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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