Music, dancing, food and smiles, in abundance, were in full supply Saturday at San Pedro Golf Course; the driving range offering the perfect venue for the inaugural City of Benson’s Country Music Festival.

Families sprawled out on blankets and lawn chairs took in the sounds throughout seven hours of hand-clapping, foot-stompin’ country music. By all accounts those in attendance were beyond pleased. The majority queried hoped the event becomes an annual city endeavor.

The festival idea was one kicked around at the time the city decided on last year’s lantern festival. Aside from providing wholesome family entertainment for locals and visitors, it’s also part of a grander vision to bring visitors to the city. City Manager Vicki Vivian said as much when discussing the Benson Country Music Festival in the days prior to Saturday’s event.

“... Benson is a beautiful place, but unfortunately, many people just pass through on their way to other places in Cochise County,” said Vivian. “I am hoping we can create destination events and bring people to Benson to stay a day or even prompt them to stay a weekend. They could come down for the event, spend the night (we have free transportation to and from local hotels and RV parks) and after breakfast, they could visit Kartchner Caverns.”

Vivian said the city will continue to attempt to tap into potential uses a venue like the course driving range can offer for various activities, including but not limited to golf.

“... We have a beautiful golf course that has been improved over the past few months,” she said. “Not only am I hoping to increase awareness and draw more golfers, but the driving range provides an incredible venue; events that can bring 2,000-3,000 people to Benson. Those people then get to see what a hidden gem Benson is, they stop and get snacks, gas, maybe stop at a store and see what an easy drive it is, hopefully, keeping that in mind for the next event.”

Mayor Toney King agreed, noting Saturday’s event offered a good start along those endeavors and a good way to market Benson and the San Pedro Valley to visitors.

“I think it’s turned out pretty good and I’m hoping it continues to grow and grow,” said King, during Saturday’s festival. He said providing residents with family-oriented entertainment while bringing new visitors to the valley can only benefit the city in the long run. “It gets people to come into Benson and they can know what Benson’s about,” he said.

Paul Jordan and Vicki Harvey made the trek from Tombstone, and alluded to the festival as “fun,” after sharing a few dances. The “Saguaro Strutters,” a dance line team of Tucson, and joined by others, did their thing whenever the musical number allowed.

“I think it’s fun,” said Sara Corbett, relaxed in her lawn chair with daughter Tanja at her side. “There’s enough people here to kind of generate, I hope it gets bigger,” the eight-year Benson resident said.

The youngsters, those entertained throughout the day in the Kids Zone, and adolescents in attendance, also enjoyed the day.

Collin Glenn, 8, of Benson, said he favored the obstacle course jumping castle in the Kids Zone while Nevaeh East, 10, of Pomerene, made sure she did not get away without a sampling of funnel cake she described as “yummy” from one of the many vendors on site.

The day’s musical lineup featured Caiden Brewer, Boomtown, Patrick Rayl & the .357 Band and Backroads who headlined the event. Each act delivered, going through an energetic arsenal of current and past country music favorites.

Ashlee Romero, 16, of St. David, put it in perspective.

“I think it’s a good way to bring our community together since it’s so small,” she said. She was there with Lily Speer. “It’s a lot of fun,” the Benson High Schooler acknowledged. “I’ve never really been to a Benson event so coming to one for the first time and having it be fun is a good impression… makes me want to come to more.” She also offered advice to anyone who may be on the fence with regard to future events.

“I would just say that if anyone who doesn’t come to these because they may think it won’t be fun, they definitely should because it is a lot of fun.”

Vivian said people are already inquiring about the upcoming Lantern Festival set for Sept. 7.

“We already have people asking about tickets... anyone who went can tell you what an incredible experience it was and anyone who missed it vowed to not miss the 2019 event,” she said.

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