Beatlemania Magic at Wild Turkey Festival
Beatles tribute act Beatlemania Magic entertained attendees of the Wild Turkey Festival on May 9. (

Wild Turkey Festival Full of Heat, Laughs

Posted on:

< < Back to

The 31st annual Wild Turkey Festival really brought the heat to downtown McArthur for four sweltering days.

And that’s not including when a band member with Mr. Speed blew fire from a torch on Friday night.

Warm temperatures, a far cry from some of last year’s chilly festival days, brought sizable crowds to the corner of Routes 50 and 93. The weekend featured a combination of popular familiar acts such as Mr. Speed and headliner Chris Higbee, a return of events like the turkey calling contest and plenty of novelty, too.

The Beatles never did perform in Vinton County during the 1960s, but the Wild Turkey Festival offered the next best thing. Beatlemania Magic played on Thursday night, starting out in attire from the Ed Sullivan Show appearance and later in costumes from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

“We have a queen back home,” one of the band members joked to the queen’s court sitting in the front row. “She’s not quite as lovely.”

The festival kicked off Thursday with proclamations from McArthur Mayor Jim Wooddell and Jim Milliken, regional liaison representative for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Hayley Watson, a festival regular, sang both Thursday and Friday nights. Watson said this was her 15th Wild Turkey Festival performance, and next year will mark the 20th anniversary since her first festival appearance.

“Last year was cold, this year is warm. We can’t find a happy medium,” she said on stage between singing a number of pop classics.

The Backwords Band out of Athens played a number of classic rock songs on Thursday as well.

“Few people know this, but the perennial queen of the festival is Hayley Watson,” lead singer Lou Horvath joked. “I wanted to introduce the band, but I just met these guys about 30 minutes ago.”

Opening for Mr. Speed was local band Junkyard Republic, made up of Aaron Chesser, Andy Allman, Mike Claar and Jeromy Rupert. A large crowd greeted the two bands on Friday night, and though it was quite hot out, the band agreed it was better than frigid weather.

“Can you imagine doing this, in spandex, in 18 degrees? Even we would be embarrassed,” said Rich Kosak of Mr. Speed, who performs as KISS’ Paul Stanley.

Saturday was a busy day for the festival. Kait Gregg won the karaoke contest, with Casey Rosser winning the youth category.

Just as 2014 honored the 30th anniversary of the Wild Turkey Festival, this year helped recognize McArthur’s ongoing bicentennial celebration. McArthur Village Hall hosted an open house on Friday and Saturday, featuring historical items, books and old newspaper copies. Dozens attended the open house, according to a sign-in sheet, with one visitor coming all the way from Wyoming.

The open house also showcased local author Deanna Tribe and her new book, “Images of America: Vinton County.” Tribe sold nearly four-dozen books during the festival and signed those purchased at Village Hall. The books are available in several locations in Vinton County as well as online at

The queen’s crowning took place following the Grande Parade on Saturday night, with Katie Fee being named the 2015 Wild Turkey Festival queen. She is joined on the new court by First Attendant Kayla Coleman and Second Attendant Miranda Ousley (see related story).

Local band Eastwood performed a number of country hits to open for festival headliner Chris Higbee and his band. Higbee performed on Thursday night last year and his fiddle and guitar playing was brought back by popular demand.

Sunday being Mother’s Day, the festival closed out its final day with a mother-daughter look alike contest, which The Courier had a hand in judging. Seven pairings were judged on resemblance, personality and appropriate dress. First place went to Emily Cox and her daughters, Emma and Elaine.

The queens were already decided, but it was time to crown Mr. Gobbler and Miss Gobblerette. This year’s winners were Garrett Martin and Alexia Ferguson.

The award for Best Decorated Booth went to Rube’s Concessions on Sunday. Rube’s has been a vendor for all 31 Wild Turkey Festivals, and this year featured a real-life turkey. A sign told visitors not to try petting the turkey, though few who approached seemed to pay the warning much attention.

Good weather and a smooth festival kept spirits high throughout the weekend and made for plenty of laughs from the stage. Junkyard Republic was among those entertaining their fans and festival-goers.

“Only in America can you fry bread, call it an ‘elephant ear’ and call it food,” one band member shouted out. “That’s America right there.”

For more coverage of the Wild Turkey Festival as well as several photo galleries of festival events, visit