By Bob Pest
Special to the Independent
It should be no surprise that the Arkansas Rock'N'Roll Highway begins at Newport. In the 1950s, clubs and joints along this stretch of highway from Newport to Pocahontas played host to Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Sonny Burgess Sleepy LaBeef, Narvell Felts, Billy Lee Riley, and Levon Felts. Burgess and the Pacers, among the earliest and most influential rock'n'roll pioneers who recorded at the fabled Sun Studio in Memphis, are still performing today. Newport, the county seat of Jackson County, was home to the Silver Moon Club, capable of seating 800, and Porky's Roof Top. Just up the road in Swifton, Bob's King of Clubs, known in its early days as Bob King's B&I Club, welcomed rockabilly and rock'n'roll performers for nearly sixty years until it burnt down in 2010.
The Rock'N'Roll Highway 67 Museum, located in the Newport Economic Development Commission Office, houses vintage photos and other memorabilia from former clubs. Newport also celebrates its musical heritage every September with its Depot Days Festival; featuring such musical legends as Ace Cannon, Sonny Burgess, and Ronnie McDowell.
Jackson's County's rich musical heritage is just one of many reasons to visit. Jacksonport State Park In the 1800s steamboats made Jacksonport a thriving river port. During the Civil War, the town was occupied by both Confederate and Union forces because of its crucial locale. Jacksonport became county seat in 1854, and construction of a stately, two-story brick courthouse began in 1869. The town began to decline in the 1880s when bypassed by the railroad. The county seat was moved in 1891 to nearby Newport, and Jacksonport's stores, wharves. and saloons soon vanished. Today, exhibits in the park's 1872 courthouse and programs by park interpreters share the story of this historic river port. Admission to the courthouse is free.
The park's interpreters routinely schedule programs designed to help visitors have a more meaningful park experience. Over the years the park has presented thousands of family-friendly programs and events, including lake tours on park party barges, guided hikes, birding adventures, living history demonstrations, nature games, fall foliage programs, historic site tours, bald eagle watches, spring wildflower walks, campfires, and outdoor skills workshops. One of the parks most popular exhibits is White River Pearling as the residents of Jacksonport experienced in the 1900's. The exhibit includes homemade diving helmets, rakes, net bags, and other equipment used to harvest freshwater pearls. Shell buttons, button blanks, and a button machine tell the story of button-making from start to finish. The most coveted prize of pearling--perfectly-shaped fresh water pearls--are also on display in the exhibit.
Newport has also become a force in the cultural scene over the past four years, hosting the annual Delta Visual Art Show every February. This year's Blue Bridge Center for the Delta arts show featured work by over a hundred Delta artists from five states. The show takes place at a number of venues in Newport, including the Iron Mountain Train Depot, the Newport Business Center, and two historic buildings—the Old First National Bank and the old Post Office. Free workshops for visual artists are also offered and always attract a significant enrollment.
Admission to both the show and parking is absolutely free. The Art Express Shuttle Train, which runs between all four venues and the Children's area, is also free. The show is a great place to find great art at surprisingly low prices. In addition to paintings, you can also find woodcarving, metal works, jewelry, ceramics, found object art, and photography—just about every kind of visual art is available.
Newport is a generous community. As the Jackson County Tourism Council proclaims in their advertisements, “No visitor is a stranger for long.”
For more information visit www.ozarkgateway.com or call 1-800-264-0316.