The small town of Batesville has several local claims to fame:  It’s the oldest existing town in Arkansas, the Christmas capital of Arkansas, and home to a respected liberal arts college. This year, it joins the ranks of Levitt AMP grantees, having kicked off its Thursday night concert series in May.

“Batesville is a very small city with a population of around 11,000. But for a rural size we are a very diverse community, which we love,” says Maggie Tipton-Smart, Executive Director of Main Street Batesville, the nonprofit presenting the Levitt AMP concert series in partnership with the City of Batesville. Main Street Batesville is committed to both preserving downtown Batesville — which has many buildings on the National Register of Historic Places — and guiding it into a future with enhanced economic opportunities for all.

Tipton-Smart says a major driver of Batesville’s diversity is Lyon College, a small liberal arts school of around 650 students, many of whom come from out of state. Batesville has a growing Hispanic population, now comprising roughly 20 percent of the town’s residents. And it hosts the annual Batesville PRIDE festival, which drew thousands of attendees last year.

Audience members enjoying a Levitt AMP Batesville concert on the banks of the White River.

“We are striving for more of an arts district downtown because that’s what people want in our community,” says Tipton-Smart. In fact, the path to a Levitt grant began last summer when Main Street Batesville staged four concerts downtown that stoked the community’s enthusiasm for live music and led to applying for the grant. To allow for more attendees, Main Street Batesville proposed having the Levitt AMP concerts take place in Riverside Park, a large, picturesque green space on the banks of the White River. The park is known as the site of White River Wonderland, a lavish annual Christmas event featuring more than a million lights, train rides, carriage rides, and an ice rink. Last year, it drew around 30,000 visitors from all over the state to Batesville, which is 80 miles northeast of Little Rock.

“A huge highlight is that in the process of launching Levitt AMP, we’ve partnered with the city in building a space to move live music back into our downtown district,” says Tipton-Smart. “So even these free community events are generating actual investment into our community, which is phenomenal to us.”

Plans are in the works to create a lush park-like space downtown that could host future live music events and generate income for local businesses. Judging from the turnout to the first two Levitt AMP concerts, the demand is there. For the first concert on May 18th, Tipton-Smart says she was hoping for around 150 audience members, similar to the number who came to each of last summer’s concerts. Ultimately, 350 people came to check out Arkansas-based folk-rock band Sam Allbright & The Southern Heat. The following week’s Levitt AMP show with rock band Saving Escape drew nearly twice that number.

Tipton-Smart says that while most locals favor country music, the Levitt AMP music series is bringing in genres the Batesville community doesn’t usually get to hear. “When we got the Levitt grant, we were immediately flooded by artists reaching out to us.” Tipton-Smart says she thought she knew many music genres but learned about a lot more through screening artists for the concerts. “Every single person who submitted we listened to. And that’s my vision for the community—to give it all a chance. Maybe a genre might sound a little odd to them, but I hope they will come, give it a listen, and maybe leave a little surprised.”

Main Street Batesville is particularly interested in reaching out to the burgeoning Hispanic community. Gina Chavez, a Latin GRAMMY-nominated queer Latinx artist who has performed at multiple Levitt venues in the past, will be performing in July. “We will have authentic foods there and hope to do it justice,” says Tipton-Smart. “It’s really a night for the Hispanic community to be able to share their culture. We hope in 2024 we can have two or three Hispanic nights.”

A rendering of the public art mural that will be created this summer with the help of audience members during Levitt AMP Batesville concerts and later installed in the town’s historic downtown.

Every Levitt concert this summer features opening acts by local musicians and offers food trucks and a kid zone with bounce houses, face painting, and water balloons. Thanks to a partnership with the Batesville Area Arts Council, during five of the concerts there will also be a collective mural-making project of the downtown Batesville townscape and the hashtag #musicmoves (a nod to the annual Levitt contest celebrating the energy and excitement of Levitt concerts across the country) that attendees are invited to help paint. The mural will eventually be installed in the historic downtown district.

“The downtown community is growing like a rocket—there are five construction projects happening right now,” says Tipton-Smart. “We want there to be nightlife and for the space to be filled at all times, even if it’s just people walking with friends or taking selfies with our public art projects.”

 Over time, Tipton-Smart hopes the Levitt AMP concerts will build new connections throughout Batesville. She recalls the thrill of seeing people arrive for the first Levitt concert— a mix of elderly couples and friends who sat farther back from the music so they could talk, parents with strollers in the kid zone, families on the lawn, and high school and college kids arriving later in the evening—a demographic that was missing from the downtown concerts last summer.

“Three years into this I hope they’re not separated. I hope everybody comes together and truly becomes one community.” She has the same hope for the Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ, and other minority populations in town. “I want everyone to feel included in Batesville.”