“I still have many friends and it meant a lot seeing so many of them again at the reception,” Watson said.
Watson’s earliest Festival involvement was with Junior Service League theater productions in Snyder Park’s shelter house, and watching concerts in the band shell.
In 1978, she became the assistant to longtime Arts Council director Chris Moore, who she called a great mentor.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” Watson said. “It was hard work, but we got to do some amazing things and met a lot of artists.”
A standout was horror film legend Vincent Price, who couldn’t have been less like his onscreen persona, describing Price as a gentleman.
She recounts a much different Festival experience than the one today – a tent served as the artist dressing room; no running water; a single Pepsi trailer was the sole vendor; and popcorn was purchased from the Chakeres Theater chain for snacks.
The production booth was a cinder block building, no computer-generated lights or canopy over the stage. Access to the stage was navigated by going behind rocks.
Watson recalls trumpet player Doc Severinsen playing and sounding like a revival preacher when it came time to pass the hat.
“I remember him saying ‘Dig deep into your pockets,’ ” she said. “The names have gotten bigger, but the local touch is there.”
Watson discovered Zydeco music at the festival and enjoys it to this day.
Bad weather plagued the 2015 Summer Arts Festival, but Watson remembers 1980 to be similar.
“It rained a lot. The crew carts were underwater and that whole summer was a trial,” she said.
In 1983, Watson got married and moved out of town to make sad discovery.
“I thought everybody had a summer arts festival. I’ve lived in Cleveland, Denver, Oklahoma City. They have arts, but you pay for them. Springfield should be proud of this festival.”
After 28 years away, Watson returned to Springfield and got involved with the Arts Council again, serving on the board and as president.
“The Summer Arts Festival is a wonderful gift to Springfield,” she said. “You can go down in flip flops and shorts to see the symphony.
“And you can’t stress family enough, children and grandchildren and kids having a chance to act there for the first time. That’s pretty amazing, and the community support shows the people are committed to bringing arts to the city.”