Major changes coming to 2016 Macon Cherry Blossom Festival

Visitors watch the fireworks display during the Party on the Green event at Wesleyan College during a previous Cherry Blossom Festival.
Visitors watch the fireworks display during the Party on the Green event at Wesleyan College during a previous Cherry Blossom Festival. jvorhees@macon.com

Regular attendees of Macon's Cherry Blossom Festival should prepare for substantial shifts in the 2016 schedule.

In recent years, the festival expanded beyond the traditional 10 days and the date of Easter this year is complicating the lineup.

The parade, which has been anchored for decades on the Sunday of opening weekend, will be the Saturday before the official March 25 opening day, so as not to compete with Easter weekend.

Festival President and CEO Jake Ferro said his staff and board members also are trying to time the festival with the blooming of the fickle blossoms.

"Two years ago, in the middle of March we only had a few blooms, and when we finally did get blooms, the festival was over," Ferro said.

According to historical records kept by the family of the late William A. "Bill" Fickling Sr., the trees typically peak on the March 23 birthday of Fickling.

For years, the Macon businessman shared cuttings off the Yoshino cherry tree blooming in his yard around his birthday. In the early 1980s, Carolyn Crayton launched the city's signature festival in his honor.

The dates continually shifted each year to include March 23 in tribute to Fickling, but this year the festival will be March 25-April 3.

"Chances are much better to have blooms after the 23rd, statistically," Ferro said.

After consulting with Bill Fickling III, who has picked up his grandfather's mantle in propagating and studying the trees, Ferro and the board decided to schedule the bulk of the festival at the end of the month, he said.

To honor Fickling on March 23, there will be birthday cake at an open house at festival headquarters on Cherry Street. The Founders Day recognition ceremony, typically held at Third Street Park to celebrate Fickling and Crayton, will be rolled into the opening ceremonies at Central City Park on March 25.

More activities have been added this year to the pre-festival lineup.

Car window painting and a minifestival takes place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Riverside United Methodist Church, and the Little Mr. and Miss Cherry Blossom Pageant is that same afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre.

The Cherry Blossom Pageant follows the next Saturday, March 5, at 6 p.m. at Porter Auditorium at Wesleyan College.

The festival also has a concert series that begins with CeeLo Green at 8 p.m. March 10 at Cox Capitol Theatre and is promoting Macon Mayhem hockey March 17, 20, 24, 26 and 27.

A kickoff party, "Pink is the New Green," is set for St. Patrick's Day, March 17, from 7-10 p.m. at the Blacksmith Shop.

The next evening, the Cherry Blossom Concert Series continues with Lee Fields & the Expressions at 8 p.m. at the Cox Capitol Theatre.

In addition to the parade on March 19, the Cherry Blossom Road Race gives the festival a head start at 9 a.m. at Howard High School on Forsyth Road.

A new event, the Ocmulgee Duck Dash, benefiting Big Brothers, Big Sisters, will be held at Amerson Water Park at 11 a.m. March 19. An opening worship service also is scheduled for 11 a.m. that Saturday at Glorious Hope Church at 3805 Napier Ave.

The ceremonial Lantern Lighting at Third Street Park near Mulberry Street will follow at 1:30 p.m. before the downtown parade.

On Sunday, March 20, a new event, Rooftop Yoga at Sunset, will be held from 7-8 p.m. at the new Lofts at College Hill at 1345 Hardeman Avenue, behind the College Street Post Office.

Bibb County public school students present an Evening of Music at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Performing Arts Center of Central High School and an Organ, Brass and Timpani concert begins at 7:30 p.m. that Monday at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Poplar Street.

Music lovers are also invited to the March 22 performance of the Cortona Trio as part of the Fabian Concert Series at the Neva Langley Fickling Hall at the McCorkle Music Building at Mercer University.

Ferro also is proud to feature the Sozo Children's Choir from Uganda at multiple venues this year, beginning with a 6:30 p.m. performance March 23 at the Methodist Children's Home on Pierce Avenue.

"Sozo to me has come to be one of the top five events of the festival," Ferro said.

At 8 p.m. that Wednesday night at the Cox Capitol Theatre, the concert series continues with Les Brers, a group assembled by Allman Brothers Band founding member Butch Trucks. An encore performance will be held that Thursday, March 24.

The "Rhapsody in Pink Cherry Blossom Style Show" also will be held outside the confines of the 10 days. The luncheon will be at 11 a.m. March 24 at the Anderson Conference Center, and the Macon Symphony Youth Orchestra performs at 7 p.m. that night at the Grand Opera House.

When the festival officially begins March 25 at 4 p.m. at Central City Park, there will be changes at that venue, too.

The Macon-Bibb County Fire Department Pink Pancake Breakfast on the two Saturdays of the festival will be inside the Allied Building behind the old Department of Motor Vehicles near the park entrance.

"It's always been a rain or shine event," Ferro said. "Invariably, one of the Saturdays would have rain or cold weather."

Those coming to the breakfast will not have to pay park admission, which will be $5 at the gate or $3 in advance, and children ages 10 and younger get in free. Between 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday through Thursday, those paying the $5 admission will receive $5 in "blossom bucks" to spend at food vendors.

The Dixie Dog show will not be held this year, but the Bengal Tiger Encounter will be back along with a horse show.

New this year is the XPOGO acrobats, who do stunts on pogo sticks that send them 20 feet into the air, Ferro said.

"There's a lot of stuff for people to see," he said of the acts that are scheduled so that visitors can see all three shows within 90 minutes.

A nondenominational worship service will be held Easter morning at 11 a.m., and Macon's Michelle Marshall, who now works in Las Vegas, will present the "Ultimate Tina Turner Tribute Show," at 6 p.m. that night.

The first Cheerleader Exhibition Showcase is scheduled for noon at Miller Magnet Middle School on Hendley Street on March 26.

Ferro also is excited to bring back the U.S. Navy Band to Porter Auditorium at 7 p.m. March 31.

On the closing weekend, April 2-3, the Mulberry Street Arts & Crafts Festival will feature an expanded Food Truck Frenzy with 19 trucks expected, twice as many as in 2015.

"Last year people stayed in line for over an hour," Ferro said. "This will be a true frenzy. ... The more you have, the more people come."

Also that Saturday, the festival teams up with the Methodist Children's Home to promote their Celebration Day.

Mercer University hosts an "Iron PhiveK" race Sunday, April 3, and the closing 5 p.m. "Party on the Green" at Wesleyan will conclude with fireworks at dark.

Later that month, the Magnolia Soap Box Derby on April 9 and the Blackout Dance Competition at 3 p.m. April 24 at Tattnall Square Academy are considered post-festival events.

Weather always is key to turnout and rain locations will be set up for Third Street Park's free ice cream during the week and the nightly concerts at Central City Park.

Vacillating temperatures early in the season before a recent warm spell could affect blooms, Bill Fickling III said last week.

The trees require a minimum amount of chill hours, he said.

"The more confused the weather is, the more confused the trees are."