Experience Eureka Springs Arts & Culture — Quirks and All
Eureka Spring has long been a bastion of arts, culture and music, an oasis of creativity amid the wilds of the Ozark Mountains. Founded in the mid-1800s by a snake-oil salesman who posed as a doctor and sold spring water as a healing tonic, our town has always had its … quirks, shall we say? Be it haunted hotels, a religious attraction headlined by a 65-foot modernist statue of Jesus, Victorian homes in a rainbow of colors, a venue that regularly presents lavish shows by two master illusionists, or a lodging complex called Treehouses, Caves, Castles and Hobbits, Eureka Springs celebrates its intrinsic quirkiness.
Eureka Springs draws creative types from all over. As a result, 300 of our residents are working artists. Freewheeling creativity is everywhere. And it’s contagious.
In what other mountain town of 2,000 do you walk down Main Street and suddenly encounter two long, ascending staircases with their entire lengths painted as psychedelic rainbows? Talk about public art! Stroll elsewhere through our hilly Historic Downtown and you’re apt to see descending staircases that lead to … dead-end rock walls, or gurgling springs. (Eureka Springs does have a network of underground tunnels that you can tour.)
What other small mountain city features a bevy of storefronts with no traffic lights or streets that cross at right angles? What other small mountain town has a shop called Kaleidokites, which sells — take a guess — kaleidoscopes and kites (and other cool stuff)?
Here’s an overview of our small city’s arts, music and culture — quirks and all.
The Auditorium, which we affectionately call The Aud, is a square building made of rock on Main Street that presents an array of national and regional acts, as well as comedy, local pageants and more. Built in 1928 and opened just weeks before the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Aud’s first concert was by march-music composer John Philip Sousa and his 67-piece band.
In more recent decades, the Aud has staged shows by such revered acts as Little Feat, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Ani DiFranco, Merle Haggard and scores of others. On tap for the first quarter of 2022 are country acts Tracy Lawrence (Jan. 29) and Lyle Lovett (March 23), as well as Southern rockers The Marshall Tucker Band (March 25). If you do attend a show, consider showing up early to grab a bite at nearby Mud Street Cafe or some sweet treats at Two Dumb Dames Fudge Factory.
For more than three decades, Chelsea’s, a Eureka Springs institution in the heart of downtown, has showcased live music by local and regional artists nearly every night of the week. It’s an eclectic mix, but you can count on plenty of mountain music. On Fridays and Saturdays, the sounds get livelier and rug-cutting kicks in. Feel free to display your talents at one of their regular open mic nights and jam sessions. Upstairs, Chelsea’s serves exemplary pizza and other munchables. The bar refers to itself as “the place where misfits fit.”
Plenty of other Eureka Springs nightspots and restaurants feature live music, including Nyx, The Gravel Bar at Wanderoo Lodge, Missy’s White Rabbit Lounge, The Cathouse Lounge and Rowdy Beaver Den, among others.
Wanna get your dance on? Go ‘head — feel free to cut loose in the streets. But if you prefer a more communal party environment, bring your boogie shoes to Eureka Live, which features a big, below-ground dance floor that’s been known to get pretty wild. Dig a good drag show? Eureka Live presents one at least once a week.
Every fall, our city holds the Original Ozark Folk Festival, held at The Aud, Basin Spring Park and other venues downtown. It’s 75th year happens in 2022, making it the oldest folk fest in the country. Also in autumn is Hillberry, a bluegrass/jamgrass festival held at The Farm, an outdoor event space 10 miles northwest of downtown.
Eureka Springs has way more galleries than formal museums, although we definitely recommend checking out the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, where you can learn more about our quirky heritage, including a period in the mid-20th Century when the town was a haven for a rogues gallery of ne’er-do-wells, including Chicago gangsters (on vacation or laying low), and a backroom card game or slot machine wasn’t hard to find.
Otherwise, you can peruse the many art galleries that populate downtown, most of which include the work of locals. One place you won’t want to miss is The Statton Gallery, which features the work of several local artists along with an outdoor sculpture garden.
You’ll also more than likely run into street artists and musicians as you traverse our winding roads and relax in Basin Street Park. Eureka Springs artists are always glad to engage with visitors and discuss their work or just shoot the breeze. And they won’t mind if you buy something.
Six miles northeast of downtown is Aviation Cadet World — “where you too can be an aviation cadet.” The sprawling property features a working airfield, a bevy of military aircraft on display, flight simulators and other attractions. Weird? You be the judge.
Eureka Springs doesn’t need much of a reason to throw a parade. The revelry runs through downtown, celebrating gay pride and diversity, the Holidays and a series of automobile festivals — for antique cars and trucks, Porsches, Corvettes, Jeeps and MINI Coopers.
Who knows? Maybe you could start a parade yourself. Our hunch is that quite a few people would happily join in.