HANNIBAL, Mo. -- One of the region's largest and most popular festivals -- National Tom Sawyer Days -- is expected to draw thousands of visitors to America's Hometown over the next two weeks.
The 64th annual festival opens Saturday, June 29, and then continues the following week from Wednesday through Saturday, July 3-6.
The festival offers an array of wholesome activities inspired by Mark Twain's classic novel, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
There will be fence-painting contests, frog-jumping contests, a Tom and Becky competition, a Tomboy Sawyer contest for girls and other festivities linked to the literary efforts of Twain, who spent his boyhood years in Hannibal.
The 2019 NTSD festival will have added appeal because the community is in the midst of a yearlong bicentennial celebration marking the 200th anniversary of when Hannibal was chartered as a town in 1819.
The Hannibal Jaycees, who host National Tom Sawyer Days, have been working with the Bicentennial Committee to help boost certain elements of this year's festival.
For example, the Jaycees earlier this year doubled the size of Tanyard Gardens -- a social and entertainment area along the riverfront where food and drinks are sold.
This created more space for NTSD events, including outdoor music concerts held during the festival and at other times of the year.
The expanded Tanyard Gardens made its debut May 11 with a concert featuring Chris Janson, an award-winning country music singer and songwriter brought to town by the Bicentennial Committee.
"It was great," said Trish O'Cheltree, NTSD chairman. "We had a lot of room, and everyone had a good time from what I could tell."
Tanyard Gardens also will serve as the performance venue for several big acts being brought in for National Tom Sawyer Days, including country music artist Jerrod Niemann, who will perform Saturday night with the Feudin' Hillbillys to kick off the festival, and Grammy Award-winning bluegrass artist Rhonda Vincent and The Rage, who will perform July 3.
"The Bicentennial Committee has partnered with us on the Rhonda Vincent concert," O'Cheltree said.
Other musical acts booked for NTSD include the American Standard Band, which performs July 5, and Killer Queen with Superjam on July 6.
One of the biggest days of the festival will be Thursday, the Fourth of July. Festivities will includes the Jaycees' annual parade down Broadway starting at 10 a.m. The parade will be followed at noon by the Tom and Becky contest, which will decide which local boy and girl will represent the city as goodwill ambassadors for the next year.
As part of Hannibal's bicentennial celebration, a reunion of past Toms and Beckys will be held during National Tom Sawyer Days.
Some other highlights of the festival include a big fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. July 4, the Hannibal Cannibal running/walking event at 7 a.m. July 6, mud volleyball and washers tournaments, carnival rides, a pet show, a talent show, trike races and a big arts and crafts show at Central Park.
O'Cheltree said a crew from the TV show "Small Town Big Deal," produced by the RFD-TV network, will be in town July 4-6 to film segments about National Tom Sawyer Days and Hannibal itself. She said an upcoming show focusing on Hannibal will air on KHQA TV, which broadcasts the show at 5:30 a.m. on Sundays.
O'Cheltree said National Tom Sawyer Days has persevered for 64 years because the event not only is a major fundraiser for the Jaycees to help with local projects, but it's also a fun tradition that many people enjoy.
"It's something that we work really hard to put on for the community and for the families and the citizens to enjoy," she said. "We look for different things to try to add to it and make it better every year."