Performance of the Past: Westfield Parks and Recreation performs bicentennial musical


By Anna Skinner

In honor of Indiana’s bicentennial, Westfield Parks and Recreation is stepping out of its comfort zone.

For the first time ever, it will be hosting an outdoor musical, “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd.”

“It’s a brand new event for us. We’ve never done an outdoor musical before,” Community Events Manager Kelley Wells said. “This is something Melody Jones (Westfield Parks and Recreation Dept. director) and John Sampson (president of Main Street Productions at the Westfield Playhouse) have been talking about doing for a couple years, so they are excited to see it come to fruition this year for the bicentennial year.”

“Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” is loosely based on the true story of the Rhodes, a family escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. The Rhodeses eventually settled in Westfield. A sign depicting the family’s history is established at Asa Bales Park.

“We are hoping this will be a big success this year, and we can continue to do it in the coming years especially in preparation for Grand Junction opening since we will have a large amphitheater out there,” Wells said.

Bennett Ayres, an Indianapolis playwright, wrote the musical. He had instructions from Sampson and Cheryl Fesmire, director of the musical, to tie in Westfield’s Underground Railroad history, but the pair left the rest up to him. Ayres wrote about the fictional Reed family escaping slavery in Kentucky and settling in Westfield. The musical follows the Reeds and those they meet along the way.

“I’m very excited. I was speaking with John (Sampson) about how it’s so cool because it’s a totally self-contained, local production,” Ayres said. “Everyone working on it or in it is either from Westfield or has a connection with Westfield.”

Westfield Playhouse is providing the actors, and the musical will be 7:30 p.m. June 17 and 18 and 5 p.m. June 19 at Asa Bales Park, 205 W. Hoover St.

“This is a way to showcase Westfield’s rich history and celebrate the state’s bicentennial, because Westfield played a key role in the state’s history,” City of Westfield Communications Director Erin Murphy said.

Although all ages are welcome, Wells warned the musical contains adult language, and parents should be aware of the disclaimer before bringing children.

The stage will be rented from the Noblesville Parks and Recreation Dept. and general admission seating will be spread across the lawn of Asa Bales. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs or blankets. Premium tickets include tables for six placed near the stage. Parking will be directed to the Westfield High School southeast lot.

“We are excited to have this event to showcase what the city can do, and it’s another reason people should look at, because as the city grows, the events grow as well,” Murphy said.

Premium tickets cost $50. General admission tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for students and $5 for ages 5 to 12. Children age 4 and under are free. Vendors include Blackhawk Winery and Kona Ice. A different food truck will be present each night.

For more, visit

Take Dad to the musical

The last showing of “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” will be Father’s Day, June 19.

“We will be honoring dads in some form and are exciting to find a way to do that, but we are still looking into it,” City of Westfield Communications Director Erin Murphy said. “It’s a family event so we encourage the families to come.”