Ethan Oltremari, founder of the Revival on the River Christian music festival, says the response to it in its first three years has been very gratifying, but now he’s looking to do even more.
Organizers are busy planning the fourth installment, which will be held May 11 at The Park Between the Bridges.
The headliner will be People & Songs, a community of musical artists from a variety of genres formed to spread the Gospel. Spoken-word artist Lo Alaman will be the host, and the other performers will include Thomas Toole, Big Al Cherry, Eddie Willis and Sonz of God.
But Oltremari said they also want to use their organization and the festival mission booths to connect other community organizations with volunteers.
Whatever they do, he said, their message is the same: “Our No. 1 priority is everybody knowing that Jesus loves them and that God loves them and that they have an opportunity to be saved.”
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Oltremari, 20, organized the first Revival on the River while a student at Pillow Academy. He first envisioned a big worship service and then got the idea for a music festival.
He said he didn’t always have the type of organizational skills required to put on such a big event, although taking part in Scouting activities years ago helped pull that ability out of him. Over the years, his parents made sure he was independent, made his own decisions and lived with the consequences of the bad ones, he said — adding with a laugh, “But I still mess up, all the time.”
In planning the first festival, he was encouraged by the positive feedback he got from others.
“When God originally gave me that vision and I started sharing it with people, they were like, ‘This can work. This is a good idea,’” he recalled.
Naturally, he had a lot of questions, but he had people to go to for the answers. Shelley Walker, former executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau, and others there helped a lot, including suggesting the venue and thinking up the name for the event. Mayor Carolyn McAdams also directed him to other people who could assist.
“I had no idea what I was doing — at all,” he said. “It was kind of a new thing. I just kind of had faith, and I just fully relied on God to provide what we needed, and he definitely did.”
Regarding the mayor’s involvement, he said, “I just called and said, ‘This is what my idea is,’ and she just got behind me full force and said, ‘This needs to happen.’”
The first Revival on the River drew about 600 people, and that number increased significantly for the second and third installments. He estimated last year’s crowd was about 1,200.
When his organization applied to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it had to have a board, which now has 14 members. The board approves the budget and handles legal issues. In addition, he has a number of teams handling other tasks, including missions, outreach, hospitality, production, marketing and finance.
“After the event in 2017, we really started shifting into getting some more structure laid down,” he said. “2017 was the year we grew way faster than we thought we would, so we were kind of forced to start looking into those different things.”
Oltremari said the board and teams include people with a good mix of skills.
“A lot of them just heard the vision and wanted to be involved and asked to be involved, or I sought them out just because I knew who they were,” he said.
He also has researched how other organizers put on similar festivals and called some of them to ask for suggestions. Revival on the River has inspired others, too; a similar event will be held in Pascagoula in April.
“They’re going to kind of shape it into whatever Pascagoula needs it to be,” he said. “We’re helping any way they need.”
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Kawanis Collins, who serves on the board with her husband, the Rev. Steven Collins, said working on Revival on the River has been a great experience.
She said Oltremari and his gospel group, Encounter, had performed at their church, Morning Glory Ministries. Her husband and children also have a gospel group, The Collins Family, which she manages.
She said Revival on the River has allowed Morning Glory to publicize its work in the community, including cleanups and other activities. Her husband has worked with prayer groups for Revival on the River, and many members of their church have attended.
“I really like doing what we can to bring the community together,” she said.
She said she admires Oltremari’s enthusiasm for his work. He also has been good about soliciting others’ input while sharing his goals, she said. “He gives 100 percent in everything that he does, and I love the fact that he plans ahead,” she said.
Amanda Jefcoat, the board’s vice president, recalled being impressed by Oltremari’s vision for the event when he first pitched it. Organizers prayed that hearts would be changed and that people would be brought together, and Revival on the River has surpassed expectations, she said.
It started with two mission booths, and last year’s event had more than 20. The organizations represented include most of those supported by the United Way of Leflore County as well as other entities in Sunflower, Greenville, Winona and Tupelo.
“It’s been neat to watch it stretch and grow in that way,” Jefcoat said.
She said the group is working with the city of Greenwood on various projects and is focused on “relational ministries,” aiming to “be a source of love for people in need in the community and just kind of be a presence.”
To that end, Oltremari said Revival on the River might eventually expand the scope of its work into street ministries or work with the homeless.
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Oltremari said they now have a good handle on how long it takes to plan a festival.
“I have to take a couple of months off (after a festival) just to clear my brain and rest,” he said. “We usually start picking back up pretty strong in August.”
The organizers faced a new challenge last year, when the threat of bad weather forced them to move the festival indoors to the Leflore County Civic Center. But the event, headlined by nationally known singer Natalie Grant, still was a success.
“About nine months of planning had to be rethought in less than a week, but it ended up being good,” Oltremari said.
Sponsors for this year are still being sought, and the deadline has been extended to this Friday, March 15. Oltremari said he was confident they would be able to raise the amount of money needed. There also is plenty of room for more mission booths, he said.
Oltremari will graduate from Delta State at the end of the summer with a degree in audio engineering technology. Last August, he moved to Indianola, where he is worship pastor at First United Methodist Church.
“I love having a million plates going at once. I guess it just keeps me going,” he said. “But it’s the Lord; he gives me the energy and the brainpower to even be able to attempt to do it.”
At some point, though, he will hand Revival on the River off to someone else — “a fresh set of eyes and somebody younger than me.”
He also gives credit to the many other volunteers who help put on Revival on the River. The large group includes people from Greenville, Leland, Indianola, Oxford, Jackson and Memphis as well as the Greenwood area. “I’m just a small part of it,” he said. “The amount of people that come together to do even the littlest of things — it’s just amazing to see. They’re really the ones that make it happen.”
•Contact David Monroe at 581-7236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.