Taylor Swift and Brad Mates of Emerson Drive sing together at the 2007 Festival of the Bells. (Highland County Press file photo.)
Taylor Swift and Brad Mates of Emerson Drive sing together at the 2007 Festival of the Bells. (Highland County Press file photo.)

As the Hillsboro Festival of the Bells marks its 30th anniversary this year, Festival committee member Rick Williams sat down with The Highland County Press this week to reflect on the years of great entertainment.

From the 2007 Festival, which included the event's largest crowd of an estimated 20,000 people for the Taylor Swift concert – at a cost of just $6,000 – to the event's first country music superstar, Brad Paisley in 2000, Williams offered a few comments and anecdotes over the last 15 years of top-name entertainers.

The following is a year-by-year recap of the Festival headliners.

• 2000 – Brad Paisley: "Brad Paisley was the first real superstar we had at the Festival of the Bells," Williams said. "While Brad was in town, he said he wanted to play basketball, but he wanted to play outside and not at the high school gymnasium. I suggested he could come over to our house and play at the basketball court we put up for my daughter. He did. He was very down-to-earth, very humble and a gracious person."

• 2001 – Rascal Flatts: "They played golf at the Hillsboro Elks, but the thing they really wanted to see was the location of where Johnny Paycheck shot the person in a Hillsboro bar. So, we took them to the Hillsboro City Building. (The city building is located on the site of the former North High Lounge, where Paycheck shot a man in December 1985.)

"With two band members from Columbus, Ohio, they said they wanted to go to the Wendy's drive-thru, and we did," Williams said.

Joe Diffie (also 2001): "Joe stayed on the bus most of the time, wasn't real interactive in the community but a very, very nice man."

• 2002 – Brad Martin: "Being from Greenfield, Brad is very familiar with the area. The biggest thing he wanted to do when he was in town was visit his parents, and as everyone from Highland County knows, he's a super guy."

Chris Cagle (also 2003): "Chris was the first and only big entertainer that we had in back-to-back years," Williams said. "Chris played golf at the Elks, but he was most interested in the history of Hillsboro. He's also a runner, and he ran from the YMCA to uptown Hillsboro. While he was running, there was a lady whose car had broken down at North High Street and Collins Avenue, and Chris stopped and helped push her car off the side of the road. She had no idea who he was."

• 2004 – Dierks Bentley: "The big thing I remember about Dierks is that he wanted to ride his motorcycle out along some country roads. He rode from Hillsboro to Marshall, Sinking Spring and Peebles. He was very talkative and very down-to-earth."

Trick Pony: "I remember one of the band members wanted a golf cart. They rode around town and ate at Subway. These were very high-energy people, and they put on a very fun show. One of the band members, Ira, had stayed at one time with Johnny Cash, and he remembered seeing Cash's collection of bells from the C.S. Bell Foundry in Hillsboro. He wanted to know the history's connection with the Festival of the Bells."

• 2005 – Josh Gracin: "The first thing that comes to mind is that he's an Army veteran and a very interesting guy," Williams said. "Prior to the show, he had to visit Urgent Care for a throat problem. One of the things I remember is he had put on a Chicago Cubs shirt and hat and worked his way through the crowd before hopping up on the stage and singing. He just started singing and walking toward the stage to begin the show."

Blake Shelton: "Blake was very quiet, stayed on the bus a lot, but a super nice guy."

• 2006 – Little Big Town: "This was a fun group," Williams said, "but I remember the electricity went out during their show. We had some electrical issues. They asked a lot about the history of Hillsboro. All of the band was very polite and courteous."

Darryl Worley: "One of the things I will always remember about Darryl Worley is that he asked to speak with the community service workers who helped set up the Festival. He had a good talk for about a half hour with the community service workers, telling them, 'It's never too late. You can turn your life around and do good things.'"

• 2007 – Taylor Swift: "By far, this was the largest crowd in the history of the Festival of the Bells," Williams said. "We had an estimated 18,000-20,000 people. When this little girl came to town, I think she brought half the state of Ohio with her. She signed a lot of autographs." One note Williams added: "We paid $6,000 for her performance in Hillsboro. Today, her shows start at $1.5 million."

Emerson Drive: "One of the unique things about Emerson Drive is that one member of the band told us he'd been in Hillsboro before. He had played in a band at the Highland County Fair years before. This was a super bunch of people."

Neal McCoy: "Most people will remember that Neal McCoy sang from the rooftop of Merchants National Bank. He also bowled a few games at Highland Lanes, golfed at Buckeye Hills and went to see a movie at Star Cinemas."

• 2008 – Chuck Wicks: "He was from a farming community like Highland County. His parents were potato farmers in the state of Delaware, and he talked about our agricultural community."

Bucky Covington: "He was another one who brought his motorcycle and rode around Highland County. A very nice man."

• 2009 – Julianne Hough: "My best memory of Julianne Hough is that she and her band wanted a place to play Wiffle ball. She brought her dog, and she and her band played Wiffle ball on our front yard."

Lady Antebellum: "They put on one of the best shows we've ever had," Williams said. "They were nice folks and enjoyed checking out the town. They shopped and bought a lot of things."

• 2010 – Justin Moore: "He and I golfed at the Elks. He also went to Highland Lanes after his show. He is a very down-to-earth person."

Jason Michael Carroll: "I remember him being very quiet, but very nice, and he's another person who wanted to learn about the history of the bells and the community."

• 2011 – The Band Perry: "Prior to getting to Hillsboro, they had a 12-hour drive from Kansas City, Mo. They were dead tired on arrival, but still managed to play a very good show."

Easton Corbin: "He rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle around the county. Corbin was a former FFA member. He's very supportive of the FFA and I believe, in recent years, he's had a concert where he donated proceeds to the Future Farmers of America."

• 2012 – James Wesley: "A pleasure to be around. He put on a pretty good show, too," Williams said.

Hunter Hayes: "He was used to playing in similar small towns, and he talked about other places like Hillsboro where he'd played. A very gracious and hospitable person."

Kip Moore: "Similar to Wesley. He was quiet, strolled around town before his show."

• 2013 – The Farm: "Those three were all over this town. They visited the stores, talked to people on the sidewalks. Another high-energy group."

Dustin Lynch: "He's a cowboy type. Very reserved, very nice. Didn't talk a lot, as I remember."

Regarding the 2014 headliners, Williams said he has recently met with Eric Paslay and Frankie Ballard in West Virginia and also saw Parmalee last fall in Racine, Ohio.

• 2014 – Frankie Ballard: "Everybody can relate to his number-one song 'Helluva Life.'"

Eric Paslay: "We have him on Friday night because one of his top songs is 'Friday Night.'"

Zach Paxson: "He is a more regional act. He is from Ohio and is well known for his 'O-H-I-O' song."

Parmalee: "I met with Parmalee last fall," Williams said. "This is mostly a family band. They all seem to be super nice. When they sing the 'Carolina' song, they will bring down the house."

Looking ahead to 2015, Williams says he is already asking questions about potential acts for next year's Festival.

"I'm probably not as far ahead as I've been sometimes in previous years, but I'm asking some questions," Williams said.

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2014 Schedule

Eric Paslay will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, July 4.

Frankie Ballard will sing at 7 p.m. Friday, July 4.

Zach Paxson will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 5.

Parmalee will entertain festival-goers at 9 p.m. Saturday, July 5.

"We are very excited about this year's entertainment lineup," Williams said.

Williams encouraged everyone to attend the popular July Fourth weekend celebration which is held in the center of Hillsboro each year. This year's Festival is July 3-5.

Festival of the Bells Committee Chairman Michael Bradford also welcomed everyone to this summer's event.

"We're very excited about the Festival of the Bells for 2014," Bradford said. "It's our 30th year, and we're looking forward to a big celebration with lots of outstanding entertainment and lots of activities for everyone to do."