Pictured (l-r) are the 2023 Festival of the Bells entertainers: Saturday night headliner Bryce Leatherwood, Friday night entertainer Thomas Mac and Thursday night’s Christian night performer Micah Tyler. (Photos courtesy of https://bryce-leatherwood.com; Conway Entertainment/conwayent.com; and Brickhouse Entertainment/brickent.com, respectively.)
Pictured (l-r) are the 2023 Festival of the Bells entertainers: Saturday night headliner Bryce Leatherwood, Friday night entertainer Thomas Mac and Thursday night’s Christian night performer Micah Tyler. (Photos courtesy of https://bryce-leatherwood.com; Conway Entertainment/conwayent.com; and Brickhouse Entertainment/brickent.com, respectively.)
Festival of the Bells committee president Tom Zile announced plans for this year’s festival — including the artists for the annual concert series — and recognized longtime committee member Rick Williams Wednesday afternoon.

The 2023 event is set for July 6-8 with the theme “America Through the Decades,” and the Festival will be held at the green space on West Main Street in Hillsboro (the former site of Highland Enterprise/Union Stockyards) for a second consecutive year.

Entertainment this year includes changing the Christian night back to Thursday night (it was held on Saturday last year) with Christian pop artist Micah Tyler. On Friday, country music singer and viral sensation Thomas Mac will perform, while the 2023 headliner will be country artist and “The Voice” winner Bryce Leatherwood.

According to his website (micahtyler.com), Micah Tyler is a former youth pastor and delivery driver, a husband and a father of three who felt called to enter the music industry in his late 20s. His debut album, “The Story I Tell,” was released in 2013.

“Fast-forward down that long road, and the same guy behind the delivery truck wheel now has a record deal on the same label as MercyMe, Newsboys and Skillet as well as multiple Dove Award and KLOVE Award nominations, two BMI Top 25 Christian Songs, an appearance in a major motion picture movie,and five #1 songs,” his bio says.

Tyler has released two other albums, “Different” and “New Today,” with major hits including “Even Then,” “Different,” “Never Been A Moment” and “Walking Free,” according to his Wikipedia page. He is currently appearing on MercyMe’s Always Only Jesus tour.

“Tyler has a deep love and respect for the local church and is passionate about telling stories and singing songs that draw people closer to Jesus,” his management company, Brickhouse Entertainment, says on their website.

Tyler is also a published author of the book “Walking Free: Taking Small Steps to a Big God” and is known for a viral video about millennials, according to his bio.

Speaking of viral videos, YouTube and TikTok users may be familiar with Friday night’s artist. According to his website (thomasmaccountry.com), Thomas Mac “has an enormous social media presence with millions of views and over 3 million followers on TikTok alone,” as well as hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers and Facebook followers.

“After having a song, he wrote go viral on social media, he moved to Nashville, where he started catching the eye of people in the industry,” Mac’s bio says. “He was offered his first record deal at the age of 20 and performed for the first time on The Grand Ole Opry stage that same year. Thomas has found a way to walk the line between modern and traditional country.”

Some of Mac’s most popular songs include “I Love My Truck” and “Why Beer Is Better Than Women.” He has toured with other content creators, Alexandra Kay and has made appearances with country music artists such as Tracy Lawrence and Clay Walker, according to his Facebook.

“He is a TikTok sensation and is a rising country star,” Zile said.

This year’s headliner, Bryce Leatherwood, was coached by Blake Shelton on “The Voice” before being named the talent reality show’s 2022 winner in December. (Shelton also performed at the Festival of the Bells, back in 2005.)

While on the show, Leatherwood covered a number of country music hits, including Shelton’s cover of “Goodbye Time” and “Hillbilly Bone,” as well as songs by George Strait, Travis Tritt, Brooks & Dunn and others, according to his Wikipedia page.

The Georgia native earned a deal with Universal Music Group by winning “The Voice.”

“Leatherwood won his middle school talent show when he was in seventh grade and continued performing publicly since,” his bio at bryce-leatherwood.com says.

Since his win on “The Voice” a few months ago, Leatherwood has been booking shows and has seen immediate success, according to Zile.

“His last six concerts have been sellouts,” Zile said, citing an email from longtime Festival booking agent Chuck Lipps of RMA Presents. “That’s an up-and-coming star as well.”

Along with the three concerts, Zile said that the Festival committee is already making plans for other activities, including the annual parade, car show and 3-on-3 basketball tournament (to be held at the old Railroad Street park this year), while a biker night will be held on Thursday evening. They also have secured rides for this year’s festival.

Once finalized, the official schedule will be posted at the Festival website, https://www.thefestivalofthebells.com, while the Festival’s Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/festivalofthebells) is already being updated regularly.

“Our plan is to make it bigger and better each year,” Zile said.

The Festival of the Bells committee also includes Tiffany McCoy, Taylor Eversole, Jodi Murarescu, Diana Setty, Tara Pendell, Alex Butler, John Willis, Mary Rhodes, Dustin Siders and Mirl Willey.

“The festival committee is doing outstanding work,” Zile said.

Vendors interested in setting up at this year’s festival are encouraged to contact Pendell, and crafters should contact McCoy, Zile said.

The Festival committee is also seeking corporate sponsors to help pay for this year’s festival. Anyone interested in sponsoring the event can contact Zile or any committee member for more information.

Contact information for committee members can be found at the Festival website.

As mentioned, Zile also took time Wednesday to recognize “the changing of the guard,” he said, as Rick Williams officially retired from the committee in December 2022 after 34 years of service, including 26 as committee president or co-chairman.

During his tenure, Williams took the lead in booking entertainment and making the Festival of the Bells a premier event for country music in southern Ohio, with superstars such as Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley among the artists performing in Hillsboro.

“We have been very successful in getting some pretty nice entertainment here, no doubt about that,” Williams said. “But it takes money, and it takes corporate sponsors that love Hillsboro and support Hillsboro.”

Along with supporting the festival financially, Williams encouraged the local community to support the committee’s hard work by attending the festival this July.

“I really hope the community continues to support this very, very good event,” Williams said. “It takes a lot of hours, a lot of time, a lot of sleepless nights.

“I wish them nothing but all the best. This has been really close to my heart for years, and the only reason I thought it was time [to retire] is we’ve got two granddaughters [Brailee and Brynna], and it's time to spend a little time with them.”

Williams said “we” because his wife, Connie, also stepped down after two decades of service as a committee member and treasurer.

“I couldn't have done this without my wife, who spent 20 years on the committee,” Williams said.

Zile added, “Connie is a jewel.”

In his first year as chairman of the committee, Zile said that he is looking forward to taking a more active role this year in meeting members of the community and sponsors, as opposed to the mostly “behind the scenes” work he’s done since joining the committee.

“Last year was the first year down at the new site, so we took some bumps and bruises last year,” Zile said. “We learned some things, and so hopefully we can grow from that. But I think the big thing is just working with people, being with the community, and doing the best we can to make it better.”