Nine years ago, Mike Jackson (of Mike Jackson Home Builders) and his adult kids, Beth and Brian, came up with the idea that boat owners on the Elk River should get together in the summer and party on the water in a way that is truly family friendly. Like most good ideas, it started small. Word began to get around, the party became more and more popular, and now the annual Elk River Boat Party is a highlight of each summer in North Alabama.
Mike has a beautiful, custom built home on the river, known as the General Jackson. He, his kids, and his girlfriend, Bridgett Browning, enjoy making the party happen for the community. So do the sponsors, whom we’ll talk about in a bit. When Mike first built the two-story boat pier for the General Jackson, he knew the upper floor was the perfect place to have a band play live music. The sound carried across the water, and was its own best advertising. They found a great Huntsville based band called Kozmic Mama to come play for the inaugural event, and “Mama” has been coming to the party ever since. Kozmic Mama is not just a cool, well-known local band. They have opened for such legendary artists as Bob Dylan and Gladys Knight for performances held at the Von Braun Center. They have been featured annually at the W.C. Handy Festival for years, and are considered one of the best bands in North Alabama. Their genre is everything from blues to rock to R&B, and do songs made famous by everyone from Janis Joplin to James Brown to the Staple Singers. They also have a solid repertoire of original music, all of which gets woven into the playlist for the evening’s concert. At the end of the concert, Mike and Bridgett get on jet skis, go out to each boat, thank the guests for coming, and give out koozies.
Planning for the party begins in earnest in February. As the date gets closer, custom made banners which advertise the event get hung off the pier, and people from all over the river stop by on their boats to tell Mike and Bridgett that they are coming. Mike has estimated that close to 3,500 people have attended in more than 300 boats, and this year the number is expected to go higher, perhaps reaching as much as 4,000. “It’s getting bigger and bigger every year,” he told me, and added, “This year, with it being right on the 4th of July, there will be people arriving on Friday night and staying through til Sunday. People are starting to plan their vacations around this.” Kids can go water skiing, ski boarding, and have a blast all afternoon from 3pm til dark. The AL Marine Police as well as the Rescue Squad will be on duty, watching out for folks.
There have been questions as to whether or not there will be fireworks, especially seeing as the party falls squarely on the 4th of July. The answer is no. However, many other people on the river have their own fireworks displays, which are readily visible from the boats that are out in the water.
Putting on an event of this size takes several sponsors, and I had the chance to talk with Sharon Moore, co-owner of Twice the Ice, the ice kiosks seen at several locations throughout Athens and Limestone County. She told me they were involved in the river party from the beginning, originally just for the fun of it, and she told me “There’s nothing like it. There’s lots of fun all day, watching the concert, and seeing all the boats. The second year of the party, we raised money for a local boy who was battling cancer, and all the proceeds went to him.” The list of sponsors has grown every year, and is shown on the flier. This year there are several new sponsors that the organizers wanted to make sure felt welcome. They include: Giles County Furniture, Elk River Market & Beverage, Fat Cat’s Seafood Restaurant, D& D Marine, 72 Roadhouse and J. J. Brindley.
The only way to get to the party is by boat, and the directions are as follows: from the Tennessee River, go north on the Elk River and under Lee Hi Bridge (U.S. 72 bridge). Turn left into Anderson Creek and the party is on the right. The nearest boat launch is the Lee Hi Bridge boat launch.
Mike doesn’t want anyone to be left out. He said, “If you don’t own a boat, hitch a ride with someone who does, and come on out!”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner