TUSCUMBIA — The 24th annual Northwest Alabama Saddle Up for St. Jude Trail Ride at Gardiner Farms is set for July 17-18.
Country music star Lorrie Morgan will perform at 7;30 p.m. July 18 following daylong musical entertainment beginning at 10:30 a.m. There will not be musical entertainment on Friday night this year.
Performing bands on Saturday include CC Jags, Drive and the Josh Brannon Band of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, featuring Worth King of Colbert County.
The fundraising event's founder/director, Dr. Jimmy Gardiner, said the decision to go forward with the event came down to social distancing.
"There's plenty of room at the farm where the activities take place, and we will expect social distancing," he said. "Families can sit together while maintaining the proper distance from others."
"The music carries well there, and we have so many dedicated volunteers and so much momentum from over the years that we didn't want to risk losing that by taking a year off," Gardiner said.
To date, the Saddle Up event has raised more than $2.2 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Gardiner said Morgan's performance will be her first concert since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
"She just fits our crowd well and is the first female headliner we've had," Gardiner said. "She really believes in St. Jude's mission, and was even willing to reduce her fees because of that."
Colbert County Tourism/Convention Bureau President/CEO Susann Hamlin said Morgan is a top-notch performer and is expected to draw a big crowd.
"I think people are ready to get out and hear live music again, and this is just an all-around good event and is always highly anticipated," Hamlin said.
Horse riders and campers can arrive Thursday as the farms opens at 7 p.m. Trail riding and primitive camping begins at 7 a.m. Friday and continues throughout the day on Saturday.
The weekend fee for riders is $35.
Gardiner said the fundraising highlight of the festival is the auction, which begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We're trying to raise $70,000 with the auction with the goal for the weekend being $100,000," Gardiner said, adding that it is the largest Saddle Up event in the nation.
The event drew special recognition from St. Jude in 2006-07, and again as the top fundraising event in 2019-20.
St. Jude officials said they will formally recognize event officials in August, but in the meantime provided a list of some of the uses for the money raised.
The list included new toys for the hospital, thousands of meals for families, oxygen and platelet transfusions, nearly 100 days of chemotherapy for young patients, various CT scans and several major surgical procedures.
Gardiner said that what has now become a regional festival started out slowly and much smaller.
"We raised $9,000 the first year," he said. "We just started out small and grew with it. It seems to have been the right approach."
Concert tickets for Saturday are $20 at the gate or in advance. Tickets are available by calling 256-710-5843, or calling coordinator Ann Jones at 256-446-5392.