Conway, Arkansas: halfway between Pickles Gap and Toad Suck. Arkansas has no shortage of quirky town names, but the little bend of Toad Suck is what put Conway on the map. Toad Suck Daze is Conway’s annual festival located in downtown Conway. With the event coming up quickly at the beginning of May, here is everything you need to know about Toad Suck Daze.
What is Toad Suck Daze?
Toad Suck Daze is Conway’s annual FREE family-friendly festival (try saying that five times fast), spanning 8 city blocks in downtown Conway. As the days become longer and warmer, Toad Suck Daze is held the first weekend of May every year. The three-day event has designated areas for concerts, shopping, carnival rides, children’s activities, food, and our famous “World Championship Toad Races starring our amphibious friends” (more on that later).
The festival highlights the downtown merchants within the city blocks who are open all year round. Nonprofit organizations also make themselves known by sponsoring events for the weekend, like the 10K/5K race and the Tour de Toad. Toad Suck Daze supports the local community and brings it together all at once.
When asked his thoughts of the festival, Conway’s Mayor Bart Castleberry responded,
“My wife and I always enjoy spending time downtown at TSD [Toad Suck Daze]. Not only the food and entertainment, but bringing our grand kids to enjoy the festival. As far as the city, we provide police, medical support, trash pickup, recycling and after event clean up. My view is that it brings people from all over to see our city. Its fun, entertaining, I always eat too much, and it provides scholarships. All good things, except the overeating.”Bart Castleberry, Mayor of Conway
Where does the Toad Suck name come from?
One of the best-kept secrets of Arkansas is how Toad Suck actually got its namis,e. The truth is we may never know for sure. But that hasn’t stopped entertaining (and possible) legends from popping up over the years.
The story most often told is one of low water levels and drunken sailors. The legend goes that barges traveling up and down the Arkansas River would often run aground at this particular bend when the water level dropped too low. So far, this story checks out because this area of the Arkansas river has been called “six inches deep and half a mile wide.”
So, while the captains and crew waited to continue their journey, they found themselves at the saloon up the hill. There, they drank so much they lived up to the cliche of a “drunken sailor.” Scandalized by the sailors’ behavior, locals said they had “sucked on the bottle until they were swollen up like toads.” It seems like someone who heard the complaint got the clever idea to start the name Toad Suck Saloon. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the area adopted the quirky name, too.
Others speculate the name is actually an English corruption of a French phrase. French explorers left their language across the state of Arkansas, so it’s not hard to imagine Toad Suck being another one of those names. But that does leave the question of what exactly the French phrase was supposed to be? That’s yet another detail unclear.
Here are some of the most popular options: 1. “Eau d’sucre” meaning sweet water or 2. “Chateau d’sucre” or “taudis sucre” meaning house of sugar. All of these could be in reference to the rum served by the saloon or the sugar cane and sorghum that covered the nearby river banks.
The last theory, which may be the most practical, simply says the name comes from the geographical feature of the area called a “suck.” It’s a little pool near the riverbank that’s left behind when water levels fall in the river. Toads and tadpoles can be seen in this shallow water, hence the name.
So there’s the truth: no one really knows where the Toad Suck name came from. We’re just grateful the name stuck.
History of the Toad Suck Daze Event.
The Toad Suck Daze festival began on the banks of the Arkansas River in 1982. The managing editor of the Log Cabin Democrat, John Ward, wanted to bring new life to the area after a recession and high interest rates had hit hard. He thought a celebration of spring would do the trick and looked to the nearby township “Toad Suck” to host the event. The festival was named after where it was held at Toad Suck Park, with “Daze” added to the end by Ward to represent “the euphoria of spring.”
Ward put together a council of community members to make the festival a reality. This group agreed from the beginning that any proceeds would go toward scholarships for local colleges. Conway is the City of Colleges, after all.
25,000 attended the first Toad Suck Daze, astounding everyone involved in planning who had hoped for 5,000 attendees. The festival continued on the river banks for years, with the number of attendees steadily rising. That was until 1990, when the celebration moved to the streets of downtown Conway because of flooding on the riverbank. A change of location couldn’t slow down the festival’s success, however. Today, more than 150,000 people attend, with the number of attractions and vendors growing right alongside them.
The Famous Toad Races.
The signature event—that brings people from all over to the streets of Conway—is the ARcare World Championship Toad Races. Since the beginning of the festival, the toad races have brought joy to people of all ages. In the days leading up to the event, toads are rounded up for children to pick from. Children are also encouraged to catch and bring their own toad to race in the Toad Dome.
The excitement across the county can be felt as the kids line up their toads, and when the race begins, they’re off! Kids across the racing mat are blowing on the toads to encourage them, patting the racing mat behind them as they go, and shouting out their support like you would do for your favorite team.
$2 Million Raised – Where does the money go?
Toad Suck Daze has “given over $2 million towards education in Faulkner county since the beginning of the festival,” says Mary Margaret Satterfield, Director of Toad Suck Daze and Events for the Chamber of Commerce. Funding has gone toward college scholarships, the imagination library, and arts nonprofits in town.
College scholarships go directly to kids who graduated from a Faulkner County high school or were homeschooled in the area and are going to attend UCA, CBC, Hendrix, or UACCM. Who’s talking about Toad Suck Daze?
Through its many years, Toad Suck Daze has hosted an impressive list of headliners. Here’s some of the most notable, just to name a few:
- Charlie Daniels Band, 2004
- Miranda Lambert, 2006
- Jason Alden, 2007
- Brett Michaels, 2007
- Blake Shelton, 2008
- Little Big Town, 2009
- MC Hammer, 2014
- Leon Russel, 2015
- Steve Earle 2019
- Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors 2022
Toad Suck Daze has worked hard to have a good variety of artists to reach a wider audience. They have had the most luck with country music artists, but they continue to expand their genre for headliners.
Cultural references to Toad Suck Daze.
Toad Suck Daze was introduced to the masses when Blake Shelton, country music star and judge on The Voice, mentioned it on the show. “You ever heard of Toad Suck?” he asked an Arkansas contestant. Although he mislabeled it as a national park, he did brag about performing at Toad Suck Daze. He managed to confuse and intrigue the rest of the judges while “puttin’ it on the map” as he said.
Things to do at Toad Suck Daze.
What sets Toad Suck Daze apart is the focus on kids and education. The festival has received multiple international awards for their children’s programming. A section of Toad Suck Daze is Tinkerfest, which focuses on hands-on educational activities. Activities are made possible through a partnership with the Museum of Discovery.
Tinkerfest will have the Awesome Science Show, PBS Character Meet & Greet, hands on Stem activities, and an indoor sensory area this year. Bring the kids so they can experience all this and more for themselves.
This year the festival will have more than 35 Concession Booths on-site. You’ll be able to find your fair favorites as well as some rare treats here.
This year will also have the Toad Suck Daze 10K/5K Run and Tadpole Trot, Tour De Toad and Iron Toad, Crawl Drag and Squirt, Fire Truck Pull, Pageant, Art Walk, and Blood Drive. You can find dates and times about all of these events here. Of course, make time to see the famous Toad Races too.
Toad Suck Daze values good entertainment. On the first day of the festival this year, you can see comedian Dusty Slay on the main stage on Friday, May 5th. On Saturday, musical duo Seaforth and musician Hailey Whitters will be taking the stage.
What to expect.
Be prepared to walk! Most of downtown Conway is blocked off. There are several parking lots outside of festival grounds like the Centennial Bank, Metro Square, Old Chicago restaurant, Bank of America, behind the courthouse, some street parking, and a few churches. Some of these do work with local nonprofits to raise money through pay-to-park, so it’s best to bring cash just in case.
It’s normally no more than $10, but you can be sure you’re donating to a good, local cause! There will be a few small businesses who block off their parking lots for their customers, so be sure to be respectful when parking. There is limited seating at the main stage, so feel free to bring your own lawn chairs.
Croaker W. Toad and Dazey Toad, the official mascots of the festival, are a brother-and-sister team “always up to something fun and exciting” according to the official Toad Suck website. Be on the lookout for them as you walk and grab a picture if you find them!
The economic impact on Conway
There is no doubt Toad Suck Daze has changed Conway for the better. In addition to the $2 million dollars in scholarships for Faulkner County, local businesses, artists, and nonprofits all benefit from the exposure. The festival has had a great impact on the Conway economy, providing for organizations and individuals in the county financially. Not to mention the excitement it brings to the community.
“We love setting up at Toad Suck because we get to directly interact with our loyal customers and fans while at the same time being introduced to all sorts of locals who don’t know of us or what we do.”
“I think the economic impact is great for the local economy because not only does it bring tons of people to downtown, it enables many of Conway and the surrounding local businesses to get in front of a lot of potential customers in a fun and casual way.”Ryan Ritchie, Rock City Outfitters
Toad Suck Daze 2023
This year’s festival will be May 5th, 6th, and 7th. Bring a friend or the whole family and enjoy what this little town has to offer.
“Persis “Katy” Reagan is a Writing Major, Public Relations Minor at the University of Central Arkansas. She can usually be found writing, managing the UCA Feminist Union, or making a pumpkin spice latte at the Torreyson Library Starbucks.”