Today, in this post, I write about Eric Smallwood, the Alive @ 5 event organizer, music promoter, business promoter, and community advocate living in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Eric Malone Smallwood was born September 11, 1979. He was raised in the small town of Buhl, Idaho, population 4,000. After high school, Eric studied agriculture and biosystems engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
In approximately 2007, at the age of 28, Eric moved to Dickinson, North Dakota, after hearing from a friend, Nick, about the build-up in Dickinson, indicating what could be an oil boom. Not long after moving to Dickinson, Eric and a Nick bought the old Dickinson Press building.
At the time Eric Smallwood moved to Dickinson, a very good way to make a lot of money was to work in the rapidly expanding oil field, to work a lot of overtime, at one of the highest rates of pay, directly on an oil rig. At that time, oil companies were looking for quick well completions. Drilling companies were pushing their workers to go, go, go for more than twelve hours each day. Work conditions were very dangerous, and in 2009, Eric lost half of his right index finger while working on an oil rig. After that, Eric worked in the oil field as a crane operator.
The location of the old Dickinson Press building which Eric and Nick had bought, was on 1st Street, directly across from the historic old Elks Lodge building. Within 1-1/2 blocks, were several historic buildings, the American Bank Center building, the Park Square building, the Odd Fellows Lodge, the Jessen building, the Masonic Lodge, and the Brickhouse Grille.
The historic Elks Lodge building renovation had been going on since approximately 2004. Jacob Siewart, the owner of the old Masonic Lodge building, had been working on his building renovation for more than ten years. In 2012, Adam Metzker moved to Dickinson and purchased the Park Square building and the Jessen building, and began their renovation. Eric worked on the remodeling of his building, helped with work on the Odd Fellows Lodge building, and visited Jacob Siewart and Adam Metzker during the work on their buildings. One of Eric’s favorite things was the stamped tin metal ceilings in several of these buildings, popular in the 1800s, and early 1900s. Eric took an interest in the downtown Dickinson historic district building preservation, and he became a supporter, activist, and organizer.
The first report that I could find about the Thursday evening street parties in Dickinson, was a June 2012 article in the Dickinson Press written by Kevin Holten. The Alive @ 5 event was at 1st Avenue & 1st Street, from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm, and organized by the Odd Fellows Lodge. I believe that the event was also supported by the Dickinson Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Dickinson Business Owners Association.
In 2014, Eric Smallwood became the lead organizer for Alive @ 5 in Dickinson. As the summer went on, the street parties got bigger and bigger, and went to 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm. Some of the crowds in 2014 were probably 2,000 to 3,000 people. Hundreds of people remained downtown after Alive @ 5, and continued to drink at the Rock Bar, Bernie’s Esquire Club, and the Brickhouse Grille.
Eric Smallwood was able to bring increasingly bigger and better performers to Dickinson. The highlights in 2014 were Gwen Sebastian and Kat Perkins. The work had begun months in advance by Eric, selling advertising, selling VIP tickets, getting donations of money, material, equipment, and labor from local companies. For every Thursday event, stage set up took all day. Stage tear down and clean up took all night through to dawn.
Eric Smallwood got a lot of donations and cooperation from the Dickinson Mafia. I don’t think that there was anyone else accept for Eric that could have gotten so much cooperation from the Dickinson Mafia. Eric was persistent, high energy, enthusiastic, and he got results in the form of successful events, bringing performers that people wanted to see, creating good publicity for Dickinson every week. With the Dickinson Mafia’s favorable opinion of the event, the Dickinson Police absolutely left everyone alone at Alive @ 5, the Dickinson Police were 100% helpful during the event. The Dickinson Fire Marshal was cooperative with the event. Probably one hundred businesses in Dickinson contributed to the events.
In 2015, the Alive @ 5 events were even bigger. Eric Smallwood not only got Gwen Sebastian and Kat Perkins to come back, he got them to come back together! Because of the growing enthusiasm in Dickinson for the event, and because of rumors “to expect something big”, the attendance at this concert was close to 6,000 people, on a Thursday night! This was probably the highest attendance ever at a concert in Western North Dakota.
Other big performers in 2015 were Firehouse and Aaron Tippen. Eric also booked performers that were not well known in Dickinson, such as Corb Lund. Many people had not heard of Corb Lund before, but when they heard him at Alive @ 5, everybody recognized that this was something different, and very good. Other performers that were well liked at Alive @ 5, were the two sister band, Tigir Lilly, who had as many autograph seekers afterward as the more famous Nashville bands.
Most people in Dickinson were positive about Alive @5. Many people looked forward to going, downtown business owners were happy about thousands of people seeing their businesses every Thursday, the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Dickinson were happy about the publicity.
In addition to the summer street parties in Dickinson, in 2014 Eric Smallwood began bringing performers to Dickinson during the winter. Eric would have liked to have used the large ballroom in the old Masonic Lodge building to hold events, but it wasn’t ready yet, so Eric used the Odd Fellows Lodge theater to have performances with people like Mitch Malloy. There were so few seats in the theater, guests were limited to the major donors of the summer Alive @ 5 events.
In the winter of 2015, Eric continued to bring entertainment to Dickinson, organizing a formal Christmas dinner party with two hundred guests at the Astoria Hotel ballroom, where Kat Perkins was the performer.
At the end of the summer in 2015, Eric Smallwood was working on a business plan, to create a very large, indoor, year-round, event center in Dickinson. In order to bring big, famous performers to Dickinson, the idea was to be able to seat at least 10,000 people. From what I heard, this business plan was presented by Eric to the biggest donors and supporters of the Alive @ 5 event, and his plan was well received. As I have mentioned in several previous posts, there are a group of men in Dickinson who own businesses, own properties, are on board of directors, are involved in city government, who control what goes on in Dickinson. These men had the money, and the power to have a large event center built in Dickinson, and they wanted one. This was probably the last and only thing that was missing, to put Dickinson on the same level as Bismarck and Fargo. Too bad the price of oil went down so low when it did, or Dickinson would have become the Fargo of western North Dakota.