Looking past the differences we have in times of misfortune can be a daunting task, but thanks to the energy known as Never Forget Fest, Maryville will never be the same.
What spawned this past weekend’s night of celebration was not nearly as positive because, unfortunately, tragedy almost always strikes at the most surprising times.
Early in the morning of Jan. 7, a drunk driver crashed into local bar, the Palms, hitting sophomore elementary education major Morgan McCoy and causing serious damage to the entrance of the establishment. McCoy was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead, leaving Maryville in a confused and damaged state.
Not many will deny the hole left in the small Northwest town after McCoy’s sudden passing. Winter break had come to a close and school spirits were just starting to rise in anticipation of the upcoming semester. In an effort to trudge forward, the Bearcats moved on, hoping to remember their fallen family member in the most positive ways they could.
McCoy’s bright life cut short is celebrated day after day with events, such as a bell ringing ceremony taking place as recently as this week. However, until this past weekend, one piece of the puzzle was left strangely out of place.
The Palms. The bar had become a location of bitter memories, tainted by the devastating loss of a fellow community member. Moments like these show as dark spots in Maryville history, but Erik Schreiber, owner of the Palms, refused to let McCoy leave without one last weekend of life.
Schreiber came up with an idea to take the Palms’ early March reopening and turn into a festival of positivity, hope and remembrance, and it was all for McCoy.
He called it Never Forget Fest.
“The primary purpose was to celebrate life, and to try to create a positive memory from this event that led us here,” Schreiber said.
Each moment of the two-day event was meant to feel completely separate from the standard bar night, while still maintaining a local feel. After months of prep work, 14 entertainment acts, from DJs to solo artists, came to show their support for the college town. The two nights also doubled as the launch for the Blue Cup Initiative- an effort put forth in order to greatly diminish drunk driving in town.
Schreiber says he recognizes the significance of the Palms in a town as sewn together as Maryville. He says Maryville and the Palms for many, are a ‘home away from home’ just because of the atmosphere that offers open arms and promotes success.
He hopes the efforts of the Palms staff to create a time of healing were enough for Bearcats to forget about the unfortunate circumstances looming over campus this semester.
“The set of circumstances that led us here are tragic,” Schreiber said. “There’s no getting around that. The outpouring of love from Morgan’s friends has been great, and I’m happy that I can help heal this scar, even if it’s just a little.”
Deven Roszell, a Bearcat and bouncer at the Palms, says the Palms has been doing everything it can to help support McCoy’s loved ones. Schreiber even started a GoFundMe page earlier in the year, but Never Forget Fest was the all-in-one way to breathe life back into the community.
The accident affected everyone in town, but for some at the bar the night of the accident, the effects can be long lasting. In an age where security can be more important than ever, bouncers remain one of the few measures of protection against danger at local bars.
“The hardest thing to deal with was seeing and hearing all the stories of that night, as I was there and witnessed everything firsthand – most of them were way off what actually happened,” Roszell said. “I also struggle with PTSD from the incident. Just the memory of the situation is hard to deal with, and it is hard to live with every day. [McCoy] was an awesome soul.”
Despite the pain, Roszell worked open to close during Never Forget Fest. He says the accident presents Maryville with a mountain to climb over, but Bearcats are always learning and growing together. Roszell offers his condolences to McCoy’s family and friends and says the Palms will always have their back.
Kayla Geyer, freshman animal science major, used to often take nights out at the Palms, but greatly reduced the amount of time she spent at the bar. She was not totally done with going out though, especially when she heard about the Never Forget Fest.
Geyer knows how important the Palms is to the many Bearcats who enjoy time out on the weekend, and added that the positivity the bar put out was necessary.
“No one wants to see that place close for good,” Geyer said. “It’s a beloved bar; my parents went to the Palms when they were my age. I think [the positivity] opened people’s eyes in ways that no one saw coming, but we are a college community. Everyone shows his or her support to local places here in Maryville. The Palms is a home to many of us Bearcats.”
Never Forget Fest went off without a hitch. So much so that Schreiber says this past weekend will not be the last Maryville sees of the local event.
Schreiber went on to explain how the fest’s success was a key sign that it should not be limited to one weekend.
“We will absolutely be doing this again next year,” Schreiber said. “Hopefully, this becomes a long-standing tradition for future Bearcats. The positivity that came from this was out of this world.”
Bearcats will not soon forget Never Forget Fest, just as McCoy’s life will live on in the community. Town woes are not enough to keep Bearcats down, and the Never Forget Fest’s impact will send ripples for years to come.