As one of the country’s top metalwork sculptors, William Colburn has his choice of where to display his work.

That’s why this weekend, he will be among the 200 artists participating at the 21st Three Rivers Art Festival in downtown Covington. 

He's come to the festival every year since it started in 1997.

“That first show was cold and damp, and we only took up two blocks,” Colburn said. “But you could tell they were onto something.

“You have a client base which doesn’t just like art but likes to buy art. And the folks in charge do a really good job of organizing things; if you have a problem, they fix it.”

More than 60,000 people from as far away as Texas are expected to attend the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There's also a free concert and a meet-the-artists party Saturday night.

The festival is centered on Columbia Street, where the artist tents occupy five blocks, from Boston Street to the Covington Trailhead.

It could have been bigger.

Three Rivers coordinator Sarada Bonnett said the festival receives more than 500 artist applications each year, but only 200 are invited to set up shop.

Any more, she said, would dilute the quality of the festival and make it unmanageable.

The juried selections are made with an eye toward diversity but without regard to the artists’ identity. That usually means about 35 percent of the artists are local.

“We’re a national show with artists coming in from as far away as California,” Bonnett said. “We value our local artists, but these are not the same people you can see every other Saturday.

“When you take only 200 out of 500 applications, you know you’re getting the best of the best.”

It also allows the event to be confined to a few blocks instead of being spread out, which would lead to more logistical problems.

Being selective is something Colburn, who specializes in metal animals and flowers that are commonly used as lawn displays, appreciates as well.

There are large shows, such as last weekend’s Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs, Mississippi which had 478 exhibitors and expected more than 150,000 people to attend.

Colburn bypassed it for a smaller one in Atlanta.

“Three Rivers has gone a very good job of not falling into that mode," he said. "They don’t go by the theory that bigger is always better.”

Bonnett said the result is that about 75 percent of the artists at least make back their expenses each year, with some taking in up to $10,000.

That doesn’t mean Three Rivers is resting on its laurels, though.

The Saturday night concert was added last year and proved to be popular. Tyler Kinchen and the Right Pieces and Ben Redwine are this year’s entertainers.

Also, there will be music throughout both days in a food court area where Southern Concessionaires is the top provider.

Other features of the festival are an arts alive tent featuring a tango flash mob, as well as printmaking by Candace Alexander; a children’s discovery area featuring hands-on activities and displays by local students; plus spoken word, music and dance exhibits.

“We’re always making sure that the kids have plenty to do,” Bonnett said. “They love the hands-on activities, so they can get out and really experience art."

Timing has helped the festival as well.

It was set up to follow the Ocean Springs event because many of the artists there also come to Covington.

The second weekend in November, it turns out, falls when the weather is still usually good, but after the competition from the major music and church festivals. And people are starting to thing about Christmas gifts.

And there are the festgoers themselves.

“I’ve made a lot of friends there who are also loyal customers," Colburn said. "That’s why I’ll keep coming back.”