October 2015

Celebrating Bluffton: 11th Annual Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival

Author: Laura R. Wilson

When National Geographic Traveler recommends our area and the Historic Bluffton Art & Seafood Festival (HBASF) as a must-see in their 2015 Best Trip picks, you know it’s a big deal. One reason for the recommendation is the Gullah Geechee history, prevalent in Beaufort County and woven throughout the Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival. It is also a big deal to the citizens of this incredible town, knowing how the festival furthers a sense of community, promotes awareness for the preservation of the beautiful May River, and benefits local area merchants and artists through tourism.

Started in 2005, the festival is now in its eleventh year. Founder Dan Wood takes a moment to reflect on the Art & Seafood Festival and how it has grown over the years. The festival initially took two years of planning.

“When we were finally ready to pull together some town leaders into a meeting, only two showed up,” Wood said. “I was ready to call it quits, throw in the towel. But the two who attended said this is good…everybody will come. And they were right.”

The festival started under the Bluffton Rotary Club and spun into its own entity as it grew; but, “it never would have happened without Rotary,” Wood said.

Mary O’Neill, festival president, has grown the festival to an eight-day event. “The basic building blocks of the festival have remained—the fireworks, street festival, music and arts—but as the people change, we get new ideas, so it has stayed new and fresh. Mary has also done a great job in tying the festival to our Mariculture Center and the historical aspects of Bluffton,” Wood said.

It is a huge undertaking to pull off this festival, and smiles abound when asked of the work and preparation that goes in to making the HBASF a success year after year. There are 15 committee members and approximately 130-150 volunteers; the highest number of volunteers are Rotarians. O’Neill relays with a warm beam in her eyes what a labor of love the HBASF is for her and many others. “I have already had someone call me to ask the dates of next year’s festival so they can plan their vacation accordingly,” she said. “When we are finished with a festival, it’s only a short time until we begin planning for the next. It is a lot of work and I love it!”


Artwork is displayed in tents along Calhoun Street on Saturday and Sunday of the festival week.

The original purpose of the Arts & Seafood festival, according to Wood, was to bring the people of our community together and benefit local businesses. This vision has worked well, as the many visitors bring business to local merchants and artists plus organizations such as the Waddell Mariculture Center, which receives all of the proceeds from the festival’s Author Night.

This year’s theme for Author Night parallels the reason National Geographic Traveler cites the area as the place to see. “Celebrate the Low Country Yesterday & Today” has a stunning line-up, completely embracing and educating folks regarding the Gullah people through “brush, pen and spoon.” Be sure to attend Author Night at the Rotary Community Center on Wednesday, October 14 for an exciting evening celebrating the rich history and culture of the Gullah people and meet two well-known artists, Pearce W. Hammond and Patricia Elaine Sabree. Also join cookbook author/chef Sallie Ann Robinson and enjoy her, Old Fuskie Crab Rice dish as the finale. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and beverages begin at 5:30 p.m.; 6:00 p.m. is show time. The cost is $10 per attendee.

The festival is packed, from day-one with activities and events for individuals and the whole family. There is the Bluffton Heritage Discovery Tour, and after the tour on that first Saturday (Oct. 10), a concert at Campbell Chapel A.M.E at 4:30 p.m. The concert will be followed by an authentic Lowcountry Gullah supper at 5:30 p.m. with storytelling and more music. Tons of talented musicians permeate the entire festival, from local talent to musicians who have played and traveled extensively.

You can choose to play on the May with Captain Chris Shoemaker, Roddy Medders and Eric Burns with the addition of an adult fishing tournament, paddleboard tours, kayaking and more. Impressive to witness is the Blessing of the Fleet and Boat Parade on the May River. This year’s Admiral of the Fleet is Captain Stephen Shoemaker. Captain Shoemaker’s rich history as an avid waterman makes him a perfect representative of this culturally rich event. Come sit on the lawn at the historic Church of the Cross, located at the end of Calhoun Street, listen to gospel music and witness the blessings on Sunday, October 11 at 4:30 p.m.

David Dickson, art chair for the HBASF has been vetting artists for the past eight years. Fine art and crafts are a distinguishing feature of the festival. The works highlighted by artists are one-of-a-kind items that folks will want to invest in and display with pride in their homes, including photography, works of art done in oil, watercolors, pastels and acrylics, and fine crafts made of a variety of materials from glass, metal and ceramics to wood. “Sixty-five percent of our artists return year after year, because they love this festival,” Dickson said.

Check out the full schedule of events at blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com. The festival runs from Saturday, October 10 through Sunday, October 18, 2015.

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