Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina presents HarbourFest
Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
Fireworks light up the sky at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina.
The weather gods are reporting an onslaught of prayers from the vicinity of Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina. It’s 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, June 14, and preparations are underway for the first HarbourFest event of the 2016 season. The air has suddenly freshened and a veil of dark gray cumulonimbus clouds looms over Savannah, Georgia—a mere 20 miles south, as the crow flies. The Weather Channel’s ratings surge as organizers and vendors tune in to check the radar with a cautious but optimistic eye on the sky. While a little rain won’t stop the show from going on, any sign of lightning can bring the whole operation to a halt, affecting thousands of patrons with plans to enjoy the popular outdoor festival and fireworks.
As the sky continues to darken and the wind gains strength, Karen Kozemchak’s phone rings for the tenth time in 15 minutes (another store owner or vendor inquiring about the weather). Kozemchak is the marketing director for Palmetto Dunes and the key woman calling the shots. Unfortunately, she does not have a crystal ball or special storm diverter app. While the festival, in general, runs like a well-oiled machine, Kozemchak’s top priority is ensuring safety of employees, vendors and guests. No one is more disappointed when the event has to be canceled or delayed.
“Simply put, if there is a threat of severe weather or any inclement weather during the set-up or firing of a fireworks show, our staff has no choice but to cancel, even though the weather may be perfect at show time,” Kozemchak explained.
A young fan claps along jubilantly to the beat of Shannon Tanner’s “Unicorn Song.”
Today, the fireworks crew has been hard at work since about 1 p.m. (yes, it takes anywhere from 4-10 hours to set up the pyrotechnical show, which is fired from a barge in Broad Creek, outside of the marina).
Meanwhile, artists and craftsmen are scurrying about, securing their display booths with high hopes and crossed fingers. “Vendors are the most optimistic people in the world,” said artist Nancy Mitchell, propping up her easel, ignoring the menacing clouds and adding subtle brush strokes to a scenic Lowcountry painting in progress. Mitchell, who has been exhibiting and selling her artwork at HarbourFest for 26 years, says pulling the event off each week is “a small miracle.”
Behind the King Neptune statue, metal artist Fritz Delerme, owner of Corner Arts Gallery 95, is displaying his wares at HarbourFest for the first time and quickly getting a taste of the excitement and drama. He and a family member, “Cici” Raymond, are setting up, while his wife and two children check out the surrounding activities.
Shannon Tanner performs to a crowd of delighted vacationers
At the same time, veteran golf pro and Palmetto Dunes teaching professional Samm Wolfe is preparing his putting station, while Clark Sinclair, PD’s director of golf, looks for a bowl to hold the Dum Dum lollipops they hand out to participants. Bouncy houses are popping up and refreshment stands dot the sidewalks, awaiting the crowd’s arrival. Cappy the Clown and Gary the Gator arrive in full costume, and the conductor of the Kidz Play Express trackless train is ready to roll.
The weather gods have answered. By 5:30 p.m., the skies brighten and everyone is breathing a little easier. Singer/entertainer Shannon Tanner is on the scene with his crew, wiring up microphones and preparing the stage for his popular family singalong show, starting at 7 p.m. this year with a second show at 8:30.
Performing for his twenty-eighth season at HarbourFest, Tanner said the only real challenge he faces is the weather (like trying to “reason with hurricane season,” he said, quoting Jimmy Buffet). Otherwise, it’s business as usual at his outdoor office—the main stage and amphitheater where he entertains an audience that spans generations of faithful followers. Behind his mic tonight, Tanner is displaying a framed photo of a dedicated fan, Patricia Woodruff, from Asheville, North Carolina, who has attended annually since the festival began. Her husband George is in the audience. She is watching from heaven this year.
The O’Bryan family from Louisville, Kentucky: Aggie, age 11, Clary, age 9 and Evie, age 7.
Cappy the Clown does the big reveal of a painted face to a young guest at HarbourFest.
Nancy Mitchell, a local artist, puts the finishing touches on a painting at her booth by the Neptune statue.
Let the magic begin!
As quickly as the storm clouds dissipate, the crowd swells, and like an animated character in a Disney film, Shelter Cove Harbour comes to life. The air is filled with sights and sounds of pure innocence and joy—laughter, singing, clapping and squeals of delight—as the sun sets and a collective vacation vibe settles over the entire venue. From their facial expressions and body language, no one appears to be stressing over work or fretting over politics. Harbourfest is truly an escape—an opportunity to be in the moment, and make a memory.
Donning his signature beanie hat, Tanner encourages adults and children alike to “make a joyful noise,” engaging his audience by asking them to substitute the name of their own hometown (in place of the song lyric “West Virginia”), while singing along to the classic John Denver tune, “Country Roads.” States represented include Ohio (of course), Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.
Meanwhile, kids of all ages gather at Tanner’s feet, hoping for an invitation to join him on stage. What happens next is a mixed bag of surprises, ranging from uplifting and inspiring to downright hilarious.
While his total repertoire includes at least a thousand songs, Tanner has a set list that he performs at all his nightly kids’ shows, lest he disappoint his loyal fan base. (Lightning would surely strike him dead if he failed to sing “The Unicorn Song.”) What Tanner loves most, he said, is inspiring kids. “I get to come out here and do what I love in this beautiful place with the sunset over my shoulder. It reminds me of all the goodness on the planet when the world around us seems so chaotic.”
Cappy the Clown agrees that the fulfillment far outweighs any challenges that arise, including the uncertainty of the weather. The joy comes from making each child feel special. “I can talk to 25 kids at once, and they all feel like they are the only one,” she said. She never makes judgments about any family or child. “I assume everyone is dealing with something,” she said.
Whether you are a resident here, a frequent visitor or a first-time guest to our island paradise, you owe it to yourself to experience HarbourFest. Every Tuesday night, something magical is in the air at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina, where, for a few hours, all is well with the world.
HarbourFest takes place on Tuesday evenings from 6-9:30 p.m. at Shelter Cove Harbour, conveniently located mid-island at 1 Harbourside Lane, mile marker 8, across from the entrance to Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. Entrance to the event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit palmettodunes.com/shelter-cove/hilton-head-harbourfest or call (843) 686-9098.
2016 Fireworks Schedule & Parking
(Show starts at 9:30 p.m.)
Special Show on Monday, July 4!
Tuesdays: July 12, 19 & 26
Tuesdays: August 2, 9 & 16
Parking: In addition to the parking lots at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina, shuttle parking is available at Chaplin Park off of Singleton Beach Rd. and at the Hargray parking lot along Hwy. 278. Shuttles will run continuously from 5-11 p.m.
If Tuesday night fireworks are cancelled, every attempt will be made to shoot the show the following evening, weather permitting.
Making it all Possible
HarbourFest is Hilton Head Island’s largest signature event, and it doesn’t happen without a great deal of planning, cooperation, promotion and funding. The following sponsors contribute to the making of this fabulous festival that draws over 60,000 visitors to Shelter Cove Harbour each year: Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, Shelter Cove Harbour Merchants Association, Shelter Cove Harbour Company, The Town of Hilton Head Island, Palmetto Dunes Property Owners Association, Marriott Resort, Sonesta Resort, The Westin Resort, Omni Hotels and Resorts Hilton Head, Poseidon restaurant, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, Hilton Head.com, and Dunes Real Estate.
Additional Shelter Cove Harbour Happenings
In addition to Tuesday night’s HarbourFest shows, Shannon Tanner performs his family show Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At 7:00 and 8:30 p.m., now through September 4.
Shannon Tanner & the Oyster Reefers will perform a Jimmy Buffet Tribute Show, Parrot Palooza, at Shelter Cove Harbour on Thursdays, July 7, 14, 21 & 28 and August 4, 11 & 18.
Cappy the Clown is also on hand to paint faces, make balloon animals and clown around at Shelter Cove Harbour, Monday-Friday from 6-9 p.m. through September 4.
Seasonal nightly entertainment is available from 5:30-9:30 p.m. at San Miguel’s and Scott’s Fish Market; select nights at Bistro 17 ELA’s Blu Water Grille, Bucci’s Italian Cuisine and Mediterranean Harbour Bar and Grille.
All events are weather-permitting and subject to change.