It was a big weekend in Richmond Hill as the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival filled J.F. Gregory Park with kids, kids at heart, carnival rides, vendors and — of course — lots of seafood for the 14th year in a row.
Liberty Foods from Hickory, N.C., was one of the groups adding to the aroma that wafted throughout the pavilion, and Karen Huffman and Emily Swindell were busy serving up plates of Caribbean-style shrimp, steamed crawdads and corn on the cob.
“We love the seafood festival,” said Terry Huffman, Karen’s husband and co-owner of Liberty Foods. “We came here from Mum Fest in New Bern (N.C.), and we’re on our way to the Bulldogs/Florida game in Jacksonville (this) weekend. We love coming down this way.”
Equally pleased to be at the seafood festival — and enjoy a heaping plate of the Huffman’s fare — was George Brinkley of Brunswick, who came up for the day with his kids: Lilly, 10, and Daniel, 12.
“They are nowhere to be found,” Brinkley said of his children. “I’m sure they’re off riding rides, which gives me time to enjoy my lunch.”
The weather seemed just right for festival-goers, but a little on the windy side for Coastal Electric Cooperative’s hot-air balloon.
“The wind kept the balloon from being inflated until around 5 p.m. each evening,” said Mark Bolton, vice president of communications, marketing and development for Coastal Electric Cooperative. “We kept it going with riders until we ran out of gas around 8 p.m.”
As the sun set on the park Saturday, the crowd’s focus turned away from the stomach-dropping lure of rides like the Fire Ball, Atmos Fear and the Surge, and more toward the main stage.
Local talent, including the Bryan County High School Band, Richmond Hill Middle School Band and several acts from local dance studios, graced the stage throughout the day Saturday. But it was all rock ‘n’ roll after dark as Georgia’s own Blackberry Smoke opened for the headlining Gin Blossoms.
“The festival went very well,” said Brianne Yontz, executive director of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, which puts the festival together every year. “The weather was perfect — it was a great weekend.”
Chamber festival committee secretary Bonnie Proctor agreed, but noted this year’s attendance was not quite as high as organizers expected.
“Our attendance was down, but you can’t go over the top every year,” she said. “We still had a very, very successful festival.”
Proctor said the festival committee planned for around 40,000 attendees — just a little more than the festival saw in 2011. While that goal wasn’t reached, this year’s event did draw more people than in 2010, she said.
“Last year was a record-breaking year,” Yontz said. “And I think everyone was excited to break the record, but we’re hearing from vendors and nonprofits about how wonderful the festival was (for them).
“A lot of times, we forget that for those nonprofits … this is the biggest fundraiser of the year for them.”
Some of the nonprofits on hand included the YMCA, Richmond Hill Exchange Club, the Richmond Hill High School Chorus booster club, Boy Scout Troop 100, American Legion Post 27 and many others.
“It’s about exposure for them,” Yontz said.
And for as much fun as everyone seemed to be having, Richmond Hill Police Chief Billy Reynolds said the crowd was quite well-behaved.
“We had the typical stuff — some lost-and-found property, a few lost kids, a few lost parents — but no incidents,” he said.
“I think this was probably the smoothest running festival we’ve ever had,” Proctor said. “Our radios were silent for hours at a time.”
Yontz said the weekend wouldn’t have been possible without the festival’s volunteers.
“Aside from myself and Charlene Ford (the chamber’s program coordinator), everyone else is a volunteer,” she said. “People take the whole week off on vacation to help get the park set up and work long, long, hours to make sure everything works smoothly. That’s really the success of the festival.”
And the same is true for all the nonprofit clubs and organizations that attend, she said.
“They give up their time, and that’s amazing,” she said.
With the 14th annual Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival now in the past, Proctor said planning for the event’s 15th anniversary already is under way.
The festival committee is looking for volunteers and sponsors for next year’s event. Go to www.goseafoodfestival.com for more information.