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Liberty Fest biggest and best ever
Organizers said new shows and vendors added to success
Grayson Carter (5) is up front and then behind him left to right are Kyle Carter (9), Kyle Osteen (6), Connor Cato (7), and Cassidy Thacker (10) with The River's lead singer and front man, Darrin Robbins. - photo by Photo by Kenny Smiley


Some of Saturday's fun

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Video of Friday's fun

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Video by Terry Satterfield

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A little rain on Friday night and hot temperatures on Saturday did not dampen the success and turnout of the 2008 Liberty Fest Weekend.
Organizers estimate as many as 5,000 people came out to frolic in the fun and merriment over the two-day event.
"The Liberty Fest Committee, the chamber of commerce board of directors, we are all 100 percent pleased with how it went and the attendance and support of the entire community," Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kenny Smiley said. "We saw a significant increase in attendance both days. We had larger vendor participation, new events and what this is showing us is that a community festival for Liberty County, a signature festival, is needed, wanted and supported by the community."
In it's third year the festival has grown from a one-day mini-festival in the first year, to a two-day multi-location festival drawing in folks from as far as Vidalia.
"We had vendors from Claxton, Vidalia, Bryan County, Chatham County and Liberty County," Leah Poole, the year's event co-chairperson, said. "It was bigger, better and it ran smoother."
Smiley credits the growth to an increase in sponsors. He said sponsorship grew by a third this year, allowing the organizers to bring in new talent and events.
"Because of that, and our repeat sponsors, we were able to add those new events (The Awalim Belly Dancers from Atlanta, the Disc-Connected K9 World Famous Frisbee Dog Show and the pirate ship boat rides)," Smiley said. "I can't thank our sponsors enough, especially Auto Super Center who was our title sponsor this year.
For the third year in a row the headline band was The River, who closed out the event on Saturday night, performing just before a fireworks display.
Smiley said a key to the event's success is the ability to add new shows and rides each year to keep the event growing and fresh. Some of the newer performers impressed the crowds.
"The Awalim Belly Dancers from Atlanta were a huge hit," Smiley said. "We just heard comments left and right that they were great and it was a good cultural piece for our festival. They even went out and worked the crowd between shows.
"The Disc-Connected K9 World Famous Frisbee Dog Show was another huge hit. They performed three shows Saturday and we just heard from so many people that it was wonderful. We were limited on the space they had which limited their performance, but it drew a large attendance and everyone was impressed because the dogs they use are all rescued form abused homes or shelters."
Smiley said the Allen Branch Inshore Trout Tournament also grew.
"Last year we had 50 anglers," he said. "This year we were right at 100. So we doubled our participation. It was sponsored by Trapnell Motors and we were just so pleased with it."
Smiley said the addition of more sponsors and more events meant more folks poured funds back into the community, helping the tourism industry.
"Folks stayed in our hotels, bought fuel in our community, visited our stores while in town," Smiley said. "They ate at our restaurants, used our camp grounds and it is increasing our tourism efforts. People commented on how beautiful our coast and Sunbury was. We got comments about our downtown area and we were really pleased with Friday night, even with a little weather factor it did not deter the attendance. What we saw was it increased. We think it's a wonderful way to promote downtown."
Smiley said many of the people who attended Saturday's festivities at Sunbury had never seen Liberty County's coast and were happy to be able to ride up and down the river aboard Capt. Tim Gaylor's pirate ship.
"The line for a ride was endless," he said.
With this year' event behind them the organizers said they plan to take break before planning next year's Liberty Fest. Smiley said there is a concern as they try to increase the festival each year.
"We are in dire need of a permanent venue for a festival such as this," he said. "We've outgrown Sunbury, although we want to showcase our coast, we are out of room. We had so many vendors that wanted to participate and we didn't have the room to fit them all in so we had to have a cutoff.
Smiley said the organizers don't want to skip a year because they want to keep it going and growing. But, he said, they are at a point where they have to decide what the county and community want to do as far as looking for a permanent home. He said there is still room to grow in downtown Hinesville, but overall feels finding a location that is large enough to accommodate growing crowds and still showcase the beauty Liberty County offers would be in the best interest to Liberty Fest.
"We look forward to 2009 and watching this event grow into the signature festival for our region," he added.

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