But the almost constant rain on Saturday did not diminish the festive atmosphere among vendors, performers and visitors. The musicians kept playing, the Civil War re-enactors kept fighting, the street performers continued their wandering activities, the vendors kept selling and the thousands of people simply put up their many-hued umbrellas, donned plastic ponchos or braved the downpours and puddles with fortitude. As a column on today’s editorial page attests, this event exhibited the tenacity of Ashe County folk.
The dye was cast Friday afternoon when rain came just as food vendors and others were setting up for an evening of music, food and children’s activities. It slowed the proceedings for just a bit, but the rain held off for the rest of the evening as folks enjoyed music from the Buck Haggard Band and Grayson Highland Band, and did a little toe-tapping on the street.
Mayor Dale Hudler and Festival Committee President Kathy Howell welcomed the visitors and officially kicked off the event. Local veterans’ organizations joined with the 1st Virginia Cavalry re-enactors group to display the color guard and perform a 21-gun salute to the town. And a beautiful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung by Anna Martin.
The county’s fireworks show was slightly delayed over at Ashe County Park Friday evening, but that spectacular display was also enjoyed without umbrellas.
Forecast for Saturday was ominous though, with a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms. Hopes for sunshine were dashed as clouds continued to build and the rain began early. Heavy at times, the rain created temporary rivers along the streets and lots of puddles, but only a few complaints and frowns. Most seemed to regard it as the inevitable possibility for an outdoor event. And many were heard to comment, “Well, we need the rain.”
West Jefferson Police Chief Brian Grogan noted few problems with the festival. There were a few minor fender benders, he said, and parking issues, and one driver charged with going the wrong way on a one-way street struck two pedestrians, but injuries were minor and none sought medical treatment at the time.
“I want to thank everyone for their assistance and cooperation,” Chief Grogan said. “Everything went really well, and I especially appreciate all the help from the law enforcement officers.”
While festival committee members will be gathering soon to discuss this year’s event and vendor reactions, comments were that many vendors were pleased despite the wet circumstances. Festival rules require vendors to stay in place until the event closes at 8 p.m., but an exception was made this year. With rain constant through the late afternoon, and fairly heavy at times, craft vendors began packing up early, and were allowed to leave by 6 p.m. The food vendors stayed longer to continue serving those hardy festival-goers still wandering the street.
Although the crowd had thinned at the music stage to only a few people standing in doorways and a couple brave souls sitting in their chairs under umbrellas, the final band of the evening, Blue Country, valiantly went on stage at 6 p.m. and did their show.
Earlier in the day, WKSK hosted the Colgate Country Showdown competition for amateur musicians, and Rocky Mount resident Brandie Love took home the prize for first place. She will go on to state competition in Williamston in September.
And while the folks in downtown West Jefferson were getting wet, others just outside town were under the rain and tents as well at the 4-H Livestock Show. This event was held at the site of the planned Agricultural Expo Center on Highway 163 in West Jefferson.
Agriculture Agent Charles Young said he was pleased with the show and turnout. “There were lots of kids and lots of animals,” he said. Big tents were provided by Danny Lambert, and the show was winding down and closing up just as the heavens opened up around 3 p.m. Young will have results for publication in an upcoming edition of the Post.
Now that the 22nd annual Christmas in July Festival is history, plans will soon be underway for the 23rd annual event next year. There are special activities already being considered, and discussion has also included the possibility of moving the festival back to Jefferson Avenue to accommodate growth.
The festival committee meets monthly and each event is a year in the making. Volunteers are always welcome, especially those with experience in electrical services and marketing. For information on how to participate, call 846-ARTS