May 2015

Bluffton Village Festival:a celebration of bluffton life

Author: Laura Wilson

Once upon a time, there was (and still is) a cool, eclectic town, renowned for the originality of its people—a town by the banks of the beautiful May River, known for its artists, good food and Lowcountry living. Quirky, eclectic, different, unique are all descriptors that have been associated with Bluffton.

Thirty-seven years ago, Babbie Guscio came up with the idea to have a festival to celebrate the people of Bluffton and embrace and support the arts—a get together of culture in Bluffton, complete with fabulous foods, ugly dogs, music, crafts and art. What initially seemed like a daunting task, taken on by one tenacious woman with a vision, the very first Bluffton Village Festival, also known as Mayfest, turned out to be a great success.

“In the beginning, many folks didn’t believe that anyone would come to the event, and they weren’t interested in the idea,” Guscio said. “I then had several folks who grew up in the area (Tom Niver, Gilliard Heyward and Hassell Heyward, just to name a few) say to me, ‘Don’t worry Babbie.’ And with their support, help and encouragement, the festival came together.”

Back in Time- Jacob Preston’s pottery is displayed for festival goers.
Entertainment at the Festival varies from year to year.

The ladies at the Church of the Cross were asked to make sandwiches so that festival goers had something to eat. Even with a bit of skepticism, a great number of sandwiches were made, resulting in sales of $500—and that was 37 years ago. Tomato sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches and the now the ever popular shrimp salad sandwiches were all smash hits.

What was also important to the success of the event were the vendors. If there were to be a written description of criteria to participate, it would be the same as the description of the town and its people. Local artists were provided a place where they could display and highlight their work, and the notoriety of the talent became synonymous with the Bluffton Village Festiva

According to Guscio’s son Will, what made the festival a success was good taste. “My mother has great taste, and the vendors selected were chosen due to their unique talents and displays. It was important to our mother that the children had fun, saw and experienced people, arts, culture that they otherwise might not,” he said. Will and his siblings helped with the festival preparation and then participated. “We’d spend a few hours on the street, in the heat, where there was always something good to eat and then head to the river to cool off,” he said.

The family always helped, Guscio said, adding that she never slept nights right before a festival. “Often times, I would be out in the evening, checking on things in my night clothes. When you have on the right accessories it’s okay,” she added with a wink.

Long time Bluffton resident and proprietor of Stock Farm Antiques, Emmett McCracken recalls how back in the day, 20-plus years ago, when he came home from the service, you could go to the Bluffton Village Festival and you would know everyone. He always enjoyed a visit to Tina Fripp’s booth, located near the Church of the Cross and checking out the work of potter, Jacob Preston; and he made a point to seek out Doug Corkern’s stand to view and admire his pen and ink portraits and drawings. “Now folks come from out of state and from all over, which speaks to the success the festival has gained over the years,” McCracken said.

The festival’s success, originating with Guscio, now continues due to the work, dedication and efforts of the Rotary Club of Bluffton. Guscio decided in 2009 to turn the event over to the Rotary Club and is grateful for their commitment and willingness to carry forward her dream. “I am very happy that the Rotary Club of Bluffton has continued what I started,” she said.

Rotary members are in full swing, organizing for the upcoming 37th Annual Bluffton Village Festival. With the huge growth of the festival over the years, the Bluffton Village Rotary Committee members take care of everything from vendor coordination and registration to transportation and sanitation, insurance, entertainment, and more.

The festival is just one of many areas of service provided by the Rotary Club of Bluffton to the town. Thank you to Babbie Guscio for your gift of the festival to Bluffton, and thank you to Rotary for its continued success. 

If You Go
The 37th annual Bluffton Village Festival will be held Saturday, May 9, 2015 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., in Old Town Bluffton. Come out and enjoy this eclectic and homespun Southern festival, famous for its unique art, crafts, music, delicious food, Ugly Dog Contest and Pie Eating Contest. Admission is free.

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