Let’s face it. This year has been a bust on many levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Carolina Festival of Discovery and Greenwood Blues Cruise is now among the pandemic’s many victims.
The festival, which was postponed in May because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, was set to happen in September. The festival will resume July 8-10, 2021.
“It is with great sadness that we are forced to cancel the twentieth annual installment of this beloved event in 2020,” Greenwood Mayor Brandon Smith said in a press release. “Based on the current COVID-19 regulations, we determined that we simply would not be able to put on the type of festival that everyone has come to know and love.”
The release cited concerns about social distancing for large crowds as a challenge to hosting this year’s barbecue and blues event.
“Obviously, there are many variables at play and ensuring the safety of our community is our top priority,” Greenwood City Manager Julie Wilkie said in the release.
Festival of Discovery is among the largest barbecue and blues festivals in the South, drawing in more than 39,000 people annually. It also affected the Greenwood economy by more than $2.5 million in 2019, the release said.
The 2019 Economic Impact Report estimated a group of two and a half people spent on average $65 for food and beverage, $35 for shopping and entertainment and $30 for miscellaneous expenses for a total of $130. Based on that calculation, more than $2 million were spent during the course of the three-day festival.
The report said the 2019 festival generated nearly $6,000 in local accommodations tax revenue.
Hotels also see increased revenue from the festival. The report said the average occupancy rate during the festival weekend is 80%, up from the normal 65%. The 2019 estimate for hotel revenue was $194,688 with more than $13,000 in hotel sales tax generated.
“We were disappointed to hear the city had decided to cancel the BBQ festival,” Claire Griffith, general manager of the Inn on the Square, wrote in an email. “The hotel was once again sold out for the event in September and the cancellations have already started rolling in.”
More than 75 ZIP codes and 10 states were represented in 2019’s festival, the report said.
Other participants also weighed in.
“I hate it’s canceled, I hate it’s canceled for Greenwood, I hate it’s canceled for our community,” Debbie Flynn, co-owner of Flynn’s on Maxwell, said. “But I agree it should be canceled.”
Flynn said she thought it was inevitable the festival would be canceled this year.
“I think it is just what is best for everybody right now,” Flynn said.
Gary Erwin, also known as blues artist Shrimp City Slim, music director for the Greenwood Blues Cruise aspect of the festival, said Wednesday that while he and his artists lineup are disappointed by the festival cancellation for this year, he’s planning for it to “come back bigger and stronger” in 2021.
“Blues and barbecue are necessary parts of our life,” he said. “It is essential. But, there’s nothing that compares to this pandemic. What we have to do, as a people and a world, really, is focus on our personal and public health, until the (novel) coronavirus is controlled. But, we hate that we are not going to do the 20th Festival of Discovery in 2020.”
With a mix of ages among performers, Erwin, himself 66, said those in at-risk categories for the virus have expressed concerns about travel during this time.
“Everything about this year has been so extraordinary,” Erwin said. “You might as well expect the unexpected. All the major music festivals for this year in Chicago, New Orleans, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas have been bagged…We have such credibility and so much love for the Festival of Discovery Blues Cruise that I think people are fully understanding why we have to put it off.
“In 2021, we are planning a tribute to the legendary blues bar, Jackson Station in Hodges, which is going to dovetail nicely with the release of (Lander) professor Daniel Harrison’s book, (‘Live at Jackson Station: Music, Community, and Tragedy in a Southern Blues Bar’.) …A lot of people in the blues community watch what we are doing. Artists who are scheduled to play the Blues Cruise, artists who have played, and, artists who want to play it, know the quality of what we do.”
“We were probably the last ones to jump off the ship,” Erwin continued. “We were hangin’ on by our fingernails, but there ain’t no more hangin’ on. A number of other blues festivals I do got canceled weeks ago, from two in April to Piccolo Spoleto and Camden’s Carolina Down Home and one in Florence.”
Erwin said to plan on the blues to come “thundering back, bigger and more boisterous” to Greenwood in 2021.
“The SC Festival of Discovery staff will soon begin making plans to celebrate the festival’s twentieth anniversary during next year’s event,” Uptown Greenwood Manager Lara Hudson said in the release.
The festival is sponsored by Eddy Carolina Pride. It started in 2001 and has been organized by Uptown Greenwood Development Corp.