ABBEVILLE — The Hogs and Hens Festival represents a return to “almost normal.”

That could mean record numbers of people descending on Court Square to enjoy the weekend’s attractions.

“We are expecting anywhere between 5,(000)-8,000 people to be in attendance this year,” according to Austin Walker, the city’s community development director. “The trend, ‘post-COVID,’ in surrounding areas is a notable increase in attendance. We saw it for ourselves at Spring Festival earlier this year, and we are preparing for the same this fall.”

In previous years, the city has hovered near the 4,500 mark for attendance, but because of COVID-19, the city only estimates about 2,500 attended in 2020, Walker said.

Despite ongoing concerns about the pandemic, the city received a record number of food, arts and crafts applicants. Walker said that while all food vending spots are full, as of early October, the city was still accepting applications for arts and crafts vendors.

Last year’s festival had many restrictions and protocols in place because of COVID, she said. It was the first event the city put on after the shutdown and was a learning experience.

The city won’t have as many protocols and precautions as last year, but it will have policies in place if COVID numbers trend upwards, she said, the first being that city staff will wear masks. This is a precaution not only for the safety and well-being of attendees, but to protect staff from greater exposure risks while working at the festival.

Another plan involves having hand-sanitizing stations available throughout the event area, along with masks for those who wish to wear one. Walker said masks will not be required for attendees or vendors, though the city urges everyone to wear masks when they are within 6 feet of one another within the event area.

Lastly — and this is more of a request than a policy — but anyone with a cough, fever, chills, other symptoms or recent exposure without testing should stay home.

Regarding changes to the state’s concealed carry law, Walker said the city will follow the state’s avenue for prohibiting the carrying of a concealable weapon (as newly amended code defines 23-31-210(5)) upon any premise that does not have doors (25-31-235).

To be clear, the new code defines a concealable weapon as one that “may be carried openly on one’s person or in a manner that is hidden from public.”

Visible from each entrance will be a “NO CONCEALABLE WEAPONS ALLOWED” sign that is 36 by 48 inches and sits 40 inches off the ground with all markers indicated by the code. No weapons of any kind have been allowed at the festival in the past. By following state guidance on signage the city will be keeping with that standard.

Commercial Printing and Graphics has made both the sign and stand, since there are little to no stands that will hold signage to the specified dimensions, she said.

There will be no additions to the festival proper because of COVID. Walker said the city has, however, created a sanctioned event process similar to other festivals around the nation.

“The wonderful thing about sanctioned events is the extra exposure and community collaboration that comes from being closely associated with the festival,” Walker said. All requirements and guidelines are listed in the city’s New Event Proposal Agreement which can be found at AbbevilleCitySC.com/SanctionedEvents.

Hogs and Hens has sanctioned Divine Your Wine’s Biergarten Nights and the Downtown Merchants Association’s Vino in the Ville, she said. The Biergarten will be featured both nights of the festival with beer and wine provided by Divine Your Wine (the newest addition to the Divine Your Space location). The business invites people to come enjoy craft beers and wine.

Vino in the Ville will be open Saturday with two start times, 1 and 3 p.m. Walker said people can enjoy samplings of distinctive vinos with local merchants around the Square. Tickets can be found online at Eventbrite or in store at As We Grow Boutique or Breezy Quarters for $20. The ticket price includes a souvenir wine glass. Participants must be at least 21 years old.

Other sanctioned events include,

Yoga on the Square by Faith Yoga from 10:30–11:30 a.m. on Saturday. It costs $10 to participate. Limited yoga mats will be available.

The Greater Abbeville Chamber of Commerce will host a Blood Drive in partnership with the Blood Connection, Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Participants will be entered to win free flowers once a month for a year from Deason’s, as well as a $20 gift card and shirt from the Blood Connection.

This year’s Hogs and Hens beneficiary is the newly formed Abbeville Community Performing Arts Board. The purpose of the ACPA board is to be an educational and charitable nonprofit, serving to promote and better the arts.

The organization has hosted two educational camps for kids and teens and will have a third camp the week of Oct. 17 where students will learn and perform an adaptation of “Frankenstein” in a week. During Hogs and Hens, the ACPA board will accept donations and memberships, hand out flyers for events, and get the community excited about the arts. To learn more, follow ACPA on Facebook at facebook.com/abbevilleperformingarts.

The Hogs and Hens festival is a part of the Southern BBQ Network. Since 2010, the SBN has sanctioned barbecue tournaments to further its goal of “Preserving a Southern Tradition.”

Contact staff writer Robert Jordan at 864-943-5650.