Bluffton festival concludes with fanfare, fireworks

gmartin@islandpacket.comOctober 24, 2011 

Fireworks lit up the Bluffton sky Saturday, heralding the end of a festival that attracted between 20,000 and 25,000 people to the town's historic district, organizers say.

A one-day event when it started seven years ago, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival is now a weeklong celebration of the town's artistic culture and seafaring heritage along the May River.

This year's festival opened with a boat parade on the river and offered kayak tours, a cooking competition and the five-kilometer Oyster Run.

"A lot of the success is due to word of mouth," said Mary O'Neil, president of the event's board. The board had also advertised the festival in Southern Living magazine.

"We really stepped it up with the music, too," O'Neil said, noting that 14 local bands played on three stages during the festival's final weekend. "The entertainers were just over the top this year."

Attendance was also buoyed by mild temperatures and clear skies.

Keith Coyne, who sold artwork in a booth on Calhoun Street, noticed the increase in attendance.

"From the minute it opened, there was just a steady stream of people coming in," Coyne said. "I didn't even have time to eat lunch."

Andrew Rein, a spokesman for Hargray, one of the festival's corporate sponsors, said it was rewarding to contribute to a source of civic pride.

"It's really gratifying to see this event turn into what it has," Rein said. "It's nice to feel like we're a part of that."

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