Organizers have spent the past year preparing for and publicizing the 57th annual Beaufort Water Festival, but one secret remains, on a message in a bottle.
The glass bottle was among debris plucked from the Beaufort River during the June 9 Kayak Dash for Trash cleanup day, festival spokeswoman Stacey Canaday said. Its rescuer will join festival Commodore John Gentry on the stage for opening ceremonies to open the bottle and read the slip of paper inside.
The bottle was not planted by Water Festival organizers, but Gentry said he tracked down the person who threw it into the water to make sure it was OK to read the message.
It's an unusual start for what Canaday says will be the best festival yet. She laughed, then added, "Every year we say it's going to be the best year ever, and every year it turns out to be the best year ever."
The annual festival, based in the Henry C. Chambers Park in downtown Beaufort, will be July 13-22. Canaday expects attendance to top 50,000. The park can hold 3,500 people at a time and will be filled to capacity many evenings, she said.
Almost 400 volunteers are helping this year.
"They all have such heart," Gentry said. "They are such a big part of making something that everybody in Beaufort can enjoy."
The 10 days of events cost about $500,000, and Gentry said about $138,000 from 160 sponsors has been raised so far. The rest of the money is expected to come from sponsor donations and ticket sales.
Canaday recommends those planning to attend to purchase tickets at www.bftwaterfestival.com to avoid lines at the park. Patrons can also park at the Beaufort County Government Complex at the corner of Ribaut Road and Boundary Street and take a free shuttle to the festival.
The festival starts Friday with an arts and crafts festival from noon to 5 p.m. in Waterfront Park. Gates will open at 6 p.m. for the opening ceremony, which starts at 7 p.m. and is free. The Parris Island Marine Band will perform, and a fireworks display is set for dusk.
Activities on Saturday include a raft race; bocce, children's toad fishing and badminton tournaments; the Gatorland Ski Show; and the sailing regatta. The concert in the park will feature opening act Chuck Courtenay of Charleston and the headliner, country music artist James Otto. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.
The recently formed DragonBoat Beaufort and Dragon Boat Charleston rowing teams will also perform an exhibition Saturday afternoon. The teams help support cancer patients and survivors.
Canaday said she hopes regional and national music acts will attract residents from Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and beyond.
"We try to get groups from across the (Broad) River, because we are a festival for Beaufort (Couny) and for all of Beaufort (County)," she said. "So we want people from all over to come down and enjoy Beaufort, and not only Beaufort, but also to visit Hilton Head and Old Town Bluffton and all over."
Folow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.
Beaufort's Water Festival a great success, July 30, 2011