Beaufort should be pleased with the 59th Water Festival.
The 10-day event held in late July again helped residents, former residents and visitors to celebrate life on beautiful Lowcountry waterways.
Rain and storms put a damper on attendance, reported to be down this year to somewhere between 65,000 and 70,000 people attending the many paid and free events.
That's not bad, considering that a downpour caused long delays in the popular Motown Monday concert featuring Deas-Guyz. Things got even worse for the River Dance on Friday night, July 26, featuring headliner Eric Paslay. A violent storm forced the first cancellation of a main event in recent memory. Organizers reached out this year for national recording artists to headline shows on both weekends, and it's a shame the weather did not cooperate to fully evaluate that idea.
Commodore Brandy Gray and her staff are to be commended for rolling with the punches and emphasizing public safety.
Still, hotel occupancy was higher than a year ago around town, and rates were up as well. That indicates that the festival achieved a primary goals of showcasing Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, boosting local business and keeping the historic downtown vital.
One issue the city wrestled with at the last minute this year was whether to grant lenience in the noise ordinance so hospitality businesses along the waterway might feature live entertainment later at night. This issue should be revisited for next year to seek a compromise that could help the businesses take full advantage of the festival.
The festival is made possible by a long list of business sponsors, led by Lee Distributors. Also in the top tiers are Hargray, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Ocean Light Corp., Pender Bros., and Vaden Chevrolet, Buick, GMC of Beaufort.
At least two new twists to the festival deserve applause.
The DragonBoat race was moved to the second Saturday to give it more prominence and allow for more time and teams. It worked well.
Also, Salsa Tuesday was new this year, with a 10-piece mariachi band. Festival organizers are to be commended for saluting Latino culture on the main stage.
"Seeing an organization acknowledging this (Latino) community for the first time with Salsa Tuesday is a milestone," said Latino community leader Eric Esquivel. "To the Latinos, it's a sign of welcome."
Now the festival leadership must break down all that was new and old to see what worked and what changes should be made for a festival that has seen slight drops in total attendance for several years.
The festival is a major, year-round undertaking that is pulled off without a professional staff. It is run by volunteers, many still in the work force, who give up their personal time to keep the tradition alive. More than 400 volunteers make it go, and that in itself helps the festival achieve its most worthwhile mission of building community.