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Three-day Gullah Festival emphasizes community, family ties

Two members of the Yoruba Drummers and Dancers perform for the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the 23rd Gullah Festival at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort on Friday evening.
Two members of the Yoruba Drummers and Dancers perform for the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the 23rd Gullah Festival at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort on Friday evening.

Close to 200 people gathered Friday night in downtown Beaufort to kick of a weekend-long celebration of the Lowcountry's history and heritage.

Friday marked the beginning of the Gullah Festival, an event founded 23 years ago as a way to celebrate Gullah and African-American culture and educate the public about its importance to the community.

Strolling through a makeshift market of vendors in the parking lot of the Beaufort Downtown Marina, Tami LeSarge of Beaufort said the festival is a chance for her and her family to pay tribute to their ancestors.

"It's so important that we don't lose what makes our area so unique," she said. "Our heritage, our history and where we come from is what makes us who we are. This festival celebrates all of that."

While the festivities technically kicked off Friday morning, the Gullah Festival got its official start Friday night with the event's opening ceremony, featuring performances from local dance troupes and brief remarks from area dignitaries.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said the festival cements Gullah's place in the history of the Lowcountry.

"One of my strongest feelings has always been that you can never have a strong future unless you base it on the past," he told the crowdgathered at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Like the Beaufort Air Show last weekend, event organizers may have to deal with foul weather at some point during the festival, which concludes Sunday afternoon following a 4 p.m. performance by the Inner Visions Reggae Band.

Forecasters are calling for a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms today, and a 30 percent chance on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Still, for many of the 50,000 to 70,000 people expected to attend the three-day event, it's the sense of community that's important rather than the weather.

"It's the sense of family, the sense of community, that sets this festival apart from other events," said Bryant Simons of Charlotte, N.C. "It feels like one big family reunion."

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