The 2015 Clayton Harvest and Music Festival drew a crowd larger than the town itself, packing downtown streets with residents and visitors eager to soak in the September sun.
Over four days, the festival’s banner flew over singing competitions and concerts, outdoor movies and carnival rides, building to the crown jewel vendor fair on Sept. 19. The Clayton Chamber of Commerce, the festival’s longtime organizer, estimated foot traffic on Main Street in the tens of thousands.
The Clayton Town Council heaped its praise on festival organizers during its Sept. 21 meeting, complimenting an event that can’t be missed for the better part of the week, yet leaves no trace by Monday.
“I just want to acknowledge the chamber and town for their efforts during the Harvest Festival,” said Councilman Michael Grannis, who owns a Main Street restaurant. “The trash was really eliminated on a timely basis; there were no significant police issues. As a downtown business owner, I’m pleased to see that.”
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It’s been a nearly three-decade ascent for the Harvest Festival, from a smaller affair anchored on Horne Square to something encompassing most of downtown Clayton. Councilman Butch Lawter pointed to the chamber’s James Liscomb as the driving force of the modern festival.
“That vision belongs to James Lipscomb,” Lawter said. “Harvest Fest would not be where it’s at without that vision.”
Lipscomb said his vision was simply to keep the Harvest Festival downtown rather than moving it as the event grew and Horne Square became something more than a gravel lot.
“As we re-imagined the festival area, the size of the space we had traditionally used shrunk,” Lipscomb said. “People were talking about sticking it out in a field somewhere, but I didn’t want to lose the ambiance of a downtown fair. I was passionate about keeping it downtown.”
Lipscomb said this year’s estimated attendance of around 20,000 was organizers’ best guess, but he did say vendors reported record sales.
The chamber’s biggest experiment with the 2015 festival was a hospitality tent on Friday and Saturday that offered entertainment, as well as beer and wine. Lipscomb said the tent exceeded his expectations until a power outage Saturday forced an early closure. In future festivals, perhaps even next year, he said he’d like to see a raised stage for performers, with the tent attracting local acts of all kinds.
“I’d like to solicit more groups for participation, specifically targeting kids, getting them on stage and giving them a good, positive experience in their life,” Lipscomb said. “We want to make people feel like the festival is theirs.”
Lipscomb looks for a moment each year that will help each festival stay with him. This year’s came in the form of a distraught mother during the afternoon on Saturday. She had lost her wallet while her children were playing in the kids’ zone at the Wagner House. At that point, no one had turned it in, but Lipscomb got a call a couple hours later from Wagner House owner Dawn Black.
“She said someone had turned in a wallet and wanted to know if anyone had stopped by the chamber looking for one,” Lipscomb said. “It obviously had credit cards and money in it, and when the lady got it back, she was just in tears. Hopefully that’s saying something good about Clayton, that we’ve got good, honest folks here.”
Drew Jackson; 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson