Two years ago, water ran down Franklin Street like it was the mighty Mississippi River. The community reeled in the aftermath of floods caused by nearly eight inches of rain falling over four days, including five inches over two hours on Sunday, June 30.
This may have been one of the apocalyptic images that raced through organizers’ minds when rain and winds – included those from Hurricane Joaquin – threatened this year’s 43rd annual Festifall Arts Festival on Oct. 4.
“Safety is our number-one priority and, with the threat of high winds and rain, we felt it to be in everyone’s best interest to cancel,” Parks and Recreation department director Jim Orr said in a release preceding the scheduled event.
But rumors of the demise of fall festival plans have been greatly exaggerated.
Almost immediately after the cancellation of Festifall, Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation staff began to conspire to keep plans afloat in some form.
The results is this Saturday’s Festival in the Park from noon through 4 p.m. at Southern Community Park. The event will feature live entertainment, food trucks, and participation of popular community arts organizations.
“We missed our community coming together for Festifall this year, but the fun isn’t over yet,” said the unsinkable Amanda Fletcher, festivals and community event supervisor for Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation.
“We were dealing with a state of emergency as declared by the governor and a multitude of reasons why (Festifall was cancelled),” Fletcher explained. “We had to do some damage control with the cancellation and had to figure out what our plan was going to be for refunding our vendors. That took a little bit of time, but then this concept was created a few days later as a way to give back to the sponsors that were going to be involved.”
“It’s going to be a much smaller deal, with about 15 vendors, two food trucks and around five performers,” Fletcher added, “but we’ve also only had a few weeks to pull it off, and we’re doing the best we can, and we’ve had a very positive response.”
Fletcher said, given good weather (and don’t jinx the festival by uttering otherwise), the Festival in the Park would capitalize on a crowd already gathered at Southern Community Park for soccer leagues and recreation on a beautiful fall Saturday.
“We plan to build on that momentum and invite the community to join us for a park ‘take-over’ and community event,” she said.
You can call the Festival in the Park a smaller version of Festifall, but don’t call it “watered down,” as organizers say there will be plenty to do.
“We have Matt Phillips – a local favorite – a band called Parallel Lives, and the Bouncing Bulldogs, also a local favorite,” Fletcher said. “We’ve got Spin Man doing a basketball demonstration, and we’ll have a magician: Nico Wild. We’ll also have the Taco Bell food truck and the Little Dipper food truck serving ice cream.
Fletcher said there will be plenty of family-friendly activities, so parents should bring the kids.
“Tumblegym will be there with an inflatable obstacle course,” she said, “our community clay studio will be there doing some demonstrations, and the N.C. Lego Builders will be building a giant Lego lion, like the Food Lion lion. The Poetry Fox will be there, and he’s always a hit: you give him a word, and he’ll write a poem for you.”
Additional contributors will be Go Chapel Hill, the Kidzu Children’s Museum, the Chapel Hill Arts Commission and the Carrboro Arts Center.
Presented by Food Lion, the Food Lion Better Bus will make a stop in the park too,
with shopping cart races and more.
Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation also expressed its thanks to supporting sponsors: Mill House Properties, James Hardie Building Products, Passanante’s Home Food Services, Silverspot Cinema, Relay Foods and Michael & Sons.
While the Festival at the Park will have an arts presence, it will not be at the same scale as Festifall, so Fletcher encouraged everyone to visit the Festifall artists’ online market at “http://www.chapelhillfestifall.com/dddd/.”
“This is so that, in some small way, the artists could recoup some costs,” Fletcher said. “The artists are still up on our market in case folks want to see who would have been (at Festifall). They can go directly to those artists’ websites.”
For more information on the Festival in the Park, visit http://bit.ly/1WIVTmt.
With so much fun planned for this Saturday’s fall Festival in the Park, there’s only one thing that can stand in the way of success, but don’t ask Fletcher about any chances of rain.
“Oh,” Fletcher said, laughing. “I hope not.”