June 15, 2017 10:49:12 AM
Columbus' long-running Juneteenth festival may have fewer vendors than normal this year, but organizers are still looking forward to a busy weekend.
This year marks the 21st Juneteenth event in Columbus. It will be held Friday and Saturday at Sim Scott Park.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday was born from the arrival of Union Major General Gordon Grangers in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, with word that the Civil War was over and slaves were free.
Locally, according to event adviser and Lowndes County District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks, the Juneteenth celebration started as a small festival in 1996 that drew about 1,000 people. In the years since, it's grown to a festival that draws more than 10,000 people from across the region.
Brooks said planning this year's festival fell behind because the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board didn't have a quorum for when the event's funding was first slated to be approved.
CVB agreed to provide $10,000 for Juneteenth this year, including half up-front and half after the event is over.
"It's been a slow year this year in terms of vendors and other thing," Brooks said. "We submitted the application to the CVB in March and they didn't have a quorum. We got (the first half of) our money in April."
Because of the delayed start, Brooks said, the event fell behind on drawing vendors and entertainers. He said previous festivals drew about 30 vendors.
"Right now if we get to 20 vendors, we'll consider it a blessing," Brooks said. "We've got 10 paid vendors, with 15 to 20 applications still out. Some of those will show up, but I have no idea how many will.
"Entertainers that we normally wanted that we had started talking to our booking agent for, we didn't have the money (at the time) so they got booked up," he added. "June is a busy month for entertainers, so we tried to get them early."
Event Coordinator Cindy Lawrence, who is also the director of Lowndes County Emergency Management, said she's confident this year's Juneteenth will be strong, regardless of the late start. She said she's most concerned about the chance for rain Friday and Saturday.
"There's a high percentage of rain this year," she said. "We've never been rained out, ever. I'm praying that it will hold off."
Still, Lawrence said the festival will go on even if it does rain. However, she did not specify an inclement weather plan.
Activities start at 6 p.m. Friday with a concert, and should last until about 10:30-11 p.m. Gates for the festival open at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and the festival will feature jumpers and activities for kids, along with gospel music in the afternoon and blues in the evening. Beer will be available for purchase on-site in the park.
Despite the challenges, Lawrence said she's confident in the festival this year.
"I'm pleased with the way it's coming together," she said. "It's coming together slowly but I think it's gonna be alright. I'm very excited and hope the community comes to attend."
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