HAMLET — “It takes a village to raise a festival,” said Kim Lindsey, organizer of last weekend’s 34th Annual Hamlet Seaboard Festival — and, she said, that’s exactly what made it a success.
“We had 25 volunteers on the street, people who came out at 5:30 in the morning and were there until 6:30 at night,” Lindsey said. “We had 205 vendors on the street this year and we placed them in only two and a half hours. The number of people who access that street, several of them come in two or three cars, unloading the trailers onto the street and coming back to set up. It’s well-orchestrated chaos, but it just goes so well.”
Lindsey said the estimated number of visitors this year is lower than last year’s, but Hurricane Matthew likely played a role in that.
“The crowd estimate is 32,000 people,” she said. “Last year they estimated more in the 34,000 range. I’m not surprised by the drop in attendance, since so many people are still getting over the hurricane. We always attracted people from the Red Springs and Lumberton area, and they are still trying to get back into their homes. We probably lost people who lost work because of the hurricane. That discretionary money probably wasn’t there for them to come out and spend on the festival.”
Nevertheless, Lindsey said improvements made in the quality of crafting and food vendors seemed to be a hit with the crowd.
“Almost every crafter we had was over the moon with how many people came to the festival,” Lindsey said. “Our food vendors were ecstatic with the sales. People up and down the street were very happy with the increased number of crafters.”
Another addition Lindsey said was popular with festival-goers was the expansion of the entertainment area.
“We opened up the old A&P, which we’re now calling the ‘City Parking Lot,’” she said of the razed property topped with crush and run. “Our Food Lion main stage was there, and people were on bleachers, sitting at picnic tables. And there were individuals who brought their chairs to just sit and listen to the music. That’s really what we want for that area, to be a place where people can come out and enjoy.”
The Hamlet Visitor’s Center at the depot, and the car show behind it, were also popular attractions, Lindsey added.
“It attracted a tremendous number of people,” she said. “I saw people in and out of it constantly, and it wasn’t for the bathrooms because the bathrooms were closed. When I went in, I saw about 40 people in the visitor’s center. And the car show — they had so many cars, I’d be surprised if there were less than 100 cars in the parking lot. Some beautiful, beautiful cars.”
As with any large event, especially in a year when changes are implemented, Lindsey said there was some confusion among attendees who brought pets despite a well-advertised city ordinance prohibiting pets during the festival.
“I probably saw more pets this year than I have ever seen before,” she said. “Most people were very, very understanding of the situation when you asked them to remove (the pets), but it was for the animals’ safety and the people on the streets’ safety. Some people are genuinely afraid of dogs, of snakes. And we have had snakes before. We don’t allow skateboards or skate shoes, either. It’s not because we hate those things, but we are just concerned with peoples’ safety.”
Asked whether law enforcement was involved in enforcing the no-pet rule, Lindsey said their intervention was not needed.
“We asked people nicely and explained we have a no-pet, no-animal ordinance for the festival,” she said. “We didn’t have anyone cause a disruption. Obviously, it is a city ordinance and as a city ordinance, we do have the possibility of getting the police involved. But we don’t want to ever have to do that. We had no reason to contact the police. We had a wonderful police presence on the street, but we did not have to engage them in any situation that involved our festival. For the most part, everyone was well-behaved and everyone seemed to have a good time.”
Hamlet Downtown Coordinator Stephanie Thornsbury said the Conductor’s Call contest winners and prizes were:
• 1st Place Adult, Mike Banks, $100.
• 1st Place Child, Janiya Sellers, $100.
• 2nd Place Adult, Daniel Coble, $50.
• 2nd Place Child, Jaylen James, $50.
• 3rd Place Adult, Jimmy Driggers, $25, and
• 3rd Place Child, Bryson Graves, $25.
Duke Smith, organizer of the Hamlet Seaboard Festival 5K, said he feels overwhelmed by the success of this year’s race.
“It went unbelievably well,” Smith said. “We had 202 registered, and we actually had 189 finishers. Kyle Butler of Rockingham was the overall male winner, finishing in 18 minutes, 34 seconds. Jade Ado from Carthage won overall female at 21 minutes, 29 seconds. She actually set a new course record for a female. It was unbelievable.”
This year, participants in the 5K and other members of the community were asked to donate school supplies originally intended to go to Hamlet schools — but Smith said in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and after coordinating with the schools, it was mutually decided that items collected will now go to areas hardest hit by the devastating flooding caused by the storm.
“We ended up with four plastic storage tubs full of donated school supplies, and we had some monetary donations as well,” Smith said. “We’re going to take those things to Robeson County Friday and drop them off. We’re all about trying to give back. Trying to help someone.”
Thanks to presenting sponsor Sandhills Regional Medical Center, this year’s race had the added benefit of high-tech timing equipment and professional judges.
“The electronic timing system was flawless,” Smith said. “Everything was exactly like I wanted. I had a lot of people that run a lot of the smaller, local small-town 5Ks, and they applauded our efforts at making this as good an event as any of the biggest and best they’ve been to. They expressed they liked everything from how the event was organized to how the course was set up. They were impressed with our showing.”
He added that the Mangum Track Club, founders of the 5K, are consistently supportive year after year.
“A lot of them don’t run 5Ks much anymore, but they always show for this one,” he said. “The overall support from the whole community, really, was unbelievable. Everybody just helped us in any way they could. We couldn’t do this event without the support of our sponsors at all.”
This year, the 5K also raised money for its Seaboard Festival 5K Scholarship Fund, first announced in September.
“We got tons of positive feedback about the scholarship,” Smith said. “We actually got $250 in donations just for that scholarship fund at the race. People were generous. And what we’re planning to do is, that $250 will sit untouched until we get more donations and then it will be used as a second scholarship when we get enough. We can’t say enough about how well it went. And I don’t see how next year won’t be even bigger and better. I don’t see anything but this event skyrocketing over the next few years.”
Lindsey said that this year’s festival may be over, but planning for the 2017 event is already under way.
“We want to thank our corporate sponsors, our premier sponsor, Food Lion,” she said. “Food Lion gave out 5,000 tickets and dollars-off tickets. Sandhills Regional Medical Center sponsored the 5K race. Watson-King Funeral Home sponsored the Conductor’s Call. We always owe a debt of gratitude to the Richmond (County) Tourism (Authority) for all its help. This was the icing on the cake of a fabulous festival.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.