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Festival a hit despite rainy start

Bright sunshine broke through steadily clearing skies Saturdayafternoon and allowed the 34th annual Ole Brook Festival to recoverfrom what was shaping up to be a rain-soaked disaster earlier inthe morning.

The crowd was sparse and vendors huddled in dry corners as rainfell on downtown Brookhaven throughout the morning hours, but allthat changed when the sun came out shortly after noon and theexpected crowd of thousands appeared in Railroad Park.

“After a little rain early in the morning, the festivalrebounded quickly,” said Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield. “The crowd isevery bit as big as we’d hoped for, and the vendors are allhappy.”

Brumfield said the festival would have went on despite the nastymorning weather. Barring extreme events like Hurricane Katrina in2005 – one of the few times Ole Brook has been canceled – the showwill go on.

Brumfield said the festival presses on during wet conditionsbecause it is impossible to reschedule due to the amount of timeand year-round preparation involved in setting it up.

And even though the rain cut short the expected number of OleBrook visitors, Brumfield said the festival was still able to hitthe mark of biggest in the 34-year history.

“We had hoped for about 8,000 people throughout the day, but wehad about half that due to the rain,” he said. “But we’ve been toldby a number of the vendors that the attendees are happy andshopping and the kids are playing and having fun.”

Other than small crowd numbers throughout the morning, theconstant and sometimes heavy rain only managed to cause a few bigdisappointments, Brumfield said.

Water buildup on the ceiling of the festival-ending concertstage got heavy enough to cause a few of the aluminum crosssupports to bend and one to break, he said, causing the rear of thestage to fall and forcing the show to be moved from downtown toEasthaven Baptist Church.

Repairs to the stage were attempted unsuccessfully, Brumfieldsaid.

“No one was in any danger of being hurt, but the stage wasdeemed unsafe,” he said. “Easthaven has a large facility and thethree-phase electrical service the bands need, and without thechurch and its volunteers, we would not have been able to enjoy theconcert.”

The early rain also caused a few vendors to call it quits earlyand leave the festival, but the overwhelming majority of thetraveling merchants chose to stick it out and were rewarded withthe afternoon’s clear weather and big crowd.

“We’re doing good so far – the rain is kind of holding us back alittle,” said Dunaway Concessions’s Greg Morgan of McComb as helooked out of his kitchen/trailer at a few poncho-coveredpassersby. “Sometimes the rain can be a killer, but sometimes itreally doesn’t matter. We’ve been pecking along.”

Later that afternoon, Morgan was singing a different tune asfestival attendees lined up at both windows for lemonade.

“We’ve done great since the rain quit,” he said. “Good enough towhere we’ll be back next year. We’ve enjoyed the show as much asanything – it’s a well-run festival.”

Morgan said his afternoon sales turned out to be on par with anormal festival day, though he did not enjoy the strong sales heexperienced during the 2007 Ole Brook Festival.

Not all vendors were able to stay as positive – especially thosewho drove hours to get to Brookhaven. Casey’s Concessions ownerCasey Henderson, 18, of Mobile, Ala., said the festival’s sunnyafternoon recovery would be unable to make up the time lost to themorning moisture.

“What you lose, you never get back,” he said while taking abreak during the afternoon rush. “Last year in the morning we weredoing as good as we’re doing now. Seeing as how we’re from Mobile,and the way gas prices are, it’s a nice chunk of change [that willbe lost due to rain].”

Henderson pointed out that the relocation of the concert wouldalso hurt business. But he wasn’t all frowns.

“It’s just the risk of running your own business – we’rethankful for what we get,” he added.

Strangely, the big rains had no effect on McComb’s Billie Deer,who turned in an outstanding day selling more than 100 jars ofpreserves and peppers at Billie’s Goodies.

“It was slow, very slow this morning, but people were still outshopping with umbrellas,” she said. “It started picking up aroundnoon, and I’ve done good – very good.”

Some of Saturday morning’s rain-soaked festival attendees wereunbothered by the dark sky.

Brookhaven’s Art Stevens said he was nonetheless impressed bythe size of the crowd while the rain fell. He said rain wasn’tenough to keep him and his family at home during the festival.

“We hate it for all the people, but we’re gonna come anyway,” hesaid. “I mean, this is part of Brookhaven – you can’t live inBrookhaven without going to the Ole Brook Festival.”

A rainy festival was a worthy trade-off for Stevens’ plannedSaturday morning activities.

“I was gonna cut grass, but I’ll be able to get out of thattoday,” he said.

New Brookhaven transplant Leslie Boykin, who moved to the cityin December from Memphis, Tenn., to enjoy the small town vibe,missed the morning rain and was all smiles in the afternoon as shepushed around 2-year-old Jax and 1-year-old Bess Boykin in atwo-seat stroller.

“We’ve had a great time at the festival,” she said. “We haveeaten and shopped. We’ve had three orders of french fries since[Friday] night, and we’re looking for number four.”

Brookhaven’s Sicily Green said her children got a kick out ofthe festival’s two air brush tattoo tents, and she got a kick outof the crowd’s size after a rainy start.

“There’s a lot more stuff to see that people expected,” shesaid. “We can hardly look at everything.”

All in all, the 34th annual Ole Brook Festival ended in success,said Ole Brook Committee Chairman Jeff Doremus. He said he was”exceedingly” worried Saturday morning as he checked the weatherevery hour.

“Sometimes it’s not how you start but how you finish,” hesaid.

Across town, the rain had a minimal impact on the Lincoln CountyWildlife Expo’s return after a four-year hiatus.

Lincoln County Multi-Purpose Facility Manager Quinn Jordan saidhis event, like Ole Brook, started slowly due to the rain but livedup to expectations after lunchtime.

“It went wonderful,” he said. “This was pretty much a precedentyear.”

Jordan estimated that approximately 1,500 people attended theexpo – less than the desired 2,000, but still a satisfyingtally.

Unlike the Ole Brook Festival, the expo charged admission.Jordan said the proceeds would go back into the facility’s fund foroperations and improvements.

Based on Friday’s and Saturday’s success, Jordan said the expowould return as a yearly event.

“We’re gonna get together as a committee and have a roundtablediscussion on what we did right and what we did wrong,” he said.”We have really just some layout issues, but the expo went reallygood.”