Arts Feature

Culture, Crafts and Celebrations Fill Downtown

City Hosts Three Major Festivals This Saturday

By Shani Gilchrist
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Last Aug. 24, 2013, was a searing summer day offering two popular festivals: Historic Columbia’s Jubilee: A Festival of Heritage and the Main Street Latin Festival downtown. If one was willing to put up with the heat, one could spend an entire day eating, dancing and celebrating Columbia’s diverse communities. This year, on Saturday, Aug. 23 there will be three festivals in which to do this, as the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum adds FOLKFabulous 2014 to the day’s lineup.


After a week of difficult headlines, Darion McCloud, founder of The NiA Company, recently took to Facebook with a possible solution: “I bet a good round of storytelling in the community would improve the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.”

For the many who attend Historic Columbia’s Jubilee Festival each year, this is an obvious possibility for healing. Now in its 36th year, Jubilee: A Festival of Heritage has continuously brought a diverse crowd to the corner of Richland and Marion Streets to celebrate the cultural heritage and enterprising spirit of the Mann-Simons family, an African-American family who lived and worked on the property for more than 140 years.

“Jubilee, over its 36 years, has pulled the community together in a way that you don’t necessarily see in other places,” says Carrie Phillips, director of marketing and communications for Historic Columbia. “It’s a celebration of African-American heritage that everyone comes to.”

There are some changes afoot for the popular festival this year. For starters, it will begin later in the day, at 1 p.m. and lasting until 7 p.m. The free, family-friendly event will also take over a larger section of Marion Street, spanning the 1900 and 2000 blocks, creating a space that is bookended by the Mann-Simons Site and the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House at the corner of Marion and Elmwood. As they eat, listen and learn, people will be able to walk a path of history that begins with the Mann-Simons’ purchase of the plot in the 1840s and ends with the home of the matriarch of South Carolina’s civil rights movement.

This year’s entertainment includes headlining jazz artist Chris Andrews, as well as the staples of the annual celebration: the Jubilee Choirs, the Benedict College Concert Choir and storytelling by Aunt Pearlie Sue.  The Black Cowboys will return and will have an expanded performance space, allowing them to show off their tricks and horsemanship more than in previous years. Tours of the Mann-Simons site and the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House will be available for $1 each, and for $2 festivalgoers can board a bus for the African-American Heritage Sites Tour.

Main Street Latin Festival

Since 2003, Columbia’s Latin community has celebrated its own diverse, vibrant and storied culture with the Main Street Latin Festival. When Tanya Rodriguez-Hodge, executive director of Latino Communications, entered the scene three years ago, she had a vision that led to the festival becoming an inclusive, community-wide event.

“I got involved because I was worried that it was alienating the rest of the community,” says Rodriguez-Hodge. “Now it’s one of the largest and most diverse festivals in town, and last year, according to then-acting police chief Ruben Santiago, we easily had 20,000 people there.”

From 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Aug. 23, visitors will be treated to the sounds of salsa, merengue, reggaeton and grupero music while learning about the crafts and stories that have long been a part of the Latin culture. The 2014 festival will include entertainment by Rika Swing, Carlitos, Guelo Star and Moncho Rivera.

Last year’s flash mob was greeted with such enthusiasm that the mob will return to Main Street between 1 and 2 p.m. For those who’ve always wanted to cross “danced in a flash mob” off their bucket list, participation is open to all who show up at Killian Park on Thursday at 6:15 p.m. to rehearse.

While the festival started out as an event primarily drawing one demographic, it has now grown into an annual tourist attraction.

“We were taking up three-quarters of the Columbia Marriott’s space,” says Rodriguez-Hodge, “which led to the hotel offering special rates for the festival. Last year we even had a family who had traveled from New Jersey. They had specifically timed their trip to visit family at the same time as the festival.”

FOLKFabulous 2014

Highlighting McKissick Museum’s year-long exhibition Traditions, Change and Celebration: Native Artists of the Southeast, curated by Will Goins, FOLKFabulous will fill USC’s Horseshoe with opportunities to learn about the traditional art forms passed down through generations of Native American families around the Southeast. From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., USC’s historic Horseshoe will be filled with music, artisans and food in celebration of what is slated to be the largest gathering of Eastern North American Indian artists in the university’s history.

A family-friendly event, FOLKFabulous will begin with Cherokee storytelling on the outdoor stage, followed by a gallery talk on Traditions, Change and Celebration in the second-floor gallery of the museum. Throughout the day there will be musical performances including the Edisto River Singers, the Deer Clan Singers and the Welch Family Singers. Arts and crafts can be seen from Nottoway Indian Artisans, Lewis Stamper (Beaver Creek beadwork), Keith Brown (Catawba pottery), Freeman Owle (Cherokee stone carving) and more. Community leaders from the Wassamasaw, Santee, Cheraw and Nottoway tribes will be on hand to discuss varying cultural traditions and histories.

Festival attendees might recognize a familiar face as they wander through the material and craft exhibitions: Lynette Allston, a former Columbia resident, is chief of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia and a noted traditional ceramic artist. Allston will be attending FOLKFabulous as a Native American community leader and to demonstrate her craft.

Three festivals in one day? Is Columbia falling back on its old ways of non-collaboration?

Actually, it isn’t. Organizers see no reason to consider themselves as competition for each other. There will even be a shuttle running between FOLKFabulous and the Jubilee Festival to encourage attendance at both.

“You can start the day on the Horseshoe, have lunch at Jubilee and finish out at the Latin Festival,” Phillips says. “That’s a pretty darn good day in a famously hot town.”

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