BUCKHANNON – Festival Fridays wrapped up its summer-long celebration at Jawbone Park last Friday, Aug. 23, and members of the sponsoring group, Create Buckhannon, said they learn something new about how to best put on the event every season.
The Friday evening gatherings featured a variety of vendors; BBQ chicken and ribs; sharing time with friends and neighbors; and lots of free, live music including Ryan Cain and the Ables, Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, the Soda Pop Gypsies, the Jesse Milnes Band and Emmalea Deal. Deal headlined the lineup for the final Festival Friday.
Buck Edwards, a volunteer for Create Buckhannon, which sponsors Festival Fridays, said the groups purchased a chicken cooker for this season’s string of Festival Fridays.
“We bought one, but it was too small, so we bought a second one,” Edwards said. “The chicken dinners have been a great success this year. We use funds generated from the chicken sales to pay for the bands that perform at Festival Fridays.”
Festival Fridays have helped bring folks together for eight seasons, and Edwards said the event has grown each year.
“We use it as a way to get people in the community out here together,” he said. “People get to talk and have a good time. It’s something to get the community together. That is our goal with just about each thing we do – whether it’s through our community garden or other things. We want neighbors to get together and communicate.”
This year, the Festival Fridays season began in May and ran through August – accounting for 13 opportunities for community members to gather and celebrate together.
“We’ve had an excellent year – the weather has been great,” he said. “Last year, we had a lot of rain. This year has been very successful. Our chicken sales have been successful, and all of our vendors have done really well this year.”
Edwards said there were approximately 25 vendors each year, many of whom include farmers, jewelers, quilters, gardeners, food vendors and several nonprofits.
“The backpack group also sets up a booth,” he said. “It’s a great program we offer here. We are tired by the time the last Festival Friday comes along, but we look forward to it each year.”
“We have had some great performers this year,” Edwards added. “We look to bring bands the folks really like. People begin bringing their chairs and setting them up around 2:30 or 3 p.m. Lots of the folks like to get up and dance and have a great time. That is what we like to see.”
“It’s a wonderful event for the community, and I am proud to be associated with Create Buckhannon.”
He said the Festival Fridays draws a big crowd from Buckhannon; however, it also attracts folks from throughout the region and the state.
“We have anywhere from 1,000 people to 500 people in attendance each week,” he said.
Edwards said he believes Festival Fridays are the highlight of the Buckhannon summers.
“We are here every Friday night, and the people can count on it,” Edwards said. “We could always use more help. People can come to the Create Buckhannon meetings every Thursday at noon at the Opera House on Main Street. Even if you can’t come to meetings, you can still come down and help us.”
City councilman CJ Rylands, who’s also the director of Create Buckhannon, said the group learns something new every year while sponsoring Festival Fridays.
“Last year, we added the chicken sale,” he said. “We need some extra storage space and we have added the new sound system, so we have a lot of advancements. We have added places to play chess and checkers.”
Rylands said the group hopes to utilize the bocce court more, perhaps sponsoring a weekly tournament with a cash prize.
“We have the connections to Trader’s Alley and by next year we should have another pedestrian circulation route,” Rylands said. “We are connected Jawbone Park to Main Street and back.”
Rylands said Festival Fridays was established to create an invitation for folks to come to a public space where people can meet one another and talk face-to-face or IRL – in real life – in younger folks’ lingo.
“All of those third places in society have been diminished,” Rylands lamented. “When I used to shop with my grandmother, we went to the produce market and everyone knew her name. There were all of those places outside of work where you connected with people, but they are all diminished. While we have aggregated retail in food and other things we need.”
Rylands said the education system has also been aggregated.
“In 1950, there were 60 schools in Upshur County and there are nine now,” he said. “Along with those schools there was generally a country store. So, we are trying to recreate [third spaces for socialization] as best as we can with things like the Walk of Valor Banners, food and music.”
He said he thinks more and more people are taking advantage of Festival Fridays.
“The more, the merrier,” Rylands said.