By Lanier Laney
The Beaufort Water Festival is the largest charity event in Beaufort, attracting more than 65,000 visitors to Beaufort and involving more than 400 volunteers for the massive 10-day annual summer event.
Well-orchestrated planning and a year round volunteer staff of 60 dedicated people bring it all together. Each year it’s all overseen by a new commodore, whose job and the responsibilities that come with it are equal to that of a CEO
of a small corporation. This year’s commodore is Brandy Gray, a fifth generation Port Royal native, (daughter of William and Peggy Buquet), who has been a committed Water Festival volunteer since she began as a Pirette in high school in 1989. She’s the fourth female to become commodore in the 59 year history of the event, which first was held as a sailing regatta and water ski show in 1956.
Today’s Water Festival stretches over two weekends starting next weekend and includes major musical acts over multiple nights and a myriad of events for all ages and abilities including fireworks, an air show and a parade. (For a full listing of all the great happenings, check out The Island News next week, which will be dedicated to the Water Festival.)
Commodore Gray credits her family and the volunteers for helping make it all happen. Says Brandy, “Our amazing group of volunteers are the backbone of our festival. They are the hard-working, passionate crew that we call our Water Festival Family!”
And when it comes to her husband Mickey, she says, “He is the reason I am able to do so many great things in our community. His support is unwavering. Our daughter has also been right there beside us during this journey.”
Brandy’s been happily married for 16 years to her husband Mickey Gray, who also grew up in Beaufort. Says Brandy, “I met my husband playing coed softball and I never thought in a million years that I would fall so quickly in love.”
Mickey, who retired from the state of South Carolina, now enjoys being a stay-at-home dad for their beloved daughter, Emma La’claire, age 6, who starts first grade at Riverview Charter School this August.
Commodore Gray is pleased with some of the innovations that the 59th Water Festival brings this year for attendees.
Says Brandy, “This year we have a new free downloadable app for your iPhone and Android that will allow you to buy tickets online for all events and give you all the venues and event times, plus a Google interactive map for their locations that you can forward to your phone or computer. You will also be able to buy tickets online at the Beaufort Water Festival website.”
Also new this year, in order to ease parking problems, there will be a free shuttle service running every 15 minutes, starting Friday, July 17, from 5 p.m. to midnight, from the parking lot of Beaufort Town Center in front of ARTworks and also the parking lot of the County Government Center on the corner of Ribaut Road and Boundary Street that will take people to the Downtown Marina parking lot next to the Waterfront Park.
Brandy said she loves the Water Festival parade, which will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 26, and is pleased that noted novelist Pat Conroy will be this year’s Grand Marshall. She is also excited that a full day will be devoted to the Dragon Boat races on that same day, Saturday, July 26, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Besides volunteering with the Water Festival, Brandy’s also been involved with many nonprofits such as United Way, CAPA, Friends of Caroline Hospice, Zonta Club of Beaufort and Beaufort Charities. She is able to do all this while also doing an excellent job as sales manager for the Holiday Inn Express in Bluffton, where she works with groups, tour operators, wedding planners and corporate clients to provide lodging.
Brandy said, “Let me take a moment to thank all of our wonderful sponsors and volunteers. We are a unique group as we are all volunteer driven and have no paid staff. We host one of the longest running festivals in the county and state and are extremely proud of our history. This is such a memorable time for me as I am a second generation commodore and the first Pirette ever to become commodore. This truly makes it a family affair and I am proud of our legacy.”
As for the future, Brandy hopes Beaufortonians will attend as many of the wonderful events over the 10 day period as they can. Money raised will go to more than 20 charities and provide scholarships for local students to attend USCB.
For more information about free events, music nights, activities, and tickets, go online to bftwaterfestival.com.