Above: After the concert by the Parris Island Marine Corps Band during the Water Festival Opening Ceremony, the huge crowd was treated to a spectacular fireworks show Friday night at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
By Bob Sofaly
After being canceled last year due to COVID concerns, the 65th annual Beaufort Water Festival finally kicked off Friday with as much fanfare as the Parris Island Marine Corps Band could muster.
And the crowds? The attendance during the “first weekend” has been above and beyond comparison even though organizers had only 109 days instead of the traditional 10 months to get ready.
“Opening ceremony Monday was kind of surreal while sitting on the stage and seeing the huge crowd out there,” Water Festival Commodore Erin “Tank” Morris said. “I think the public was ready to come back. We are happy that we are the ones to kick it back off and bring everybody back together.”
On Saturday the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park came to life again with the much anticipated Bocce Ball single elimination tournament, a badminton tournament and the grueling boat races in the Beaufort River.
The evening capped off with the Concert in the Park, featuring opening act Scott Stevens, then Lainey Wilson and finally the headline performer, country singer Rodney Atkins.
“That was three of the best shows I’ve ever seen here,” Morris said. “They were so engaged, it was absolutely electric. And the crowd? Oh my gosh they were into it! My wife and I stood right here (by the stage) and could see the crowd. That’s why we do this.”
As large as the crowd for the Opening Ceremony was, Morris said Sunday’s Children’s Day was beyond that.
“This crowd is phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like this. People are just ready to get out and get back to life”, he said. “It was shoulder-to -shoulder for as far as the eye could see from one to the other along the sea wall at the waterfront park.”
Morris said he didn’t have any exact numbers to share, but he said Saturday’s concert was “probably the biggest concert in the (Waterfront Park) we’ve had in many, many years.”
Morris added the line to get into the park extended back to the Downtown Marina and wrapped back around.
He added the weather is playing a big part in this year’s early success, as well.
“You can’t beat this. It’s Beaufort weather. It’s a little warm and the humidity is high,” Morris said. “But this IS Beaufort, it’s supposed to be like this. There has been cool breeze off the Beaufort River and it’s been cloudy and it hasn’t rained.”
To help combat the heat, outgoing City of Beaufort/Town of Port Royal Fire Chief Reece Bertholf and some of his firefighters were on hand giving out free cups of ice-cold water for any and all who needed it.
According to Morris, the success of the first weekend boils down to the participation of the Beaufort community.
“We as a festival thank the community for getting back out and enjoying this,” he said. “Standing here last night and seeing the crowd so engaged in the show and watching how much fun everyone was having gave me goose bumps.”
More photos from opening weekend of Water Festival…
Bob Sofaly has been photographing people and what they do in Beaufort for 41 years – since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.