Festival ‘a transformative moment’ for Salisbury

As far as Mayor Jake Day is concerned, the National Folk Festival changed Salisbury forever.

“It was, I think, a transformative moment for our city,” he said about the three days of music, arts, entertainment and foods last Friday to Sunday that drew about 60,000 people to the ever-growing and much-improved Downtown.

“We have received dozens of phone calls and e-mails in the last two days.

“We occasionally get those. When people are feeling good, they’ll call. We get people who take the time to call and e-mail when they have a thoughtful recommendation for the future of our city. But this has been the most e-mails we have ever seen, written in all caps, since I been in office,” he said, reading one or two rife with adjectives such as “great” and “awesome.”

“We have shown Salisbury what they are capable of. They are empowered now to know they are capable of so much more than they ever thought they were. And that’s really something. A community that thinks it deserve less is not going to try for more. Our community proved to the world we can do more so let’s keep meeting that new bar. We have to raise the bar and meet it,” he said.

Rough attendance estimates are 25,000 Friday evening, 35,000 on Saturday and 7,500 on Sunday.

Day said 97,931 cell phones, smart watches and other devices were identified by the city’s Wi-Fi system. Those in city police cars and duplicates worn or carried were estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 and deducted.  More deductions were made considering children, and some adults, don’t carry cell phones and the total was about 60,000, explained Day who, during closing remarks at the Festival on Sunday said the feeling of pride was “so palpable it was overwhelming.”

“We love our city, and we had a whole lot of visitors this weekend who now see what we see in Salisbury,” he told a gratified crowd on Sunday, during closing remarks at the 78th Festival, a rainy day that caused crowds to thin, but had no effect on the quality of entertainment or enjoyment of those who stayed.

“I love you, Salisbury,” Day called to those who assembled as the event closed and they whistled and shouted, “We love you.”

The official number of attendees hadn’t yet been released at mid-week, but certainly thousands strolled the streets, took their seats in tents to clap along and sway to music, sips drinks, sample a variety of foods, admire the Wicomico River and made friends.

Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan pronounced the Festival “very relaxing” and said there were only three arrests, involving a disorderly juvenile on Friday, before it started, and two men who took a golf cart late Saturday night.

Friday evening, as the Festival opened, Day credited Lora Bottinelli, executive director of the Ward Museum, for suggesting Salisbury apply to be a host when he was a City Councilman. At the time, he told her he didn’t think the city was ready. Once he was elected mayor, he was convinced it was time.

“It was just fabulous,” Bottinelli said this week.

“It exceeded what we expected. Even with the weather forecast we had, people came. We had the crowds. The community fully embraced the event. It was one of the most memorable nights – or the most memorable night – I have had in the city,” she said.

She suggested Salisbury be home to the three-year festival, she said, because leadership is strong and Day is “a visionary leader.”

“I think we hit a home run. The number of projects Jake was able to get done — the Riverwalk, the parking garage, the kayak launch, the amphitheater – it goes on and on. Every time you turned around something changed. It was a grand reopening for the city,” she said.

Festival Manager Caroline O’Hare called the Festival “spectacular.”

“Our community really showed that this is something they want and that they enjoyed. Rain or shine they were out there having fun, experiencing new things. I heard a lot of people saying they can’t wait to come back next year and I heard people say they want to do more, not just volunteer,” O’Hare said.

At the volunteer orientation Sept. 5, 918 people registered and the volunteers totaled 1,200.

City Council President Jack Heath said the festivities fit Maryland’s cultural tapestry, which he described as “rich, vibrant and uniquely ours.”

On Saturday, the audience in the Avery Hall tent Downtown applauded the talent of the Phil Wiggins Blues House Party. As they sang, band member Junious Brickhouse, in rolled-up jeans, T-shirt, vest and hat, danced in traditional blues style on one side of the stage.

Introducing the song “Do You Call That a Buddy?” about a man who tries to steal his friend’s wife, Wiggins brought laughter from the audience when he explained as he wrote it, he searched for synonyms for the word “murder” that end in “ate.”

With help from other musicians, he came up with “decapitate,” “eviscerate” and “exsanguinate” and joked he liked the last one best because it means to drain all the blood from someone.

Maci Hill, 3, of Salisbury dances in street with Catherine Oldham, 4, also of Salisbury, while the The Treme Brass Band plays.

Along the Riverwalk, on the way to a Quebecois performance by the Yves Lambert Trio at the Salisbury University Stage, seashells were arranged neatly on a colorful blanket with a sign advertising “Vampire sea snails kills by a vampire space clam.” They cost $3 each or two for $5 and there was a bucket with a little Honor System sign.

As the trio played a waltz the accordion player described as “very nice,” a man in a plaid shirt, olive drab shorts and matching brimmed hat stood and danced free style, waving his arms and moving his feet to his personal beat.

Children listened as they sat on the Riverwalk, feet dangling above the water, watching kayakers paddle by. All around, walkers who had visited food vendors bit into wraps or dipped hot French fries into little cups of ketchup.

A mist of rain blew through the streets late afternoon Saturday, but it couldn’t dampen the spirits of The Sensational Royal Lights gospel quartet or fans who lifted their hands in praise and swayed to the music both inside and outside the tent.

In the midst of the fun, 10 Salisbury University graduate student researchers interviewed attendees, to determine where they live, where they stayed, how long they were in town and where they were spending money, explained Memo Diriker, director of Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network , known as BEACON at SU.

They were also asked if anything could be improved.

“We were trying to get the story of their trip here, if they were from somewhere away or if they were locals, how many times they were coming to the event,” he said. Results are being compiled and will be released.

“Rain was a downer especially on Sunday. A lot of the people who had come over left early but everybody who attended that we spoke with were gushing about how much fun they we having, how much there was there. People were saying it was much better than they thought it would be. A lot left early Sunday but nobody complained about anything,” Diriker said.

The highest percentage from out of town were at the festival on Saturday, although Diriker said he didn’t know the percentage. On Sunday, most were local.

The 10 students talked to 250 people, a large number, considering presidential elections are predicted by surveying on 1,000, Diriker said.

Mayor Jake Day called the weekend’s event “transformative” for Salisbury. “A community that thinks it deserve less is not going to try for more. Our community proved to the world we can do more so let’s keep meeting that new bar. We have to raise the bar and meet it,” he said.

Whether they were singing along with one of the dozens of performers or answering survey questions, attendees appeared upbeat, from the time Day and Gov. Larry Hogan welcomed them Friday evening until Day brought it to a close Sunday afternoon.

“Hello, Salisbury!” Hogan shouted in greeting Friday evening, after marching in the opening parade with Day and hundreds of participants who filled North Division Street as they approached the stage in front of the Government Office Building.

“Are you guys ready to have a good time? I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Hogan said, thanking Jim and Jan Perdue who, with Hogan and his wife, Yumi, were named honorary chairmen and chairwomen.

Perdue, too, had an upbeat greeting and message.

“It takes vision to really revitalize a city like Salisbury,” Perdue told the audience.

Agreeing, Hogan nodded.

“This is so exciting,” he said.

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