Planning, dedication make festival a success

Published 1:21 am Friday, May 3, 2013

One week ago today, the Beaufort County Arts Council was on the eve of its fifth-annual BoCO Music Festival. For the first time in the event’s history, all plans were in place, and we were just waiting for the date to arrive. The only variable was the weather, and all signs were pointing to a sunny day at Festival Park on the waterfront.

With our fifth music festival now securely under our belt, we can say that the event came off without a hitch, and for the first time all expectations met the vision that was our original goal when we set out to develop this project.

It takes time to grow an audience for a new event, and we knew this when we inaugurated the music festival in 2009. What originally was the Beaufort County Traditional Music Festival became the Beaufort County Music Festival. For the past three years the event has been the BoCO Music Festival, and we think this name will stick. Over the years, the festival has been a two-day event, then a three-day event, and multiple venues finally found their place on the stage at Festival Park, which, incidentally, wasn’t even on our radar in 2009. Currently, all activities have been consolidated into one day. 

Along the way, we picked up a great partner in the Washington Harbor District Alliance and joined forces with its annual Marine Market. Presenting both events simultaneously has added value to each and has enabled both organizations to share resources and expenses.

Our efforts to make the music festival unique have been tweaked over time. Each year saw us focus on peripheral details that shaped the culture and feel of the festival — details that would make it stand out from other downtown events as well as other regional music festivals. Our goal was to create something special that appealed to a broad audience while showcasing new and emerging musicians from across the state and the region. Musically, the festival prides itself on presenting music that represents the best in Americana, folk, roots and traditional genres. Marketing the festival as “a celebration of music, art, and culture” means we have included on-site artisans, children’s art events and creative distractions along the way to supplement the music on stage. 

We can proudly say that the BoCO Music Festival has made an impression on the musicians who share their experiences with different presenters with their peers across the state. More times than not, when we initiate negotiations with a musical act, it has already heard about us and is eager to participate.

Along with BCAC, the Beaufort County Traditional Music Association has been on board from day one to make this event a success for downtown Washington and Beaufort County. BCTMA’s influence has played a big role in what the festival has evolved into over the years. Its participation is vital to BCAC as co-presenters.

So now that the formula is in place and we have found our rhythm (no pun intended), is it time to rest on our laurels and just repeat ourselves? Let me offer a firm “no way.” Now that we have a working template that can give the best results, it is time to develop outward from that place to find more opportunities to develop the festival in ways that stay true to our vision. We have learned that sometime less is more, but that “less” has to be of the finest quality, while continuing to challenge our growing and developing audience.

In closing, please know that much collaboration takes place in planning events like BoCO. Our partners, in addition to those already mentioned, include the City of Washington, the sponsors who are our heroes, the BCAC team that works almost telepathically, the many volunteers who help along the way, and the wonderful talent that makes the music that makes the festival. My complete gratitude goes to all of them.

If you missed the BoCO Music Festival this year, don’t worry — we’ll be back at the end of April in 2014 so you can make plans to attend now. We’ll keep making it better — for you, for downtown Washington and for Beaufort County. And let’s hope the weather’s nice!

Joey Toler is executive director of the Beaufort County Arts Council.