There’s something charming about Calhoun Street in the spring and, come May, there’s even more color and charisma to enjoy.
The quirky and wonderful Mayfest overtakes Old Town Bluffton on Saturday, May 11, 2019. Be prepared for everything from eclectic artists to ugly dogs, sassy Southern chefs and pie eaters, meandering music-makers, homegrown Blufftonians and curious visitors, all searching for that unique aura known as the Bluffton “State of Mind.”
To some, it’s a festival full of good eats and good times; an excuse to grab an extra beer and enjoy the tight-knit community with great music by local performers. For others, it’s a treasure trove of regional artisans waiting to be discovered, and some consider it a celebration of The South and Southern mothers.
“It’s right before Mother’s Day because I thought mothers were very important,” Babbie Guscio, the festival’s founder, explains. “I was thinking all the children in town could buy a gift for their mothers there, celebrate Bluffton mothers and life in Bluffton.”
With over 200 vendors offering wares ranging from handmade pottery, oil paintings and kitchen towels to plants and incredible jewelry, there are plenty of options to please moms. Plus, there are great selections of eats for food-loving mamas and their families—everything from fresh shrimp salad sandwiches made by the women of The Church of the Cross to delicious local seafood from Bluffton Oyster Company.
“This festival is loved because of the variety of arts and crafts vendors (all affordable, fun and sometimes quirky), the events (quirky and fun), the entertainment (often quirky and always good) and the food, which you can smell before you get to the street, so come hungry!” longtime event volunteer Dot Jeger exclaims. “It’s a long-term tradition and people look forward to a fun day every May.”
30+ Years in the Making
Babbie Guscio—the cultured and creative mind behind The Store—started the original Bluffton Village Festival in an effort to expose the children and Town of Bluffton to a variety of art and new cultures. It soon grew to become Mayfest, a regional showcase of incredible acts and artisans.
“I just wanted to have a fun time and show people in town and from other places what Bluffton has to offer,” she says.
In its humble beginnings, Babbie had to beg her friends to participate in the event. She was flabbergasted the festival earned $500 its first year. In 2016, an astonishing 10,000 attendeed. Mayfest is the essence of Bluffton—wacky and wishful, friendly and fun, and purely homegrown.
After three decades of spearheading the festival, Babbie handed the reins to the Rotary Club of Bluffton. Since 2009, Mayfest has continued its traditions, one of the most popular being the Ugly Dog Contest.
Four-Legged Fun: The Ugly Dog Contest
Even before the Rotary Club took charge of Mayfest, the reach of their members’ involvement stretched back to its earliest days and Richard Coffield’s unique idea to celebrate the funniest four-legged members of the community—ugly dogs.
“It was a crazy idea and we did it on a lark,” Richard recalls. “The first year, David Pinckney’s dog, Striker, won and got a 50-pound of dog food and a collar that said, ‘The Ugliest Dog in Bluffton.’”
Today the prize is much more coveted—a trophy made by Jacob Preston, Bluffton’s tallest potter. First, second and third place all receive awards bestowed by a craftily persuaded panel of three unsuspecting judges.
“I talk three people into being judges,” Richard explains, adding that they judge using a scale from one to 10. “Ten is extremely ugly and one is a good-looking dog. They score each one as it comes out, and I think the crowd has a lot to do with it, too. If a dog is really ugly, the crowd lets you know it!”
Richard (who claims wives have tried to enter their husbands in the contest) owns a Labrador Retriever. “She’s not a bad-looking dog, but may be one of the goofiest dogs around town,” he chuckles. “The whole concept is so silly. I mean, grown people having a contest to pick the ugliest dog in town is kind of out there. It’s like watching a goat race, I guess. There’s no particular reason you’d do that but it is quite a scene.”
The Ugly Dog Contest proved to be a wildly entertaining event, and has continued for 30 years.
Eating Contest & Kids’ Donut Eating Contest
Pie-lovers and donut-eaters will unite for the annual Pie Eating Contest and debut of the Kids’ Donut Eating Contest. With desserts donated by The Sugaree, the contests challenge even the hungriest to compete in these “winner eats all” contests.
The Kids’ Donut Eating Contest will challenge kids 12 years and younger to compete against one other in this hands-free challenge, in which donuts will be hanging from a string tied between two poles. Alongside them, the (also hands-free) pie eating contest will commence, and individuals of all ages are welcome to compete.
The HeaART of Mayfest
The heart of the festival—the art—is one of the main reasons the event was created and continues to attract crowds of art lovers annually.
Each year, the festival commissions an official poster, which features original artwork by a local artist. This year’s featured artist is Amos Hummell. A self-taught artist, Amos is often best described as non-conventional employing all manners of materials in his work in the name of creative expression. He is a passionate, hands-on supporter of arts in education. Hummell works from his home studio, where he can be found for hours on end, replicating with paint and brushes the stories that fill his head. His ties to Bluffton (over 40 years) and his creativity are a perfect fit for this eclectic hometown festival.