here’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 13, 2017. 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 and sweet treats created by the Island Fudge Shoppe.
As culinary craftsmen charm with delightful cuisine, creative composers and performers take the stage, serving up tunes for every taste. After the Bluffton School of Dance and Sun City Cloggers kick off the event on the main stage, Muddycreek headlines the afternoon entertainment. Later, attendees will enjoy the smooth blues of Flat Top ‘n Fiddle featuring special guest performers Alan Stockard and Evan Rose. Meandering musicians Bill DuPont, Jordan Ross and Ty Miller will serenade sightseers on the street from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“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.”
“The Rotary Club of Bluffton is looking forward to another great event this year,” adds Rotarian John Kirkland, the festival’s 2017 chairman. “It’s truly the quintessential Bluffton festival that you don’t want to miss.”
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. This year, the tradition takes place at 1 p.m. in front of Carson Cottages.
Eating Contest & Kids’ Donut Eating Contest
Pie-lovers and, this year, 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.
They will take place at 10:30 a.m. on the lawn at the Carson Cottages and will both be emceed by Rotarian Mike Covert. In honor of the Pie Eating Contest’s fifth anniversary, Joann “Jo” Rackliff at The Sugaree came up with the idea to add the new kid-exclusive contest, since it isn’t fair for 6-year-olds to compete against Marines who are three times their age and size.
“On our fifth year, we wanted to ramp it up and add something to the event,” Jo reveals, admitting that Pinterest was a source of inspiration. “I thought it was a cute idea for younger kids.”
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.
Last year, Josh Quinn, a Marine stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, took home the Pie Champ title after scarfing down a scrumptious chocolate cream pie. Whether for fun or a minute of fame, dads seem to enjoy entering with their kids in tow. In 2016, Josh was accompanied by his son, and prior to that, Michael Hahn took home the title with his kids cheering him on.
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, one of Lynda Potter’s most popular paintings, “Fripp Garden Path,” was chosen to promote the event. Potter, who has been an avid artist since age 7 and a professional painter for the last 30 years, works in various mediums, but is partial to watercolor and acrylics. She teaches at the Society of Bluffton Artists, as well as the Art League of Hilton Head Art Academy and her work is displayed in the Pluff Mudd Art Gallery and Signature Gallery in Savannah’s City Market.
Her work captures the beauty and charm of century-old homes and ancient live oaks intermingled with palms in neighborhoods. She highlights the quaint and captivating characteristics of Bluffton with spectacular splashes of color in scenic landscapes. In Potter’s paintings, layered stokes create a compelling composition, often impressionistic with abstract overtones.
“My goal is to portray my images toward the abstract,” Potter says. “I want it to be loose but still want it to have an understandable focus.”