‘Windy Apple Festival’ takes off
Early Saturday morning as Kelvin Seagraves was setting up for the Georgia Apple Festival, “catastrophe” struck.
“Everything was going good and then a gust of wind blew our whole tent over,” he said of his wife Heather’s business, Woofs-n-Wags, a fashionable yet not immovable pet accessory boutique that sells dog collars, harnesses, leashes and sweaters.
“But we eventually got everything fixed and back in place.”
The Seagraves weren’t the only vendors struggling to set up for the 45th Georgia Apple Festival. Everywhere at the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds proprietors were grabbing poles and awnings being blasted by the peripheral winds of Hurricane Matthew while it was doing damage hundreds of miles eastward along the Atlantic Coast.
Stakes holding up nylon rooftops on frames were driven deeper, and weight was sought for more ballast to counteract the wind. Food vendors tried to cover their treats as an occasional blast of dust blew by.
Downtown at Apple Arts on the Square, where many vendors did not have the convenience of earth to pound stakes into, it was worse.
“We were running around trying to help vendors in any way we could to get their tents strapped down,” Gilmer Chamber organizer Karla Haege said of the predawn setup. “Vendors were strapping tents to their cars, strapping to power poles, to drains – anything we could strap a tent down to, we were.
“The biggest help was taking the canopies off to reduce the effect of the wind. Unfortunately, that put us all in kind of an exposure situation to the sun. Overall, you just held on and had to do what you had to do.”
‘A perfect example’
Paige Green, president of the Chamber, said the adverse wind conditions and the response to it was “a perfect example of how this community works.”
“Saturday morning Karla called me from downtown and said, ‘Help, I’ve got tents blowing away’ and it was still dark outside,” she said. “I ran down there to help her, and not five minutes later I got a phone call from John Drullinger from the Boy Scouts (Troop 402), who said, ‘I understand you’ve got an issue downtown. Can I send a couple of the older boys to help?’
“That’s the way this community works. That allowed me to come back down and deal with issues with the fairgrounds. We were able to get up and running, and open on time.”
Despite Matthew’s outer gusts, the crowds at both venues mushroomed.
“It was fantastic,” Green said. “We had almost record crowds – 32,000 people through the gates over the weekend. Saturday was our second-best day ever, with 20,000 people. There was no rain.
“The joke all weekend has been we prayed so hard for no rain that God said, ‘Yeah, but you didn’t say anything about wind.’ It was challenging. We had some issues, but everybody worked together.”
Haege said despite the wind, people flocked to the square.
“We did feel Saturday like the crowd was a little less downtown at Apple Arts, but I think that was due to the canopies not being on the tents,” she explained. “It wasn’t as attractive from the street, but I think it was pretty average on Sunday. But it’s always beautiful on the second weekend.
“A lot of the vendors still had good days. (The wind) was not something that impacts crowds, it impacts vendors. It was still good.”
A festival first
Green said the dust and wind – and a power failure caused by it – were the “story of the weekend.”
“The power failure was an Apple Festival first,” she said. “It flickered 2-3 times, then went out 10-15 minutes at the most on Saturday. But no lines were down at the fairgrounds. Kudos to the power company, they got it back as quick as they could. Using the (Gilmer) charter school system buses worked out great, they did a good job.”
Asked if she slept well Sunday night, Green replied, “No, I kept hearing the (walkie-talkie) radio go off in my head.”
Haege was asked the same question.
“I had to put headphones on to go to sleep because all I could hear were wind chimes and tents flapping and rattling,” she said.
“We all felt a little gritty when we left,” Green noted.