Festival In The Park Is Smaller And More Spread Out, But It's Back
In the midst of this pandemic, we're in an uncertain time when no one is quite sure whether we should be returning to a normal schedule. Some festivals, like Charlotte Pride and Charlotte SHOUT!, opted to scale back or cancel this year's celebration. Others, like the Carolina Renaissance Festival and N.C. State Fair, are still on as scheduled.
And Festival in the Park, the annual celebration of art and food and community that has been in Charlotte’s Freedom Park since 1964, is back this weekend after last year’s coronavirus hiatus. Last year was just the second time in 57 years that the festival was canceled. The other came when Freedom Park was undergoing renovations.
“We were even open during the weekend of Hurricane Hugo when Hugo came through in '89,” said Mark Boone, president of the festival’s board of directors.
Boone said his board spent the last 18 months examining whether an outdoor event could be held safely during a pandemic. They concluded it could — with a few added precautions.
This year, about half the typical number of vendors will be on site — about 120 instead of the usual 200.
“What that has allowed us to do is create a larger path for folks to get around Freedom Park and alleviate some of the bottlenecks that people typically experience in the park,” Boone said.
Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said the county worked with organizers to make the festival as COVID-safe as possible.
"There have been specific recommendations on things they should not do," Harris said. "Face painting: No. ‘Cause you have to take your mask off, and then nobody’s going to want to cover up that pretty face once you get it painted."
On a good-weather weekend, about 100,000 people can filter through the festival, Boone said. But this year? He’s not sure what to expect. Still, safety measures have been added, such as not running shuttle buses to off-site parking that they typically operate, there will be plenty of hand sanitizer at the festival and social distancing is encouraged. Vaccinations are not required.
“We're asking people to be mindful about their surroundings and use good, common sense,” Boone said. “So if you can't be socially distant, consider using a mask. We're strongly encouraging that.”
Boone and the rest of the Festival in the Park board is simply happy that their annual event is back.
“We really missed this annual fall tradition last year,” he said. “And it was really tough to suspend our operations overall in 2020. So to bring back 120 artists into the park, to bring back three performance stages and our food concessionaires, it's just going to be great to have the return of the annual fall tradition in our community.”
— WFAE's Nick de la Canal contributed