Many moons ago, 37 years to be exact, Babbie Guscio started the Bluffton Village Festival, also known as Mayfest, because she said there was nowhere for townspeople and children in particular to get exposure to various artists, musicians and other craftsmen. It was such a small town and most residents didn’t have the means to travel.
The festival became a gathering spot for culture in Bluffton and just a day filled with fun. The vendors included local artists and musicians. Guscio said she wanted locals to experience the amazing art and crafts that were created in their very own town. She decided not to make the event a juried art show because she couldn’t bear the thought of saying “no” to any artist who wanted to display his or her work. She wanted the festival to showcase a variety of goods from watercolor paintings of the May River to handmade doilies and ornaments. The festival was “the people’s festival,” Guscio said and “a celebration of Bluffton life.”
The artists and musicians at each year’s event certainly have their own story to tell, but the food has its own reputation. The first year of the festival, Guscio had to convince the ladies of The Church of Cross to sell tomato and chicken salad sandwiches so festival goers had something to munch on. The ladies sold out so quickly that it convinced them to keep bring their food cart year after year. But it wasn’t until the introduction of their shrimp salad sandwiches that festival attendees began showing up at the church’s station with coolers to store as many yummy sandwiches as they could purchase.
Guscio remembers the man from Denmark, S.C. who came to make and sell his homemade peach ice cream, the crab cakes and shrimp burgers cooked up by Ronnie Frazier and the “famous Ulmer bread” that was sold by the United Methodist Church of Bluffton back in “the old days.” One food vendor Guscio always looked for is Tex, the lemonade man. He made the best lemonade from just lemons and sugar. Nothing says the South like lemonade on a summer day, according to Guscio.
Babbie turned the event over to the Rotary Club of Bluffton in 2009 so “other ideas could be embroidered into the fabric of the festival,” she said. The Village Festival is “my little gift to everyone in Bluffton.” “There’s a bit of romance and drama about the whole [festival] because you don’t know exactly what will be under the vendors’ tents,” she said.
Guscio moved to Bluffton from Paris, France in 1972 and has owned The Store on Calhoun Street since 1978. She and her husband have three children and two grandchildren who have all grown up in The Store. “We consider Calhoun Street the center of our universe,” she said.
General Tips for Festival-goers:
• A good pair of walking shoes, bug spray, sunglasses and sunscreen will keep you comfortable.
• Friendly dogs are welcome at the festival on a leash. Several of the pet nonprofits provide water and a swimming pool for hot dogs!
• Rotary volunteers will be available to assist you throughout the day.