Event Management ~ And Outgrowing Your Venue
Contributed by Jack Gannon and Cyndi Barnier
J & C Wordsmiths
The more things stay the same, the more they change.
“What? That doesn’t sound right,” you say. That twist on a cliché means essentially “evolution”. As authors, we evolve our writing style and our characters the more we write, especially when we are writing a continuing series (or, in our case, TWO continuing series now!).
But as festival planners, evolution has a far greater meaning. The second year of our Annual “Novel” Wine Tasting, Arts, and Literary Festival brought sixty authors from across the eastern United States, a dozen local and regional artists and artisans and food vendors, two local historic reenactor groups, and (at best estimate) over a thousand customers to our area’s only family-owned boutique winery, giving our host winery its best-ever sales day.
How do we top that?
Well, we start with the reviews of the second festival, especially the complaints. Our greatest complaint was with the parking, with probably up to a hundred spaces devoted to our participants and their support staff alone, let alone the thousand-plus visitors during the day. The size of our festival had grown to over twice the size of the first year, and this one complaint is one we heard all day long, and before we had even started the event we were already talking about what to do about it for 2015.
Since we knew we had a winning annual event for the South Carolina Lowcountry, the easy answer was a location with better parking. The solution, however, was more challenging. We absolutely wanted to stay in Jasper County, as neighboring Beaufort (where we live, in full admission) is already chock-full of its own festivals during the year. We really wanted to stay in Ridgeland, where we’ve held our first two festivals, but there was just not another private location that could support us, and the costs of holding our festival in a public location were prohibitive.
We finally held talks with the hosts of one of our other regular book signings, the Frampton Plantation, home of the South Carolina Tourism Commission. Only a few discussions later we were welcomed to Frampton Plantation for our festival’s new home, and it came with a staff that was already used to dealing with other events during the year (the annual reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Pocotaligo, which took place in October 1862, just to name one) and had more than enough parking. Plus, Frampton Plantation is immediate access from Interstate 95 (South Carolina exit 33, just perhaps an eighth of a mile from the exit ramp) and convenient to a couple hotels and several restaurants. The biggest plus is that while the area is serviced by the Yemasee Post Office, we remain located in Jasper County, albeit in the northeast corner! Frampton is even more accessible to our handicapped participants and attendees.
But a new location also came with new challenges, especially since the public was already used to us being in Ridgeland. Some public exposure will be aided thanks to the network already established by the South Carolina Tourism Commission, but we still had to attract attention to our little literary festival at its new home. The first thing was, of course, to change our official name, as we were no longer on a vineyard. Thus we shortened our name simply to the Arts and Literary Festival.
Moving to a new location was also the same as starting over, so there was the challenge of giving people extra reasons to come out. Miss South Carolina 2014, Lanie Hudson, was a terrific draw for last year, and we secured our first Guest of Honor, Miss South Carolina 2015, Daja Dial, before she even won the crown! On a book signing trip to our publisher’s (PDMI Publishing) home town we met two great gentlemen, Hollywood writer/producer/author/speaker Joel Eisenberg and author/speaker John T. Wayne, grandson of Hollywood legend John Wayne. We were there to also attend a lecture by Joel about how to get ahead in the writing industry, and one key direction was to be brave and take that next step… which is exactly what we did. By the end of our visit we had invited both Joel and John to our festival, and both of these fine gentlemen are our other two Guests of Honor. Now, we live in a town where many Hollywood blockbusters have been made (The Great Santini, The Big Chill, Forrest Gump) and where countless actors and actresses have visited (just check out the signed photos in the back entrance of The Chocolate Tree on Boundary Street if you have any doubts!), so there’s no telling what kind of attention these three guests may bring us!
Our festival was born as a literary event, adding the other creative arts for our second year. But even with great guests of honor, we’ve got to bring in more talent to get people interested in attending us at our new home. The day has to become a free-to-enter go-to place for the public, so we have:
- Food and beverage vendors
- Author readings & storytelling
- Tours of the Frampton welcome center / mini-museum
- Arts, artisans, crafters
- A civil war living history, giving visitors an inside view of what life was like for soldiers in the 1860s, a piece of our local heritage that is often forgotten.
- A children’s corner will be available where children can listen to stories, make arts and crafts, play games, etc. Children’s authors will be set up specifically in this area to make book sales and interact with the children.
For the second year the Sons of Confederate Veterans Charles Jones Colcock Camp 2100 will be presenting not only a living history but also the grilled lunch meals for our visitors and participants!
Who doesn’t love puppies and kitties? We’ve invited the Jasper Animal Rescue folks to come out with some puppies in need of fur-ever homes! We are ourselves advocates for animal adoption rather than the other alternative, and we are honored that Jasper Animal Rescue is joining us for the day!
There is also the creative art category of music, and we’ve lined up two performers for entertainment for the day. One is an author and guitarist who writes his own music, and will be signing books and CDs when he’s not performing. A second musical guest is an opera singer who also sings jazz… what a combination!
Authors and artists are invited to register on our website www.jandcwordsmiths.com and pay only $20 registration fee, but we do not pay honorariums to bring in authors or artists, as when the festival starts we want to make sales and profit like everyone else. The registration fee goes towards those expenses which can’t be bartered, like catering and Port-O-Lets and printing expenses and advertising. With Joel coming all the way from Los Angeles we can officially say our festival attracts talent from coast to coast!
The hotel right next door to the plantation has offered a discounted rate for our festival attendees from out of town; the manager was absolutely incredible in helping us! The hotel will also host our festival after-party, for which we are charging attendees only $10 per person; again, this is just to cover the party expenses.
We’re working on having the Red Cross on hand not only to do a display for the public to visit, but also be on hand in case of emergencies.
It’s all come together now: our rebranded festival is set on the grounds of a centuries-old plantation which bears the name of the original family from the 1700s, the state’s own tourism commission is helping to promote and organize it, billboards on the interstate already direct hundreds of drivers each week to the location, and the local campground’s GPS coordinates accidentally send their visitors to the house; an incredible assembly of talent has been brought together for a day under majestic live oak trees. This family-friendly event also welcomes the four-legged family members!
There are many other behind-the-scenes details that have been worked out with our location and hotel hosts, and others still to be worked out. Volunteers are needed to assist throughout the day of the festival. Local media interviews are being scheduled. There are many other matters we need to complete before Festival Day gets here!
We have so many groups already working to make this year’s Festival a success, and we are so grateful to them all. Now we pray that God hears our prayers and gives us perfect autumn weather!
Jack Gannon and Cyndi Barnier are authors of the Task Force series and organizers of the September Oaks Novel Wine Tasting Festival and occurs in October. The have created an innovative event with their opportunity at the Frampton Plantation selling other authors books as well as their own. They are often joined by local authors for a day in the shade.
Please visit their sites and contact them at the following locations: