Following last year’s break out festival, the Gateway Committee has been busy building on the success that saw a rise in attendance from around 600 in 2011 to an estimated 5,000 people.
“The 2012 event was a success because the whole town, regardless of economic background, race, or age took part. Our churches, schools, and business community…they all got involved and supported it. I think everyone saw how good it can be when we all work together. Charleston did this as a community. And I think we are all eager to see this event grow in that spirit.” said Cal Trout, last year’s festival chairman.
This year the festival is co-chaired by a pair of ladies with ties to both Oxford and Tallahatchie County—Clarissa Champion Milner and Maegan Speir Elliott. Milner is a graduate of Ole Miss and currently lives in Tallahatchie County. Elliott was born in Tallahatchie County and still works there in her family’s real estate business, commuting from her home in Oxford. They have been working tirelessly, planning every aspect of the festival since January.
“I feel honored to have been asked to serve as co-chairperson for the festival this year. I have been gone for the area for a number of years and am so glad to be back and to be doing something to help grow this community that has been my family’s home for generations. It was very exciting to see everyone in Tallahatchie County come together for something so positive last year,” said Milner. This sentiment that reflects the value of volunteerism was echoed by Elliott as well, “The Gateway to the Delta Festival has given this town something to look forward to all year long… I am excited for the community and grateful for the opportunity to serve it during this endeavor. My grandfather George Speir was an advocate of community service, and I am proud to carry on that legacy.”
Milner and Elliott have taken some of the more successful aspects of last year’s festival and are working to expand them, including the healthy living aspect that serves as the heart and soul of the festival, while raising awareness and educating the public about the number one threat to this community. Again this year the festival and Tallahatchie General Hospital will collaborate on the Tallahatchie Wellness Challenge, food vendors will agree to the festival’s healthy cooking guidelines, and the KidZone will feature active forms of entertainment for the children.
In addition, Milner and Elliott have developed their “Taste of the Delta” contest. This will be an opportunity for locals to enter prepared recipes that are healthy, either as they stand or as a makeover of a less-healthy favorite. “If participation is strong enough,” noted Milner, “we will publish a cookbook for sale after the festival.”
The most striking expansion festival goers will notice is the addition of a second stage. This will offer more local music acts and add foot traffic to different areas of the Square. “The addition of a second music stage, as well as growth in all aspects of the festival, will showcase the talents and diversity of the region,” said Elliott, who has been busy for months booking what is becoming a stellar musical lineup to compliment another successful aspect of the festival, the class reunions.
The idea last year to sell spots on the Square so classes could use the festival as a site to host their reunions turned out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to Charleston. It literally brought hundreds of people back to town at once, many of whom had not been home in decades. That idea has been expanded to include church groups and family reunions as well.
With another record crowd expected this year, all the familiar programming will be in place offering plenty to do. The festival expects to see good growth in the number and quality of art vendors in attendance. The Healthy Delta 5K is still signing people up for its annual race. The festival will also host the Grillin’ with Scissors Barbecue Competition. Other programming includes the “My View of the Delta” photography contest and a Battle of the Bands Contest, which was held in August. The winner, Jacob King, will be performing at the festival.
As Milner noted, “Our plans for this year are to build on last year’s success and create a festival that is not only fun but helps the community come together for a common goal: healthier living.”
For more information, please contact C.A.R.E. at 662-647-9042.