By BRITTANY TATE The Brunswick News | Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016 12:00 am
Sweetgrass basket weaving demonstrations will be available during the Georgia Sea Island Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday, the quiet grounds of Gascoigne Bluff Park, under the mossy live oaks dotting its grove, will be abuzz with voices of Georgia’s Sea Islands’ yesteryears, weaving together a concert of ring shouts, folk music and contemporary jazz, soul and R&B with the saga of the coastal barrier islands’ cultural experiences and history.
As part of the Georgia Sea Island Festival, set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday on St. Simons Island, the free two-day event remains a time-honored festival dedicated to celebrating African and African-American history and the heritage, language and culture of the Gullah Geechee people, said festival coordinator Emory Rooks.
“This is a way to celebrate African-Americans and the Gullah Geechee heritage through our food, dancing, entertainment, and arts and crafts,” Rooks said, who is also a member of Friends of Harrington School.
Brimming with live entertainment, area artists, vendors and hundreds of residents and visitors from as far away as California, the Georgia Sea Island Festival, now in its 39th year, continues to uphold and preserve the heritage of the African people on St. Simons Island while offering its attendees a slice of southern fare and hospitality.
From a low country boil to alligator tails to homemade ice cream, Rooks said there will be a little something for everybody.
“There will be handmade jewelry, sweetgrass basket-weaving demonstrations, a lot of local artists performing and painting. We will also have a spray can artist who will be making something ... (and) Southeast Georgia Health System will have a mobile unit (on site) for free blood pressure checks and diabetes screenings,” Rooks said of the assortment of activities that will abound on Saturday and Sunday.
Some of Saturday’s performers include Eddie Osborne, a master artist who makes numerous African musical instruments, the Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters, and guitarist Harry Murphy. On the last leg of the festival on Sunday, it will open with a morning inspirational by Peter McMullen followed by numerous performances, including one by jazz musician Michael Hulett.
The well-attended festival is something that Amy Roberts believes is much-needed in the area.
“This originated on St. Simons Island and is the oldest Gullah festival around,” the St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition executive director said.
Created in 1977, the mid-spring festival was organized by Georgia Sea Island Singers’ original members, Mable Hillery and Bessie Jones.
“Mable wrote a grant for the festival but died before the festival came about. Bessie then carried it on with Frankie Quimby and her husband Doug,” Roberts said, who is also a member of Friends of Harrington School.
But after several years of different civic organizations taking helm of it, the St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition took it on as its own project. Since sponsoring the event, the festival has continued to exceed the coalition’s expectations, gaining the attention of visitors far and wide.
While the festival’s draw is centered on highlighting the music, arts, crafts and food of Georgia’s Sea Islands, Rooks and Roberts said it’s also a chance to update guests on the progress of Historic Harrington School, which is the last African-American schoolhouse standing on St. Simons Island.
To date, the school’s exterior has been restored but there is much work left that needs to be done to the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and interior. Keeping the school as close to its original state is reason enough for why Roberts and Rooks are as passionate about it as they are the festival.
“This is part of our history and it’s important,” Roberts said.
Rooks agreed, adding: “History doesn’t have an ending point; it’s a continuation and every year it grows,” he said.
“I just want (attendees) to take away some of the African-American culture” hopefully gaining an understanding and appreciation of the black experience, Rooks said.