LAUREL HILL — Despite its near cancellation, the annual Hobo Festival went on as planned Saturday at Gene Clary Park. About 600 people attended the event, and organizers said they anticipate future festivals based on attendance.
“For the most part, vendors are saying they are going to come back next year,” Elgin “Trae” Duley said of the event that reportedly netted $300 for various community projects. General admission was free, but each vendor paid $25 or $20, respectively, for a spot with or without electricity.
Vendors — including ceramic artisans, clothiers and bric-a-brac peddlers — lined a paved walkway in front of the main stage that featured local country music artists David Lyle, The River Chase Band and Robert Wayne. Marvin Williford, the band’s lead singer, helped auction off several items including bottles of wine, gift cards and movie passes.
Artisans displayed their wares to earn some extra income and Laurel Hill School’s K-12 students ran two booths to raise money for upcoming school functions.
The junior class sold cups of sweet iced tea, with proceeds benefiting the school’s April 6 prom. The Minority Council had a booth where attendees could throw a pie at a student’s face for $1. Proceeds will benefit a springtime field trip to Florida State University in Tallahassee, according to club sponsor and Laurel Hill English teacher Neisha Williams.
Collectively, both groups of students raised nearly $150 for their efforts, according to Williams. She said she doesn’t know the amount needed for the trip, but she believes that the sophomore class will make its goal for the school prom in the next few months.
Children’s activities included a giant inflatable slide and a dunking booth. In addition, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Posse members allowed kids to get in the saddle and take their horses for a guided ride.
Volunteer fire Chiefs Kevin Kendrick of Laurel Hill and Charles Carroll of Almarante, along with the festival hobo, Rev. Mike McVay, were among those dunked. McVay, of First Baptist Church of Laurel Hill, reprised his role as the festival’s iconic hobo, which honors the city’s railroad history. After the Civil War, soldiers-turned-migrant-workers traveled the railroads and gave labor to local farms during pit stops.
Florala resident David Fowler, who attended the festival with his family, seemed surprised by the crowd.
“I’ve been to this festival the last couple of years,” he said. “This is the biggest turnout that I have seen so far.”
Laurel Hill residents Jeneane and Herschell Williams brought their grandson Colton Steele, 2.
“We figured this would be the perfect place for him to come and blow off some steam,” Herschell Williams said.
His wife seemed pleased by the weather.
“It’s a perfect day for this festival,” she said.
Children could get their face painted and paint faces on small pumpkins at Darlene and Jeri Garrett’s booth.
“We actually had had over a hundred kids come by….,” Darlene Garret said, adding that she enjoys coming to the festival in Laurel Hill.
“It’s real “tight-knit” community out here,” Garrett said.
Still, the festival almost didn’t happen.
Earlier this year, low volunteer participation reportedly threatened the event’s occurrence.