LAUREL HILL — Saturday, after months of concern that it wouldn’t happen, the city of Laurel Hill will present its annual Hobo Festival.
More than 50 vendors, a bounce house, live entertainment from local musicians, an auction and — of course, food — will take focus in downtown Laurel Hill, event organizers said. Among participating organizations are The Spanish Trail Cruisers, which will display vintage cars, and members of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Department horse posse. Local country music artist Robert Wayne, The Twin Hills Drummers and the local country music band River Chase will perform.
The Rev. Mike McVay, of First Baptist Church of Laurel Hill, said he plans to reprise 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 in town.
However, honoring the city’s heritage and enjoying community fellowship almost didn’t happen, organizers said. Earlier this year, low volunteer participation threatened the event’s occurrence.
In July, festival committee members Anita Miller and Betty Williamson stressed the need for volunteers. Miller sent out a news release stating, "If we have no response, the October festival will be canceled due to lack of support."
One Laurel Hill dad wasn’t about to let the latter happen.
Elgin “Trae” Duley III, festival committee chairperson, said parents rely on events like the Hobo Festival to entertain their kids, but he believes the event serves a greater purpose.
"I want my son to see what it means to help your community," Duley said. "I want him to see what it takes to put this together."
That’s why Duley signed up to help out. Soon, members of Crestview’s Elks Lodge No. 2624 pooled resources.
"We are doing what we can to keep the festival going," lodge member Betty Clark said, adding that 10 members would volunteer at the festival. The lodge also loaned its drug-awareness trailer for selling festival T-shirts and bottled water.
More than 50 food and arts-and-crafts vendors have signed up for the event, Duley said. Vendor registration deadline is Oct. 12, “but the earlier (the vendors) can get in contact with us, the better.”
The Hobo Festival tradition began in 1992. The annual event had relied on volunteer support except in 1995, when Hurricane Opal forced its cancellation.
Last year’s event drew nearly 500 people, according to festival committee member Betty Williamson.
Duley said that, despite its shaky start, community support will ensure the event returns for several years to come.
“We have made this far,” Duley said. “We just need the people to show up.”
Want to go?
The Hobo Festival runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Gene Clary Park on New Ebenezer Road.
Find it online:
For more information on the festival, contact City Hall at 652-4441.
See the Hobo Festival's Facebook page, facebook.com/Laurelhillhobofestival, for a list of items to be auctioned Saturday.
Volunteers can visit the festival's Facebook page or email Duley at firstname.lastname@example.org.