With a small idea and a lot of passion anything can be accomplished.
In May, Danville’s own Festival in the Park will celebrate its forty-year anniversary at Ballou Park. Through the years the festival has grown from a small community gathering to a highly-anticipated event that entertains thousands of locals and visitors every year.
From inception in 1974, the Festival has undergone many transitions and evolved into a major event for the Danville area. Each year brings a little something different, and is always a joy for those who attend. John Gilstrap, past President of the Festival in the Park, was on the first advisory committee of the Festival in 1973 preparing for the inaugural event in 1974. Gilstrap says, “The first year we had the Festival in the Park it truly started as a community picnic. It was a good turnout and overall we had around 200 people attend. One of the difficulties was finding funding to make everything happen, but thankfully there were many local organizations involved which helped the event become a success.”
Since budgeting was an issue everything had to be provided by the community. From food vendors to games, local organizations stepped up to the plate and were able to use the event as a fundraising opportunity. One of games present at an early Festival in the Park was a goldfish toss presented by the YWCA . Would-be hopefuls would toss a ball into a fish bowl in order to win a goldfish. As the years passed, more things were added to the Festival, and the event became much larger transitioning into a three-day extravaganza. For entertainment the Festival had three stages for adults and a fourth stage for children. Local groups such as the Meredith Gravely School of Dance, George Washington High School (GWHS) Choir, GWHS Band, Fred Motley’s dance group, and many others provided the entertainment. Sundays saw an appreciation for gospel music, and was such a success it is a tradition to this day.
To attract more people, the Festival committee tried several different events to tie into the Festival such as canoeing on the Dan River. The one which gained traction and has sustained, due to participation of the community and the sponsorship given by Nestle, is the Nestle 5k run.
The Festival in the Park has a very unique structure. It survives on a mutually beneficial relationship between a core group of volunteers and many City of Danville services. The festival would not be possible without either of these groups. Bernice Moore, volunteer coordinator, has been working with Festival in the Park since 1992. Bernice says, “We usually have around 100 volunteers, some of which transition over from Racin’ and Tastin’. The thing that I enjoy most with the Festival is interacting with all of the people.” From the people on the Festival Committee Board to the greeters at the park, Festival in the Park is built from the passion of each volunteer. Sonya Wolen, Assistant Director at the Danville Science Center, moved to Danville several years ago, and is a volunteer with Festival. Sonya says, “People of all walks of life are able to share the festival setting filled with fun and resources that might otherwise be inaccessible or invisible to them. Because I believe in this richness, I have spent the past several years finding ways to support the Festival through various volunteer roles.”
Since the Festival’s beginnings there have been hundreds of volunteers, but the one volunteer who made everything come together with ease year after year was Lee Davis. The current President of the Committee Board, L.C. Moore says, “The person who really got me involved in the Festival years ago was “Mr. Festival in the Park,” Lee Davis. To watch this man and his drive to make each Festival better than the last was very inspiring. He had his hand on every detail, and that brought Festival together.
Unfortunately, Lee passed away, leaving shoes that no one will ever fill.”
This year’s Festival in the Park, sponsored by Pepsi, is set to be just as amazing as years past. The Committee Board has been working and planning tirelessly since the end of the 2013 Festival. This year will incorporate the Nestle 5k Run, the children’s area sponsored by URW Community Federal Credit Union, and a health fair sponsored by Sam’s Club. For people interested in the arts, Crafter’s Row will be set up along with adult and children’s art. As a special treat there will be a children’s stage featuring Shakespeare’s plays. As always, Food Alley will be in full swing with phenomenal vendors, and this year there will be a Cruize-In on Saturday. There will also be a wide array of entertainment.
Come and celebrate the community with Festival in the Park.