The Bible speaks of Jesus turning water into wine. On Saturday, both were in abundance across Uptown Greenwood.
“Come rain or shine, we’re here for the wine. I came here from three hours away, so I wasn’t going to miss it,” Jamie Rodgers, of Landrum, said during a stop on the SC Festival of Flowers’ acclaimed “Topiaries and Tastings” wine walk.
Despite a majority of opening weekend events for the 52nd annual festival being moved inside to Piedmont Technical College’s Medford Event Center on Saturday, officials weren’t about to call off one of its most popular attractions — and they were rewarded, with 500 people purchasing tickets and nearly that many defying a torrential downpour to sip on a shandy, revel in a rose or partake in a pinot grigio.
“When you’ve got a babysitter secured, you can’t waste it. This is great. A little bit of cardio, a little bit of carbs,” Ellyn Reeder said.
In addition to the wine sales, 100 people bought passes for a beer garden, a first-time Festival of Flowers offering.
Loretta Byrd-Lewis, a festival volunteer who poured at Blossom, said she was delighted not only by the turnout, but for the support of Uptown’s locally run businesses.
In front of most stops, umbrellas were arranged in rows, and merchants laid down towels to help keep their floors from being soaked through.
Still, it was an opportunity for business owners such as Brianna Cason-Owings, who runs The Vintage Vault Marketplace and Salon at 331 Main St., to showcase her vision.
Other Uptown mainstays, such as Thayer’s Furniture and Fine Gifts, were rippling with patrons who browsed their wares — stemless wine glasses in hand.
“It’s all about mingling, shopping and drinking,” she said.
Ruple Harley III remembers the last time weather cut into the festival’s opening weekend activities
“The first two years, it was at the courthouse, and it rained the whole time,” Harley, a five-time festival chairman and its resident historian and ambassador, said with a chuckle Saturday as he welcomed people to the Medford Event Center, which served as a stand-in for Uptown Greenwood as host for the 52nd annual event.
With heavy rain forecast through Monday, festival organizers scrambled to come up with an alternative venue for several of the signature events that have become tradition, hoping the festival’s loyal patrons would follow — and they did.
“With social media, it’s so easy to spread the news. I think moving it inside was an excellent idea,” said Shelley Grund. “The weather is dicey this weekend, and it’s pleasant in here with the air conditioning, so it was a great idea.”
The juried arts and crafts show, photography exhibit and Kidfest all shared space with a live butterfly display, area vendors and informational booths. The space is frequently used for SC Chamber of Commerce-sponsored expos, so modifying it for the festival wasn’t difficult, CEO Angelle LaBorde said.
“The rain is not dampening our parade,” LaBorde said.
A byproduct of the relocated festival, co-chairman Richard Thomason said, was the encouraging knowledge that people will attend regardless of its location – although signature offerings such as garden tours and an Uptown Live concert were rescheduled. The garden tours are set for the weekend of June 22, and details are still being finalized for the performance by ELoveation, Uptown Manager Lara Hudson said.
“This is our Plan B. Our biggest concern was getting people out there and getting the word out, and I think we did that,” Harley said.
Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.