Celebrations in the Lowcountry are legendary in their scope, frequency and attendance, stretching along the coast from Hilton Head Island to Charleston. The historic city of Beaufort — surrounded by waterways and closely embracing its 504-year history —rightfully stakes its claim as among the best hosts.
Fairs and festivals pay homage to Beaufort’s history, culture, seafood, cinema, literature and antebellum homes throughout the year. Here’s a chronological look at a dozen popular events.
International Film Festival: Nearly 14,000 fans attend this celebration every February to honor the work of independent filmmakers from around the world in all movie genres. Hollywood celebrities like local resident Tom Berenger and South Carolina native Andie MacDowell have hosted this event, which celebrated its 12th edition this year. At the 2019 festival, slated to be held Feb. 19-24, actor and singer Paul Sorvino will be honored by the Beaufort Film Society. Beaufort has a particular tie to the film industry: More than 20 big-budget films, from “Forrest Gump” to “Prince of Tides,” have used the city’s homes and landscape as primary sets.
March Forth on March Fourth: Learning is the theme of this Pat Conroy Literary Center event in March. The second annual event took place this year at the Frissell Community House at historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island and commemorated the anniversary of the revered Conroy’s death with a celebration of nature, literature, poetry and fellowship. The author of “The Great Santini” and “Prince of Tides” is buried on the property.
Soft Shell Crab Festival: This sweet Lowcountry delicacy begins shedding its shell in the spring, and then stars in April at this free event presented by the Old Village Association of Port Royal. Thousands of visitors enjoy the delicious blue crab sautéed, fried and grilled, all served up by the street vendors, plus live music, classic cars, crab races, arts and crafts, and family-friendly activities.
MCAS Beaufort Air Show: Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort hosted nearly 100,000 visitors for two days in late April to watch a free demonstration by the Blue Angels, the United States Naval Flight Demonstration Team. The Angels’ C-130 “Fat Albert” began the demonstration by showcasing its maximum-performance capabilities. That dazzling feat was followed by choreographed aerobatic maneuvers by four F/A-18 Hornets in diamond formation, along with two solo pilots who then joined the foursome in a dramatic six-jet display of Delta formation. The solo jets performed high-speed passes, fast rolls and tight turns with speeds up to 700 mph. The 2019 show is scheduled for April 27-28.
Taste of Beaufort: A town with great restaurants doesn’t need much nudging to promote itself. For two days every May, the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce produces a star-studded collection of menu delights from about a dozen eateries, as well as a 5K run/walk, live entertainment, an arts and crafts market, and a children’s play area along the waterfront. Food and beverage tickets are sold for $1 apiece at this free event. This year marks the 20th year of the celebration, with events slated for May 6-7.
The Gullah Festival: This multi-day event at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park celebrates diversity and the Gullah heritage and has been held annually since 1986. More than 70,000 people from 32 states attended this year’s festival that showcased local, regional, national and international platforms. Attendees enjoyed local choirs, jazz, story-telling, arts and crafts, theater and a lecture series. The event has been recognized by the federal and state governments, business associations and the media for its historical significance in preserving and promoting the Gullah history and culture.
Water Festival: This event, held every July since 1956, is the largest festival on the East Coast run entirely by volunteers. Hundreds of area residents donate their time, joined by members of the military, civic organizations and event sponsors. What began as simply a parade, beauty pageant and two gala balls has evolved into a 10-day extravaganza of live entertainment, vintage air show with parachutists, arts and crafts market, food vendors, fishing and golf tournaments, bocce and badminton contests, water races and tours. This year’s festival will be held July 12-21.
Shrimp Festival: Signature fresh seafood dishes served by local restaurants dominate this two-day celebration, which has been held every October for 24 years. Eateries compete for top prizes in several food categories, and $1 food and beverage tickets are sold at this free event. St. Helena native and “American Idol” winner Candice Glover and local favorites Deas Guyz headlined the entertainment portion last year, while dozens of arts and crafts vendors lined up at Waterfront Park and curious kids and adults were treated to an interactive education fair that highlighted local waterways and ecology — plus participated in shrimp heading and shrimp shelling competitions.
Fall Festival of Homes and Gardens: Visitors who take this tour, sponsored by the Historic Beaufort Foundation, are treated to a rich repository of 18th- and 19th-century private homes in a variety of architectural styles and their luscious gardens. The three-day late October event dating from 1985 showcases stately and charming homes located in the city’s National Historic Landmark District. It’s hard not to marvel at the details and craftsmanship of these homes in a town founded in 1711. Cost is $50 per person. This year’s festival is scheduled from Oct. 25-27.
Downtown Trick-o-Treat Party: Last year’s old-fashioned festive event was held Oct. 27 at Waterfront Park for kids of all ages. Youngsters enjoyed games, music, costume parades and goodies.
Heritage Days: This three-day cultural event in November on the Penn Center campus on St. Helena celebrates the Gullah-Geechee Sea Island history and West African cultural legacy with folk arts, music and crafts. Symposiums, Lowcountry fish fry, crab crack and oyster roast, church services and parade also are part of the celebration, which held its 36th annual event last November.
Beaufort Holiday Weekend: It’s easy to see why the “Light Up the Night” boat parade is the highlight of this three-day event, to be held Dec. 7-9 this year. Imagine the beautiful Beaufort River lit by a magical display thanks to a flotilla of boats decorated with holiday lights. Bundle up with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy local choirs, dance groups, a parade and, of course, a spectacular tree lighting with Santa himself in charge.