When Candy Randall starts crying at public events, it often can be hard to tell if a good thing or a bad thing has just happened.
Randall is known for her spontaneous displays of emotion, whether it's a beaming smile after a Merry Pranksters performance or a look of panic when an interruption threats a downtown event she organized.
As Randall broke down in tears last Sunday night during the closing moments of ChristmasVille, a familiar question arose among those around her: Is Candy going to be OK?
This time, she said the crying was all good.
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ChristmasVille's finale ended with police officers, firefighters and medics carrying candles down the steps of the City Hall amphitheater as a NarroWay Productions group sang "Angels Among Us," acclaimed as a tribute song after 9-11.
"That finale was unbelievable, I'm not kidding you," Randall said a few days later. "There was not a dry eye in that audience, and they gave a standing ovation for five minutes. I thought that was as good as the things you see in New York."
The performance brought an emotional end to four days of ChristmasVille, a city-run festival that turns downtown into a holiday village celebrating the work of the late artist Vernon Grant.
More than anyone except maybe Santa Claus, Randall is the face of the festival -- she hatched the idea and spent nearly two years putting it together as the city's downtown development manager. Last year, due in part to exhaustion, she came down with the flu and needed a week to recover.
This time, Randall promised to give volunteers and committee chairpersons more to do, so that she and her assistant, Jami Wilson, wouldn't be in charge of every task. Consider that an ongoing effort: A wider circle of people got involved, but Randall yearns for more help.
"It's not that I won't delegate, it's just that we didn't have people that would take on a major role," she said. "That takes time. There's things that could've been done a lot better if people could've stepped in, but I didn't have that. I'm still doing way too many jobs."
Still, Randall and other city officials believe Christmasville is off to a promising start, particularly given the industry belief that festivals take three years to become established.
Bigger crowds in second year
An estimated 18,000 people attended last year, and based on their initial eyeball impressions, organizers think four times as many came this year. That includes the Friday night holiday parade.
The bigger crowds brought new challenges. For example, an arts and crafts show in the Freedom Center was swamped on Sunday, prompting a call to police to help with crowd control. Also, some downtown restaurants ran out of food.
"If we're going to get the crowd, we've got to have more helpers and volunteers -- and plan for a little bit more crowd control," said Kim Brock, who supervised the holiday market, reindeer romp and fashion show. "We just were overwhelmed because the year before, we didn't have that kind of turnout. It's not a bad thing."
Organizers credit word of mouth, along with stepped-up local advertising. They handed out 15,000 bookmarks to local elementary schools, mailed out 5,000 postcards and festival guides and printed 5,000 extra brochures this year.
Randall plans to take a week off at Christmastime. Then, she'll return to work and resume preparations for next year.