Thirty-two years ago, leaders with the Greater York Chamber of Commerce decided to host a celebration of the end of summer. So they planned a barbecue gathering at York Electric Cooperative.
The celebration has snowballed since then, into an event that draws tens of thousands of people from York County and beyond to enjoy family-friendly fun in the city’s quaint historic downtown.
The festival that aims to offer something for everyone will return this year on Aug. 21-22 in downtown York with food, children’s activities, music, sporting events, crafts, vendors and more.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Matt Caldwell, co-chairman of this year’s festival with his wife, Nicole. “I like seeing the same people year after year, both vendors and residents. I like seeing people come out each year and support it.”
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Caldwell said the festival aims to offer traditional favorites each year, as well as something new. This year, the new attraction will be helicopter rides by Carolina Helicopters LLC in Conway.
“People are going to be able to pay for brief helicopter rides around the surrounding area, 15 minutes or so,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said Paul Boger, director of the York chamber, which continues to sponsor Summerfest, was instrumental in bringing in the new attraction.
“I think it’s going to be a big hit,” Caldwell said. “Paul has done a good job of continuing to get new things here. Paul is constantly looking around and researching what is out there to improve Summerfest.”
Boger said the helicopter will be based at the rear of the York YMCA on East Madison Street. He said the rides cost $20 per person.
“I think it will do well and I hope people will get a lot out of it,” Boger said. “If you’ve flown before, it has a whole different kind of feel to it.”
Caldwell said the new attraction in 2014, a BMX stunt demonstration, will be back again this year. “It was a big hit last year,” he said.
The festival kicks off from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21 with the final Downtown Live outdoors concert with music by Flash Back, on the lawn in front of the chamber on East Liberty Street. There’s also a moonlight bike ride on Friday night, starting at the Agricultural Building in York.
Sporting events will be golf and tennis championships and 5K and fun runs, both of which will begin from McCelvey Center. A main attraction Saturday is the car show.
The festival also features a large vendor area with arts and crafts and informational booths, and a large food area.
“There are a lot of vendors that come back year after year,” he said. “But we also try to get some new ones, new businesses that are trying to get their name out there.”
On Saturday, there will be live entertainment on two stages.
Summerfest entertainment chairman Robert Allison said planners have eliminated the Saturday night concert that wrapped up the festival for the last couple years in favor of more live music during the day on Saturday.
Allison said eight bands will perform on two downtown stages Saturday. “I think people expect there to be live entertainment at a street festival,” he said.
Summerfest evolved in 1984 from two previous attractions that showcased the city. The York Colonial Festival premiered in 1960. A few years later, the South Carolina Grape Festival debuted in 1965, and it continued for 15 years.
After the demise of the Grape Festival, chamber leaders introduced Summerfest with the support of the city of York. The event is now recognized as a Top 20 event by the Southeast Tourism Society.
The Olde English District honored Summerfest as the 1996 Attraction of the Year. And in 2002, the S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department named the festival its Most Outstanding Tourism Event of Festival of the Year for communities of 5,000 to 15,000.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077