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March 17, 2013

St. Pat’s in Columbia’s Five Points attracts a cast of characters

Around 800 volunteers and 40,000 festivalgoers – the head count isn’t final – descended on Columbia’s urban village on Saturday to play their role in the participatory event that is the Five Points Association’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival.

It was a beautiful day for a little green. OK, a lot of green.

Around 800 volunteers and 40,000 festivalgoers – the head count isn’t final – descended on Columbia’s urban village on Saturday to play their role in the participatory event that is the Five Points Association’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival.

This year, the festival’s 31st, brought out another interesting cast of characters – and fun moments all around:

10:25 a.m.: The 282nd Army Band out of Fort Jackson kicked off the party with a spirited New Orleans-style jazz number not lost on the crowd gathered along Devine Street.

At the corner of Devine and Harden streets, ground zero for the parade, Erin and Randy Willie had the primo spot. The couple had brought their three children – Lila, 2, Ethan, 7, and Brayden, 12 – and were marveling at how different it felt this year.

“This is the first time we’ve brought the kids,” she said.

The family, she said, was planning to spend a little more time at the festival after the parade concluded but would be leaving as “soon as things got a little less family-friendly.”

How did she know when that would be? “When the drinking starts,” she said.

10:30 a.m.: Six-year-old Quindai Huggins leaned back in a swing, folded her arms behind her neck and enjoyed the ride.

Quindai joined sisters, Quindia and Quindrea, on the ride in MLK park, where the St. Pat’s Pot ’O Gold Playland was in full swing. The girls – they are identical triplets – wore matching green Angry BirdsT-shirts that read “Lucky Charms.” Their older brother, Quindon, 8, rode with them

“I was a little scared,” Quindrea said.

Their mother, Kenisha Huggins, said the kids were having fun, but she was worried about the money they were breezing through. Twenty tickets for rides cost $25, and she already had used half of them so her children could ride the swings.

But there also were acts, such as the Caughman Road Elementary School step team, to entertain them. Not to mention a petting zoo with llamas and a camel. (Are those Irish?)

1:20 p.m.: He called himself “Incognito,” saying that concealing his identity was part of his St. Paddy’s Day fun.

But he swore he was not a high-profile public official trying to get away with being a drunken clown for a day.

“I wanted to have a really good time, and I wanted to be unknown,” he said.

The green body suit with gold shamrocks on it cost $14.95 at Party City, and he paid $4.95 for the white and green boxer shorts he wore over the body suit.

The suit covered his entire body with important exceptions – eye holes and a hole over his mouth that was just big enough to fit a straw.

2 p.m.: At Saluda’s, the beers were flying fast as owner Steven Cook hustled to keep the beer pool stocked on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Upstairs, the VIP room was doing a respectable business.

For $75 to $100, VIP guests received access to probably one of the best spots for people-watching in all of Five Points – the restaurant’s second-floor veranda.

Guests also were treated to an open bar and a catered lunch consisting of barbecue, corned beef, hash, potato salad and other Irish delicacies. “Our chef gets really excited about the menu,” Cook said of chef Blake Faries.

Cook said Saluda’s had been offering the VIP experience of getting “up and above it all” for six years now.

“Everyone seems to be having a good time,” he said.

2:40 p.m.: A fashion trend this year: mustaches.

Images of handlebar mustaches and bushy 1970s ’stashes appeared on plenty of T-shirts. Many featured sayings not suitable for a family newspaper.

One group taking advantage of the trend was Decided Church, a Columbia congregation with an edgy attitude.

Elisa Reese, the pastor’s wife, said they wanted to reach out to people with something memorable.

“Mustaches are in, so we decided to give away mustache straws,” she said. “It’s a hipster thing.”

She and other women from the church cut out 5,000 paper mustaches and glued them onto straws. They gave away the straws along with bottles of water, welcome in the warm weather.

Church members said they caught festival organizers by surprise when they asked to be in the parade and set up a display tent.

“One guy asked us, ‘Are you sure you want to? There’s going to be a lot of drinking.’”

Reese said the church saw the festival as an opportunity to interact with young people. “We’re trying to reach out to them instead of waiting for them to come to us.”

4 p.m.: At festival headquarters on Blossom Street, the festival association’s Geah Pressgrove said it was too early to release attendance numbers. But she did say the festival had about 800 volunteers working.

And “the crowd is flowing great,” Pressgrove said of the new layout, prompted by last year’s jam-ups in front of food vendors. “There were a few times today where things were backed up, but we moved quickly to move staff from one area to another.”

5:56 p.m.: Arrested Development finished off the festival with an energetic performance featuring the group’s biggest hits.

Festival organizers wanted to diversify the musical acts and to bring in bigger names than in past years.

For festivalgoer Charlean Barnes, their goal was met. “It’s very diverse,” Barnes said. “It’s real cultural, and there’s something for everybody.”

As for Arrested Development?

“I love it,” she said. “They’ve been around forever.”

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