Two popular events planned for the coming weeks have been canceled because of flood-related issues at the city park where they were supposed to be held.
Organizers for the Columbia Blues Festival, set for Saturday, and the Five Points Chili Cook-Off, set for Nov. 7, announced the cancellations this week for the events at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Geoffrey Graves, an organizer for the blues festival, said city officials told him Friday the “current condition of the ground due to floodwater will not support the upcoming festival.”
Graves said he was told the floodwaters from Rocky Branch Creek, which runs through the park, left the park grounds saturated and unusable.
The Five Points Association board said in a statement released Tuesday they would rather focus on the recovery in the Midlands rather than changing the venue for the Chili Cook-Off. “Moving the event, combined with efforts to stir up excitement and participation in a city that has recently suffered so much, just didn't feel right,” the website said.
Missy Gentry, an assistant city manager who oversees public services, said when city officials talked with Chili Cook-Off organizers Friday about the possibility of looking for alternative locations, they already had decided to cancel the event.
Allison Baker, an assistant city manager who oversees Columbia’s city’s park system, said MLK Park was too soggy for the heavy equipment needed for both events, though it is open to the public.
City officials also talked with Graves about possibly moving the blues festival, Baker said. Graves said other city facilities that might be a suitable fit were booked, and other locations were waterlogged as well.
“This is too large a show to try and squeeze it into an alternative place,” he said.
Graves said even though the Columbia Blues Festival volunteers are devastated about the situation, they understand the city has been overwhelmed following the Oct. 4 flooding. “We want to give them a salute that they have just been knocked down time and again to take care of all the things that they’ve had to handle,” he said. “... They have been inundated.”
Graves said festival organizers are still obligated to pay the artists, which is typical. He said Word of Mouth Productions, a nonprofit that organizes the blues festival, received some grant money from the city and Richland County for the event, though he declined to discuss the amount. Efforts to find out the amount from the city were unsuccessful.
Graves said the Columbia Blues Festival did not take place last year due to a shortage of funds, so organizers had been looking forward to this year – the 20th event of its kind.
“We thought we had pulled together just a great complement of folk blues acts and nice music to entertain in a free concert fashion,” he said.
Staff writer Clif Leblanc contributed to this report.