By Al Dozier
Irmo’s Okra Strut Festival will be a virtual event for 2020.
That controversial decision on the event planned for September 26 was made by the Irmo Town Council Tuesday despite opposition from Irmo Mayor Barry Walker.
Larry Slaughter, chairman of the Okra Strut Commission, said the festival, which usually draws thousands to Irmo, will be live-streamed on You Tube or Facebook.
Providing the community with a video version of the festival activities would avoid the huge gathering of people at the community Park of Irmo. Slaughter said such a gathering, “could give us a black eye” because of the spread of the coronavirus.
Slaughter also pointed out that Governor Henry McMaster has issued an order prohibiting entertainment gatherings of more than 250 people.
Slaughter said there would be a virtual parade and a virtual festival that would include two drive-in locations, one at Crafts and Drafts on St. Andrews Road and another at Steve Padget’s Honda of Lake Murray.
Slaughter expressed a positive outlook on the plan, which he called, “a signature virtual Okra Strut.”
“We are doing what nobody in the midlands has ever done before,” he said.
But Irmo’s mayor didn’t like the idea, mainly because of what he considered excessive costs. The project is estimated to cost about $43,700 which includes the recording costs, video equipment and entertainment costs that could be cancelled. The commission has already contracted with entertainer Sister Hazel.
Walker said the project shouldn’t cost near that much.
“I don’t think the numbers are quite right,” he said.
Councilman Bill Danielson shared Walker’s concern about the spending, and also voted against the plan.
Council members Kathy Condom, Erik Sickinger and Kelly Busch voted in favor of the plan.
“It’s a good idea,” Condom said after the meeting. Video clips of area high school bands and local dance teams will run all day long and should get a lot of attention. Condom also noted that local businesses support the idea.
Sickinger said, “it’s a bit of a gamble,” but is probably the safest way to handle the festival.
“I think it’s going to be a great event,” he said.
The festival, now in its 47th year, was originally planned to take place in its normal setting, with several safety measures in place. But as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread, the festival commission decided it would be unsafe to proceed as normal.
Slaughter said the festival expects to continue getting support from its chief sponsor, Lexington Medical Center.