Why there shouldn’t be a 2020 Okra Strut


For nearly 50 years the Town of Irmo has held one of the state’s best and nationally known fall festivals called the Irmo Okra Strut.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic most festivals across the country have been or are being cancelled and the Okra Strut should be no different.

After the pandemic struck, Irmo Town Council asked the Okra Strut Commission to find a way for the event to continue this year. The best they could come up with was an online festival. It would include a virtual parade with campaigning politicians, virtual performances from dance schools and culminating with a virtual drive-in movie concert performed by a national headlining act that had been booked prior to the virus.

Given that it would be impossible to have social distancing or most other pandemic precautions during a ‘live’ festival the commission managed to present a solution.

The town considered the option and, as of August 18, told the commission to move ahead with a virtual festival.

Going down this path is an insult to the memories of such a well loved event. This is more like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole which is exactly what others are trying so desperately to do.

The SC State Fair is going to be a two day drive-thru(what?). Columbia’s New Year’s Famously Hot event is heading for a virtual meltdown, also. Sporting events with no fans. Festive events without people. Bubble this and bubble that and what if the bubble bursts. Just call it off for now until the time is right. And it will be right again.

Let’s face it, festivals are mostly about the kids and the kids in all us adults. Part of the mystique is waiting for the day of the event to get here. Then standing by the side of the road with hundreds and hundreds of other people as the parade line-up, which started way down there, begins to come your way with all the sounds and wild looking costumes and floats. A cacophony of noise as all the dance groups, music, sirens and marching bands, with their horns blaring and drums banging, combine together as they approach your position. Then the excitement as they pass in front of you while people hand out candy and fliers only to be replaced by the next float in line and it happens all over again.

Then the parade ends and you are off to the festival. Walking with friends and family or riding on the trolley excited to get to the grounds and see what’s new. And to be greeted by the giant looming Okra Man where folks are already taking pictures with him. As you walk past all the vendors in their fancy food trailers, adorned with items to attract your attention, stopping just long enough to watch while they prepare some sort of goodies that smell so enticing. Everything looks wonderful as you jostle with the crowds along the paths and there is so much take in with all your senses tingling. The cotton candy couldn’t be sweeter, the lemonade any tastier and the choices seem endless.

The sounds of children’s laughter as they scurry around the carnival rides drifts throughout the festival and the bands play on the stages. The cloggers clog and the dancers dance and there is activity everywhere. You’ll be smelling fried okra for days.

The best solution to a 2020 Irmo Okra Strut is to err on the side of caution and cancel it while deferring all this year’s resources to a bigger and better 2021 festival.

And at the recorded live video concert I wonder if Sister Hazel will be signing virtual autographs?