I’m glad that drinking is banned on Folly Beach.
There will be people very surprised to hear me say that. Gripes about how the ban was brought forth and voted on are valid, but in the end, the result was positive. I was against the ban during that process, but six years later, I’m glad my side lost.
If you were a close friend speaking in confidence, I’d likely have admitted that in 2015, when I wrote a column in defense of Folly Gras. Even then, defending Folly Gras had more to do with defending Folly’s festivals. The most vocal opposition wanted (and likely still wants) to end them all, and Folly Gras made a great scapegoat. Further, taming it through legislation could have negative effects on fun aspects of the other festivals that don’t draw the same drunken crowd.
That’s why the Folly Association of Business was wise to take quick action on Monday morning, canceling Folly Gras before the issue got played out in council chambers.
I stand by much of the case I made in 2015 — Folly’s festivals support admirable causes, and they help to bring together the island’s business and residential communities in a way that our daily quick interactions at the post office can’t equal. In two hours on Saturday, I saw more of my neighbors and friends from the island than I’ve seen in 2019.
But I also saw a lot of obnoxious crap — people screaming, pretending to fight, actually fighting, and generally staggering around. I took my two-year-old on a bicycle, and my wife came behind us later. She’d hardly arrived when she texted me, “Not a kid friendly festival…ugh,” with a face palm emoji. We all saw the kick-the-bouncer video. And while that incident got violent and was caught on tape, it was a natural product of a scene that encouraged that type of behavior.
My son and I were actually having a great time, standing by the stage to hear Dangermuffin play their last show with percussionist/bassist Steven Sandifer. That was a special moment for the band. (This column was almost titled, “Former Local Band Dangermuffin Rocked So Hard That They Cancelled the Festival”). I’m grateful I was there, and I hope there’s another opportunity for the band to play on Center Street. I’d vehemently oppose any effort to eliminate street parties.
But apart from giving a homegrown band like Dangermuffin a stage and providing a venue to show off Folly’s independent restaurants and artisans, Folly Gras is pretty lame, and it has been for years. The parade — a handful of golf carts and vehicles with company logos — pales in comparison to the Christmas parade. Some years it’s even held after Mardi Gras, during Lent, which demonstrates a lack of any real significance to the party. It became a reason to day drink in the middle of winter. And maybe it’s just me, now that I’m a dad and nearing 40, but a thousand people coming to my neighborhood to get as drunk as possible is not something I want anymore. Once the cops cleared the road, Center Street at 5 p.m. looked like a scene from Walking Dead.
Bah, humbug, I know. I don’t need to be yelled at unintelligibly by strangers as they speed by me and my kid on our bike. I don’t need to worry about the high concentration of drunk drivers near my house for the afternoon. And lest I sound dramatic, Folly is already a place where people drive drunk. Ask anybody who lives out here if they know someone who has been hit by a car on Folly Beach, or whose pet has been killed in a hit-and-run. The tally gets longer every year.
We’ve long made the case that winter festivals keep businesses afloat during the winter. That was when Folly’s restaurants numbered around a dozen, and several would shut down for a few months. Now there are over 20, and they all stay open all year. Just try finding a “winter rental” out here these days. Give credit to Airbnb — we’re a year-round destination now. And also give some credit to Follypalooza, the Flip Flop Drop, Taste of Folly, and Folly Gras. But we’ll survive without Folly Gras. As one friend put it on Sunday, “Keep Folly Funky, Not Drunky.” Booze is not the source of the “folly” that we’re trying to keep. If it is, that’s pretty lame.
Another friend and Folly homeowner suggested replacing Folly Gras with a Valentine’s Day festival: Fill Center Street with two-top tables and let local restaurants and food trucks cater the party. Have a date auction and speed dating for the singles and get Louis D to sing love songs all night. No extremely-easy-to-knock-out bouncers required, and your lady isn’t going to tolerate you peeing on cars on Valentine’s Day.
Camden’s Carolina Cup horse race recently did away with their college tailgating area, once a staple of my spring social calendar. But I never did see a horse there, and to the folks who ran the event, that’s not that cool. Sure, similar antics go down in the parking lot of any SEC football game, but that’s also more spread out and doesn’t necessarily spill over into a neighborhood with families.
I’m sad about it. The first few Folly Gras events were an absolute blast. I wish we could have a first-class parade and a day of responsible partying, and drinking, to celebrate Carnival season. But if it’s not an event I can take my kids to without worrying that someone will run into us with their body or their vehicle, or without me having to explain why that woman is screaming at them at the top of her lungs, or why those guys are punching each other — in the mid-afternoon, no less — then good riddance.