The first-ever St. Patrick’s Day festival is held in downtown Athens, Georgia on March 17, 2019. The festival had live music, food and activities for all ages. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

A green sea of families, students and Athenians gathered to shut down downtown Athens for the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day Festival with a better-than-expected turnout.

The festival, hosted by Southern Festivals Management on Sunday, March 17, featured a diverse mix of activities for participants to enjoy. Three beer gardens, set up in front of Athens bars on Clayton Street, provided 21-and-over attendees the opportunity to enjoy an alcoholic beverage out in the open street, an activity residents aren’t used to during most weekends.

Here to Patty

The entertainment for the festival included a stage set up at the east end of Clayton Street, with musical and performing acts from female performers ages 3-17 of the Carpenter Academy of Irish Dance, to country artists such as University of Georgia student Megan Moroney, to Athens-based DJRX. The Irish Dance performance drew a large audience, making it difficult to maneuver through the crowd.

Bartender Sydney Hairie was stationed in front of the festival’s stage for its entire duration. Hairie works at Jerzees Sports Bar and Moonshine Bar, and said she was happy to be working in an environment that was family-friendly.

“Regular nights when I work are really packed out,” Hairie said. “Today has been busy, but it’s still relaxed. It’s nice to not be apart of the big party scene for a change.”

Other family-friendly activities included two face-painting tents, a Kona Ice truck and shopping between various vendors stationed on the street.

The festival also offered a pub crawl, where patrons could purchase a festival T-shirt to enter and benefit from deals from 15 bars around Athens.

St. Patrick’s Day difficulties

Southern Festivals Management faced challenges hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Festival, and specifically a pub crawl, this year because the holiday fell on a Sunday. Due to a local Athens ordinance, bars in town can only be opened on one Sunday during the year.

Mitchell Jordan, owner Southern Festivals Management, had been trying to put the festival together for “three or four years.” With the new mayor and commissioner coming into office in January the Athens-Clarke County government gave Jordan the go-ahead, with hopes of bringing more business downtown to bars, restaurants and stores.

“Athens is a town that is growing rapidly,” Jordan said. “Every major city always has a form of entertainment: people need to have things to do. The festival is something in Athens that can attract more people downtown.”

One of the bigger challenges of the festival was organizing such a large-scale event in such a short time, according to Kate Adams, Jordan’s assistant. When the change-in-government came to Jordan and said they were all-clear for the festival, the company only had a month and a half to put it together.

“This is a festival that would usually take six months to plan, but the government came to us to get it done in one and a half,” Adams said.

Despite the short time frame, more attendees than expected came out. Adams said that she had anticipated a maximum of 3,000 people to participate, but estimated that anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 showed up to crowd the streets of Athens in green wardrobes.

For Jordan, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the end of festivals in Athens. Southern Festivals Management still plans only on increasing the number of festivals that adorn the downtown streets throughout the year, with a tentative Fourth of July festival on his mind.  

“I’ve seen Athens grow over the last 10 years, and I’ve never understood why we don’t have more festivals throughout the year,” Jordan said. “That’s what I’m hoping to change: to bring more festivals in. I’m hoping that they give me permission to do more things throughout the year to help bring more business downtown.”

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