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Green Gold: Five Points Sets Standard for Community Festivals with St. Pat’s

St. Pat’s in Five Points is about so much more than green beer. Saturday’s 36th edition of the festival brought an incredibly diverse crowd of all ages together to celebrate all things Irish, but more than that, to celebrate community.

The day began with less than pleasant weather, but the spirit was there regardless, as runners and walkers gathered for the Get to the Green 15K /10K /5K /1-Mile Family Fun Run. Like the rest of the festival, the race offered options for all, and whether sprinting for a p.r. or simply enjoying the costumes, all came away satisfied.

The annual parade also went on despite occasional rain, with groups from local schools and nonprofits including Curing Kids Cancer and Moms Demand Action marching and riding along with pageant winners and dignitaries such as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson.

Five Points legend and longtime St. Pat’s in Five Points co-chair Col. Jack Van Loan and the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 303 served as grand marshals for the parade.

Then, something changed. Was it Irish eyes smiling from above? Was it the universe or some higher power thanking the St. Pat’s in Five Points committee and countless volunteers for all their hard work? Was it just weather? You be the judge, but whatever the cause, the sun peeked out and the temperature began to rise just in time for the festival to hit full swing. Among the first bands to take the stage? Appropriately, Seventy Six and Sunny.

One of the first songs of the day would also be appropriate, as Seventy Six and Sunny and Prettier Than Matt combined to honor the memory of Irish singer, songwriter and musician Dolores O’Riordan, who passed away in January.

All over the Five Points village for the rest of the day, the feeling was of a party like few others. Parents and grandparents danced with young adults and teens and babies. A senior citizen dressed all in green and wearing a cape got high fives from college students as he walked down the street. There were hugs for everyone, and for the day, all were connected, all friends, all one community. There are no divisions at St. Pat’s in Five Points.

The festival is, at its heart, about love of community. Every year, local nonprofits supply volunteers for the event and the Five Points Association donates part of the proceeds to their causes: $47,450 in 2017, with the 2018 totals to be announced.

The festival has many things to offer, but in recent years more and more of the focus has been on the music, with the yearly reveal of the lineup an event in itself. From local music students to local bands to nationally known acts, covering nearly every genre of music, plus a silent disco, it was easy to keep dancing all day long.

As the day wound toward its end, Rainbow Kitten Surprise worked the crowd at the Greene St. stage into a celebratory frenzy, and then came a surprise, as love of community met a different kind of love.

Elaina Granger has worked for years alongside the Five Points Association, helping plan and execute countless events including this St. Pat’s. She had seen many great moments, but Saturday’s will be the one she remembers above all others.

Before headliners Judah & the Lion took the stage at Greene St., the festival staff, Granger included, made their appearance, throwing beach balls into the crowd. They slipped away to loud cheers, and Granger started to leave with them, only to be stopped by her boyfriend, Brendon Cassabon: boyfriend, that is, for only a few moments more.

Then it was time for a big finish to match that of any fireworks show. Judah & the Lion at Greene St., Chris Lane at Blossom and Harden, SUSTO at Blossom and Saluda. Three separate crowds of thousands cheering and singing along and closing a day that was not far from perfect.

St. Pat’s in Five Points cannot be fully appreciated, however, without the morning after. Despite having had little if any sleep, festival co-chairs Kelly Glynn and Amy Beth Franks personally oversee the cleanup. It’s impossible to have nearly 50,000 people come together without making a mess, and the day after some festivals looks like the day after a hurricane. Not in Five Points.

Sunday by late morning, the neighborhood was spotless. Glynn and Franks work with the City of Columbia Public Works Department to have the streets swept and blown clean and trash collected on Saturday night. Then, early Sunday morning, they join groups of volunteers to clean not only Five Points but also Devine Street along the parade route, the nearby neighborhoods which see so much traffic on St. Patrick’s Day, and even the satellite parking shuttle locations.

As they do every Sunday, many people came to Five Points for brunch, for shopping, or just to explore. They found  a warm welcome, and a clean one. They found a village full of people who love their community and work incredibly hard to make it great.

Slainte, y’all. See you next year.

More photos from the festival are available at the Bifocal Photography Facebook page.

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