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Selling South Carolina to Democratic National Convention visitors will take more than promoting lower gas prices and less-crowded hotels.
Organizers of Saturdays Experience SC Festival hope peach cobbler, gospel music and a Carolina marsh tacky horse might be enough, though, to pull people across the state line from Charlotte to Rock Hill.
We want to give (visitors) something theyd never see at home, said Linda Dyer Hart of Dyer Hart Productions.
The first-ever Experience SC Festival brings together music, food, books and crafts all from South Carolina entreprenuers, farmers and residents to showcase the best the state has to offer, she said.
Dyer Hart and her partners in the festival, Bonnie Wallsh and Carlando Brown, hope the free event will be a showcase for South Carolinas cultural diversity and Charlottes hosting the DNC offers a prime time to do so.
Results of an informal survey asking people what came to mind when they think about South Carolina werent the greatest, Wallsh said.
People dont know about the area; there are stereotypes, she said. We want to share with them what is different and unique...because some people will come down (for the DNC) with prejudices.
Wallsh, who calls herself a Southerner by choice, said she and her husband discovered Charlotte on a business visit from their home in New York in 1988. They were surprised by the diversity and good schools around Mecklenburg County, she said.
Later visits to York County, Columbia and other places in South Carolina showed Wallsh that Charlottes neighbors to the south have just as much to offer something fellow organizer Brown, born and raised in Rock Hill, already knew.
Brown has organized events like Rock the Runway at the Rock Hill Galleria, Soul Jam at Winthrop Lake and other festivals marketed primarily to local African-Americans for the past 15 years, he said.
We have a lot of other successful festivals, Brown said, but I dont see a lot of diversity. My overall agenda (for Experience SC Festival) is to show unity.
To that end, Brown has booked musical groups such as the Freedom Temple Gospel Choir and Agape Gospel Choir to perform Saturday.
Being in the Bible Belt, he said, gospel music is part of our heritage.
A drum and dance performance from the Catawba Indian Nation also is scheduled.
The Experience SC Festival also will try to reach the hearts and minds of out-of-towners through their stomachs.
We wont have hamburgers or frankfurters, Wallsh said. Well have authentic Southern food.
Vendors serving fried chicken, poboy sandwiches, peach cobbler and South Carolina craft beers will be alongside craft vendors selling items like Gullah sweetgrass baskets.
Farmers and artists from York, Chester and Lancaster counties will be selling seasonal produce, farm-fresh meat and hand-made arts and crafts at the final weekend of the Old Town Farmers Market.
A literary corner featuring in-state authors of children and adult books set up tents to sell their books and greet festival-goers.
The South Carolina Association of Tourism Regions a consortium of 11 districts around the state also will have a tent to promote the states vacation hot spots.
Many visitors to the DNC in Charlotte might not realize, Wallsh said, that South Carolinas coastline is actually a quicker and easier trip to the beach than traveling to North Carolinas Outer Banks or other beaches.
Rock Hills Old Town district is a great place to host the event, Dyer Hart said, because theres ample parking and its easy to get to after a 30-minute drive from Charlotte down Interstate 77.
Although unconfirmed, the organizers say they expect a handful of convention celebrities to visit the festival.
Wallsh plans to invite faux-conservative TV pundit Stephen Colbert to join the festivals literary corner. Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, grew up in S.C., has written four books and has even run briefly for the Republican nomination for president.
Even without celebrities, Brown said, the diversity of the Experience SC Festival should provide something visitors and locals alike can enjoy.
Its going to be the biggest melting pot party in York County.