Back to Build the Future

This Saturday, April 5, 2014, will mark Sumter’s 9th Annual Sankofa Cultural Festival.  Starting at 11 a.m., the grounds at Mt. Pisgah AME Church (corner of South Washington and Bartlette Streets) will overflow with ceremonies, performances and vendors who will, in the words of event organizer Natalie Williams, “promote cultural awareness and stimulate historical learning.”

The Akon word “Sankofa” originated in Ghana and means “remember the past, to build the future.” Ms. Williams views the festival not just as a fun and educational Sankofa-Birdexperience, but a way to get different cultures to reach out to one another. “It’s also about networking,” she says, “bringing different segments of the community together.”

The festival begins with a ceremonial introduction of the Festival Queens, Tiye, Nandi, Hetepheres, Hatshepsut, and the most widely-known of them all, Cleopatra. After that, the event kicks into high gear with performances including the Brothers of Harmony, a singing group who are all relatives of the late Brook Benton. Their vocal style includes R&B and a touch of gospel. Contemporary music will be provided by the duo Evolutionary Soul.

There will also be a limbo event, featuring the Condor Arts Integral Magnet drumline (although I don’t think I’ll be trying that one!). More drum performances, yoga, Hawaiian dance, storytelling, poetry and much more will round out the event.

Vendors for this year will have a variety of interesting merchandise, including sweetgrass baskets, original art, books, henna tattoos, and toys. And with an eye towards the African-American community, there will also be educational exhibits on sickle cell and blood pressure.

The festival starts at 11 a.m. and will continue until 5 p.m. Admission is FREE; refreshments will be for sale, and as with many local festivals, a folding chair is a great idea! Sorry, but pets are not permitted (with the exception of service animals). Mt. Pisgah AME Church is located at 217 West Bartlette Street; ample parking is available.  For more information, please call Ms. Natalie Williams at (803) 406-0832.

NOTE:  There will be additions made to this post uo to 12 p.m. on Friday, April 4.  Please check back for updates.

by Colette Daniels

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Keep #SumterGreen – Fundraising plant &

Keep #SumterGreen – Fundraising plant & flower sale from 8 am to 12 Noon today at #SwanLake (Gazebo side) #sumter

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It’s Time to Rise and Shine!

“I stuck my head out the window this morning and spring kissed me bang in the face.”
~Langston Hughes

La Primavera!
After one of the longest, strangest winters most of us can remember, it appears that spring is finally here. Although we are still in for a few SC-Active-Lifestyles-2014days of nippy (in the 50s) weather over the next couple of weeks, for the most part, things are looking in the 70s and glorious!

After a long, very cold, and very icy winter spent trapped indoors, the Sumter community is offering some great opportunities to get outside and enjoy the new season. Check it out: 

  • March 29, 2014: For seven years, Sumter County Keep America Beautiful has coordinated a cleanup at Manchester State Forest—and removed more than ten tons of litter in the process. Join squadrons from Shaw AFB, civic groups, and youth groups at 8 a.m. Gloves, water and trash bags will be provided, and Manchester State Forest personnel are serving up a celebratory picnic at the conclusion of the cleanup (approximately 12 noon). Please RSVP to let the staff know the size of your group so that adequate meal preparations can be made. They intend to have enough food for everyone! For more information, contact (phone 773-5561), or (phone 494-8196).sumter-green-truckload-sale
  • March 29, 2014: Sumter Green hosts its annual sale, featuring some of the best deals in town on spring flowers. This fundraising event will offer an array that includes geraniums, calla lilies, hanging baskets, hydrangeas, knock out roses, 4” blooming pots, gerber daisies and more! Come early for the best selection! 8 a.m. until noon; Swan Lake Iris Gardens (north [gazebo] side, corner of West Liberty and Bland Streets). For more info on this or other upcoming events, please call the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640. 
  • April 7, 2014: Join USC Sumter’s Naturalist, Austin Jenkins, for a saunter atusc-nature-walks Swan Lake Iris Gardens, as you welcome back the wonders of nature from a long winter’s rest. You’ll hear about plants, animals, and their exciting interactions as you stroll through the grounds. Bring binoculars and a strong dose of curiosity. If you miss this one, another walk will be held on April 14, from 8:30-9:30 a.m. And it’s FREE! Call (803) 938-3848 for more information.

If weekend mornings are not the best time for you, Sumter’s still got you covered. Sumter County Active Lifestyles invites community members to join in “Walks ’n Talks and More.” This series includes Saturday walks, with info on a variety of interesting topics as part of the agenda.  Walks are free for SCAL members, and $1 each for adult non-members. Call (803) 774-3860.

Let’s celebrate the arrival of the March lamb (because this month certainly came in like a lion), and join in one—or more—of these worthwhile activities. It’s time!

by Colette Daniels

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Sumter Iris Festival Celebrating 74 Years

Put on your dancing shoes, bring your appetite and prepare to experience one of the most exciting Sumter Iris Festivals held to date!  The festival, held every Memorial Day weekend and now in its 74th year of celebration, will highlight new talents, activities, music, crafters, artists, classic cars and more over the weekend of May 23-25, 2014.

The 2014 festival, sponsored by Continental, Duke Energy Progress, First Citizens2014-Sponsors Bank, SAFE Federal Credit Union, Walmart, the City of Sumter and Sumter County, is South Carolina’s oldest continuous festival and was named by the Southeastern Tourism Society as one of the Top 20 Festivals in the Southeast last year.

The three-day festival includes concerts, an arts and crafts show, fine arts, plants for sale (including our famous Japanese irises), a flower show, two car shows, and a number of contests and free children’s activities.

The fun begins the Thursday evening before the festival, with the annual crowning of the King and Queen, followed by the Taste at the Gardens.  The Taste features great music and food from some of the area’s leading restaurants, caterers and talented cooks.  Look for some delightful changes to the Taste—the committee is in the planning stages now, but word is that some special cuisine will be served in honor of the festival’s special guests this year.  4-Way Stop will be the entertainment at 4-Way-Stopthe May 22nd event.  They are a four-piece local band from Sumter, playing oldies from the late 60’s and early 70’s along with other “good time” music.

One of two headlining special guests for the 2014 festival is renowned topiarist Pearl Fryar, an award-winning, self-taught artist who has, since 1980, turned his Bishopville, SC home into a nationally recognized topiary garden.  Fryar believes that gardening and love should go hand in hand and that a garden should be pleasing to the eye, as well as touch the soul and spread the message of love and peace.  His 400 topiary and metal sculptures have been featured in numerous national gardening magazines, television news programs across the country, and even a documentary.  A Man Called Pearl chronicles his journey and has been shown on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel.

Fryar will be sculpting shrubs on May 24th on the Bland Garden side of Swan Lake Iris Gardens in the Gateway to Gardening area of the festival, next to the gazebo, throughout the day.  His creations will be auctioned off to bidders on Sunday, May 25th, to help raise money for future festival activities.

Festival newcomers East Coast Scooters will host a golf cart contest at the 2014 festival, on the lawn between the Swan Lake Visitors Center and the Iris Market.  This contest is open to anyone with a custom designed or special interest golf cart and prizes will be given out to those with the most unique, best of show and people’s choice.  Pre-registration is required in order to participate.

Iris-Festival-2014-02Also new this year is The Art of Welding from Central Carolina Technical College.  Metal art sculptures, made by area students, will be on display and over the weekend will go up for auction during the festival.  Sculptures available will range from a life-size alligator, heron, and catfish, to various smaller pieces.  Auction proceeds will go to the CCTC Scholarship Fund, specifically for welding students.  The sculptures and auction will be located directly in front of the Swan Lake Visitors Center during the festival.

A last-minute addition in 2013, Iris Festival Education Day will return in 2014 with a bigger and better program.  This is a special day set aside for area schools to visit and participate in activities during the festival, and is set for Friday, May 23rd from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The theme for Education Day this year is “Wild About Education.”  Activities include a wild animal presentation, scavenger hunt, arts & crafts, boat rides, animal safety and more.  Schools are required to pre-register.  Teachers and /or chaperones need to make all arrangements with the Swan Lake Visitors Center at (803) 436-2640 prior to May 9th if you plan to participate.

Stay tuned for our article in the next issue of Sumter Living magazine, in which we discuss the exciting live appearance by Troy Landry from the Swamp People”® television series at 2014’s 74th annual Sumter Iris Festival.

A printable event brochure is available online here.  You can also keep up with plans as they develop at the Iris Festival Facebook page.  For more information, visit or call (803) 436-2640.

by Shelley Kile

Posted in Sumter SC Tourism, Sumter, South Carolina, Visit Sumter SC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keep Bringing It! The Sumter Opera House Presents…

Got a few moments?  Take a seat by the campfire and let this old storyteller regale you with yet another one.

Way back in the year 2000, when the Downtown Promotions Committee began working in earnest on ways to get more people back into the heart of our city
, entertainment was high on the list.  The successful decade-long run of header_downtownSumter@Six showed that it was possible, along with other special events including Halloween on Main, Sumter-Shaw Streetfest, and the current entertainment series, “Downtown Friday Nights”.  All have brought thousands of people onto Main Street.  But getting people into the Opera House remained an elusive goal.  There were a few triumphs—every now and again we would celebrate a packed house following a show by The Lettermen, Beatles tribute band The Return, or Bill Oberst, Jr.’s celebration of the life and work of Lewis Grizzard.  But for the most part, despite some high-quality performances over the years, audiences stayed away in…not droves, perhaps, but pretty significant numbers.

The City’s Department of Growth & Development 
and the present Downtown Promotions Committee made a vow to change that, and wow, have they ever!  With 2014 not even three months old, sizeable audiences have already enjoyed comedian James Gregory and the famous Bellamy Brothers.

In between starring acts, Downtown Sumter has continued to support future stars, as well (for example:  long before he became a force on the Nashville scene, singer-songwriter Lee Brice was featured on our downtown stage!).  The traditiontiffany-johnson continues with Tiffany Johnson & Soul Confidante
, appearing on Saturday, March 8 as part of the new “Sumter Opera House Presents” series.  Not only does Ms. Johnson have an inspiring personal journey to share (check out her website at, where you can also hear clips from her new CD, Five Minutes More), she’s a powerhouse singer who has toured with various bands since she was eight years old and is busily carving out a career in country music, most notably as a singer with former Dave & Sugar member Etta Britt.  Tickets are $15 and $20, and available here.  The show begins at 7 p.m. with a performance by special guest Sarah Hunter.

Ms. Johnson’s star is definitely on the rise, so check her out now in the historic Opera House’s beautiful and intimate Art Deco setting, with great sound and not a bad seat in the house.

And then, little more than a week later, we’ll welcome a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee to town.

Legendary singer-songwriter Leon Russell 
will perform at the Sumter Opera House on March 19, 2013.  To quote the Opera House website, “one of the most leon-russell-01accomplished and versatile musicians in the history of rock ’n roll, Leon Russell, will bring his distinctive voice to [this] historic setting.”

As a die-hard rock-and-roller, I’ve been vaguely aware of Mr. Russell for most of my life and knew that one of his most important contributions was to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen. I even knew that he looked kind of like a cross between one of the Allman Brothers and the lost member of ZZ Top, only cuter.  But I was hard pushed to name one of his songs and thought, “this is so wrong.  The guy is in the Hall of Fame!”  So I did a little research and found out that Leon Russell’s oeuvre isn’t just impressive; it’s completely astounding.  He’s one of those guys of whom you say, “Heard of him, don’t know much about him,” and then you hear a song—and another, and another—and say, “I’ve always known this!  I just didn’t know it was him!”

Leon Russell began his career in Tulsa, Oklahoma in a band called the Starlighters, which also produced the renowned J.J. Cale and Taj Mahal drummer Chuck Blackwell.  He went on to become wildly successful as a session musician, playing with acts as diverse as Bing Crosby, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan—and Gary Lewis & the Playboys, whose 1965 Number One hit “This Diamond Ring” 
featured his distinctive keyboard riff.

But he has done so much more than playing on other people’s records.  As a Mayer-Russell-2011songwriter, his influence and contributions are extraordinary, and his own recording of “A Song for You” stands as a masterpiece that has since been covered by more than 40 other artists, including Willie Nelson, the late Amy Winehouse, and Christina Aguilera.  (By the way, Russell’s performance of the song at the 2011 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, accompanied by John Mayer, is so deeply felt that it’s almost heartbreaking—definitely worth searching out online.)

Other well-known Leon Russell songs include “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue.”  His soulful keyboard style, along with a gritty and yet gentle voice, are unforgettable once you’ve heard them, and you most likely have heard them.

The Sumter Opera House is delighted to welcome legendary singer-songwriter Leon Russell on Wednesday, March 19, 2013.  The show begins at 7 p.m., with advance tickets available here
for $30 and $35.  The Opera House is located at 21 N. Main Street in Sumter.  For more info, please call (803) 436-2616.  Don’t miss this chance to see a living legend in performance—and the continuing renaissance of Sumter’s downtown.

In the film Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones uttered the immortal line, “If you build it, they will come.”  Downtown Sumter is still under construction, but it’s certainly well on the way—so, come on!

by Colette Daniels

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“Through Their Eyes”

 “It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let us pause for a moment to remember John McCosh.  Although largely forgotten except by historians, he created a profession that to some, may seem like more of a calling than merely a job.  McCosh documented the Second Sikh War, fought in 1848-49 between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company, thereby becoming the world’s first known combat photographer.

Since then, photographers such as Mathew Brady (whose images of the Civil War remain as haunting today as they were 150 years ago), and some of our most Iwo-Jima-2renowned photographic artists and photojournalists spent at least part of their careers on the fields of conflict. These illustrious names include Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Eddie Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, and Tim Hetherington.  Some of the images they have produced have remained iconic for decades.  Who can forget Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer-prize-winning image of United States Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima—the most-reproduced image in the history of photography?  Or the Air Force photo of the mushroom cloud rising over Nagasaki?  Tiananmen Square?  The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad?  And perhaps the most celebrated of all, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s capturing of a passionate kiss between a soldier and a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day?

The tradition of visually documenting the triumphs and tragedies of our military remains vital, as evidenced by “Through Their Eyes—Team SHAW,” a special photographic exhibition opening on February 28, 2014 at Patriot Hall’s Gallery 135.  Hosted by the Sumter County Cultural Commission and sponsored by SAFE Federal Credit Union, the display “[explores the] experiences and examines the interrelationship between war and photography, revealing how war is recorded andCohen-Young remembered.”  From training to remembrance, the Public Affairs/Visual Information Office on base is there to record history as it happens.  Bringing these encounters even closer to home, the photographers and videographers represented are all stationed at Shaw, or are residents of the Sumter area.

This special event is part of the Cultural Commission’s ongoing mission to “continually strive to engage community members of all ages in the creation, contemplation, and appreciation of the visual arts.”  The opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m., and features a presentation and artist’s panel with Shaw officials and local dignitaries, to be held in Patriot Hall.  Musical entertainment for the reception will be provided by Robert Gibbs.  Admission is free and open to the public, and the exhibition remains in place until April 4th.

Gallery 135
is located at Patriot Hall, 135 Haynworth Street.  Regular hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  For more information, please call Patriot Hall at (803) 436-2260.

Don’t miss this chance to observe, up close and personal, the impact and significant historical role of our men and women in uniform—and their cameras, as they record the events that continue to shape the world’s future.

by Colette Daniels

Posted in Sumter SC Tourism, Sumter, South Carolina, Visit Sumter SC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let Your Fun Flow

Wow…2014 has certainly gotten off to a busy start, and here we are, already at the end of January—have I mentioned before that I don’t know where the time goes?

Much of our staff time since the holidays has been spent busily negotiating contracts and working on advertising for the Sumter Iris Festival in May.  It’s been a lot of work and had to be completed quickly, but just wait until you find out what we’ve got in store for this year!

But in the meantime, we haven’t seen the last of the cold.  I can’t quite believe how long the snow lingered on the ground in some places; those of you who have been in Sumter for a while know that a night’s snowfall is usually gone by lunchtime the next day.  Either way, it’s a good time to look for things to do indoors.

Just in case you haven’t heard, the beginning of the new year is absolutely kickin’ at James-Gregorythe Sumter Opera House!  On February 14, downtown’s crown jewel is proud to welcome comedian James Gregory, “The Funniest Man in America.”   According to his website (check out his video clips!), “James creates an evening of non-stop laughter with a wry sense of the absurd, a Southern accent and universal story-telling. The ridiculous, the common and sometimes even the simplest events all become hilarious in the hands of this master storyteller and world-class comedian.” It’s been several years since he’s performed in Sumter, and tickets are sure to go fast.  They can be purchased at the Sumter Opera House (21 North Main Street) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or online here.  Prices start at $23, and the fun begins at 8 p.m.

The very next evening, February 15, brings more fun and the timeless music of the bellamy-brosBellamy Brothers, appearing with special guests Road Tripp.  Best known for their Number One hit “Let Your Love Flow,” David and Howard Bellamy have continued to record and perform for decades, scoring several other major hits such as “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body.”  (By the way, I remember that the saying in its entirety was found on T-shirts and bumper stickers galore, and was much used as a truly bad pickup line—but did you know that it actually originated with comedic genius Groucho Marx?)  They have expanded their repertoire to include gospel music as well.  But they haven’t lost their sense of humor or their trademark “bite,” as witnessed by the banned 2010 single “Jalapenos”—and who knew that anything could get banned these days?   The show starts at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 and available at the Opera House—call (803) 436-2616 for more info.

Sumter has more great things in store, and if this is sampling is any indication, 2014 is going to be a blast!

If you’re still working on your list of New Year’s resolutions, here’s one that you’ll find easy to keep—head on over to and sign up for our weekly e-mail newsletter.  And make 2014 a great one!

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