OKEECHOBEE – The 2021 Florida Festival Season left communities and festival organizers struggling with the pros and cons of holding, modifying or canceling their annual events.
While the state relaxed the rules on public gatherings, it was up to each community and sponsoring organization to decide how to handle this year’s celebrations.
Some events – like the Clewiston Sugar Festival and the Afro Arts Festival – were canceled for 2021.
The Sugar Festival usually draws thousands of spectators who enjoy free concerts by up-and-coming artists. Some of those who performed at the festival have gone on to become some of country music’s biggest names. This year, the Sugar Festival Committee decided such a large gathering simply wasn’t safe. In a Jan. 19 announcement, the Clewiston Sugar Festival Executive Committee explained they had “examined all potential options regarding the safety and well-being of our community, our vendors and our guests as it relates to Sugar Festival 2021. With COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise throughout our area as well as the South Florida region, we have decided not to move forward with our 2021 event.”
The Glades Festival of Afro Arts is sponsored annually on the third Saturday in March by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and the City of Belle Glade. This year the national leadership decided the sorority would only sponsor virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the Okeechobee Music Festival – which draws more than 30,000 fans – was held as planned on the first weekend in March. Organizers have not yet released any information on when the event might return.
With more than 8 million Floridians vaccinated with at least one dose of vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, and more than 5 million completing the series of vaccine, many people feel more comfortable about attending public events.
Health officials continue to advise the importance of continuing to practice the precautions of staying home if you are sick, wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing.
Event organizers have encouraged the public to observe health precautions and provided more hand washing or hand sanitizer stations at events. But wearing a mask or distancing is left to individual choice.
Moore Haven’s annual festival, Chalo Nitka, held the first Saturday in March, went on as planned. Officials noted lower attendance at the 2021 Chalo Nitka but deemed it a successful event.
In Okeechobee, community leaders decided to go ahead with the 2021 Okeechobee County Fair, Speckled Perch Festival and Cowtown Rodeo. While some in attendance wore masks and observed 6 feet of social distance from those not in their household, many did not.
Some festivals, like the Black Gold Jubilee in Belle Glade went on in a limited fashion.
The Black Gold Jubilee canceled the 5K walk/run and 10K run, the parade, the corn and sweets cookoff and the Harvest Queen pageant. The 2021 festival included a kids’ fishing tournament, golf tournament, volleyball tournament, outdoor festival and open air concerts.