The 72nd Annual Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival took place this past weekend, and the exclusive broadcast partner was the news and weather team from WKRG News 5. On Friday, I was invited to tag along to watch a full day of festival reporting. By all measures, it was a fun-filled experience!

With reports and live cut-ins throughout the day, Friday’s team included Anchor, Devon Walsh, Baldwin County Reporter, Debbie Williams, and Meteorologist, Grant Skinner. Behind the cameras were Producer, Michael Snowden, Chief Photographer, Jason Garcia, and Marketing Director, Jay Chalmers. This close-knit group makes what you see on television seem flawless. 

The team sequestered in the perfect spot, The Balcony, the upstairs event space above Another Broken Egg. Situated at the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Church Street, with a wrap-around outdoor balcony with terrific views of the Festival, the space was used to plan and execute the day’s activities.

Beginning at 9 AM, Noon, 4 PM, and 5 PM, it was impressive to watch the WKRG team work quickly and spontaneously to get the segments for each broadcast interval ready. Devon opened the Festival at 10 AM by welcoming the crowd gathered at the corner of Magnolia and Section Streets. The Fairhope Volunteer Fire Department handed out water from its bright red aerial ladder truck which proudly displayed the American flag at the top of its boom.

Devon did a fantastic job of taking spontaneous notes from the folks whom she was preparing to introduce. She was never nervous or at a loss for words. She began by recognizing this year’s Festival Chairman, Marissa Thetford, and Fairhope Arts and Crafts Foundation President, Laura English. Lindsey Lawrance was this year’s Co-Chairman and will serve as next year’s Chairman for the 73rd Festival.

Jay Chalmers who is in the know, and Mike Snowden helped plan the event broadcast coverage well in advance. As we were talking to Lindsey, Jay told me that WKRG always looks for public speaking opportunities. “Not only is our on-air talent good at it, it’s good visibility for the station, and our people love being involved in the community.”

The Festival itself is an all-volunteer event, and throughout the day I ran into friends who were helping out, like my neighbor, Shelly West, who was manning the Information Booth at the center of Section Street and Fairhope Avenue. Later, I ran into Johnny Prewitt who was in charge of coordinating bicycle transportation. 

After 72 years, the Festival’s organizers have it down to a science... Shuttle service picks up attendees from Greeno Road Shopping centers and brings them to Coastal Alabama Community College at Bancroft Street and Johnson Avenue, named after Marietta Johnson, who founded the Organic School in Fairhope. The first school building is located close to the Festival’s dropoff point.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, I learned that this year’s Festival had 230 booths with 200 artists from 30 states and two artists from Canada.  The artists presented were amazing and were curated from over 400 applicants. The non-profit Fairhope Arts & Crafts Foundation gives over $200,000 in grants to the community, especially to children’s programs. Not all are art-driven organizations, but many help foster the arts for future generations. 

Devon, who has been covering this event for WKRG since 2021, introduced the outgoing Dogwood Trail members, who graced us with a final official curtsy. Next year’s incoming Dogwood Trail members were introduced by WKRG Anchor, Rose Ann Haven, on Saturday morning.

As Devon finished introducing the City Council members present, Mayor Sherry Sullivan welcomed everyone and expressed how grateful the City of Fairhope feels to host this magnificent event each year. She offered special thanks to the City’s employees and municipal workers for all they do to prepare for the estimated 300,000 visitors. 

Jay and I noticed that they had even pulled all the parking bumpers up so that it was easier for the crowd to move around unobstructed. Once the opening ceremony ended, Devon, Mike, and Jay began to explore the artists’ booths looking for the one who would be awarded WKRG’s Blue Ribbon for this year’s “Favorite Artist” Award. 

Each year, WKRG surprises the chosen winner with a presentation and interview for the 5:00 PM news segment. After much deliberation which Devon took very seriously, we learned that because of weather concerns, the Festival was closing early. As most artists were securing their booths, the Blue Ribbon presentation was made to Annette Poitau.

Annette is from France but now lives in Oberlin, Ohio. This was her first time participating in the Festival, and fittingly, her booth was at the entrance to Fairhope’s French Quarter on Del La Mar Street. She was certainly surprised to receive the Blue Ribbon award and did a quick interview with Devon with Josh behind the camera filming. Again, Devon is such a professional while conducting the impromptu interview and puts Annette immediately at ease.

Earlier in the day, as we all were wandering around engaging with artists, Jay told me about WKRG’s Weather Beast, which was parked in front of the entrance to Greer’s Market. “The Weather Beast was three years in the making,” he tells me. “We were throwing around about 50 names and kept calling it the beast while deciding what to name it. I said, why not call it the ‘Weather Beast’, and it stuck.”

The Weather Beast is a 2021 Tahoe SUV equipped with the latest remote broadcast technology It has everything a meteorologist needs to forecast the weather, with mounted cameras, computer screens, and a large television screen that pops out from the rear. 

Gone are the days when you had to have a long boom on top of the vehicle. Small instruments, including radar, are mounted on top. The wrap was designed by the creative team at WKRG and resembles an old WWII fighter plane with teeth bearing at the front. 

It’s a very cool mobile broadcast vehicle. As it turned out, the weather played a big part in this year’s Festival. It was announced on Saturday that Sunday’s event was canceled due to storms in the forecast. They were right!

As the team broadcasts throughout the day with live “cut-ins,” we found ourselves back at The Balcony shooting short segments about what was happening at the Festival. One is an onsite interview with an artist at his booth. Another is with a Nature Photographer who has captured beautiful photos. Devon, Mike, and Jay introduced themselves to her and asked if she could come to The Balcony with a piece that had caught everyone’s eye.

Her name is Neshama Roash, and she is from St. Louis, Missouri. This was also her first time participating in the Fairhope Arts & Crafts Festival. She agreed to do the interview, while her mother watched her booth, Number 3330, which was also close to the French Quarter. This was turning out to be a good location for artists. “Panini” Pete Blohme sees the camera, Devon, and the crew, and pops out to say hello.

Neshama proved to be a natural on camera. The stunning photo was taken at sunset on Perdido Key. She discussed her experience at the Festival with Devon and told us that she loves the South and Fairhope. We asked if she made it to the Flora-Bama while she was there. “No,” she said, “but I definitely will next time!”

As our day wrapped up, as they say in television land, Jay told me a new WKRG crew would work Saturday’s Festival. Rose Ann Haven will be the anchor on board. The WKRG tent is set up at the corner of Magnolia and Section. 

That’s where the WKRG team will visit with attendees, do more live interviews with artists, and hand out the swag that Jay has ordered. “Things like koozies, sunglasses, and cinch backpacks. Anything that people like, will use, and won’t throw away. Everything has our logo and it’s a good way to keep in touch with our viewers.” 

All in all, it was a great day. The weather cooperated for the most part on Friday, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was fun for me to get a first-hand behind-the-scenes look at all the work WKRG does to pull together its programming. What stood out was the commitment and effort to support the community. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated broadcast presence with such strong talent throughout the Scenic 98 Coastal area.

Because this year’s Festival was shortened by a day, Saturday’s hours were extended to give everyone more time to attend, and artists had additional hours to sell their art before breaking down and heading home. I understand Saturday’s crowd was packed, so despite the weather issues, it was another successful event. I am hopeful to have more opportunities to bring our subscribers Behind the Scenes with WKRG soon. Thanks so much!

Mar 20, 2024
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