Pretty much every prominent event has canceled plans, adjusted plans, and then canceled them again during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. So St. Pat’s in Five Points can find some solace in the fact that they are not alone.
After telling Free Times in January about plans to do something in place of its annual block party and music festival — perhaps a streaming concert with limited in-person attendance, probably a virtual version of the traditional running race — Steve Cook, president of the Five Points Association, said this week that the group will host no St. Pat’s events this year.
This is the second year in a row that Columbia's largest annual festival has been forced to cancel.
“Obviously, we are taking a big financial hit by not (getting) to have the festival for a second year in a row,” Cook said. “In order to do this, we would have absolutely had to not come out of pocket. We needed to make it at least revenue neutral and just couldn’t figure out a way to put it together. So I guess looking forward to 2022 at this point, and hoping things are going to be different then.”
It’s a considerable blow for the merchants association in Columbia’s iconic University of South Carolina-adjacent village neighborhood, which depends on revenue from its St. Pat’s festival for the bulk of its operating budget. The event regularly attracts crowds exceeding 30,000.
Large gatherings are allowed in South Carolina under the governor's COVID-19 emergency order, but event organizers must get state approval by submitting plans for promoting social distancing and public safety.
"In the interest of our local public health, I believe the Five Points Association made a good decision," said Columbia City Councilman Will Brennan, whose district includes Five Points. "The city is committed to working with the merchants for successful future St Pat's festivals."
Last year, the festival was set to take place just as COVID-19 began to shut down Columbia. The association was forced to pull the plug just 10 days before the event, set to be headlined by Mount Pleasant indie rock favorite Band of Horses.
Always filling much of its lineup with local talent, St. Pat's is a coveted gig among area musicians, an opportunity to play before a large crowd that is amped on beer and the big touring bands to come later in the day. Those larger acts have included Dashboard Confessional, SUSTO, Superchunk, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones in recent years.
Like many other groups, the Five Points Association also faced a drastic cut to its funding from of the City of Columbia's hospitality tax, Cook explained, referring to the money that supports a variety of arts and events-focused organizations.
“Nobody ever expected to have not only no festival, but then also have your hospitality dollars that have been consistent for years and years cut as well," he said. "We’re feeling it from all sides right now. It’s hard to say, ‘Woe is me,’ too much, with everybody feeling the pain.”
Cook also said that the neighborhood’s reputation for irresponsible behavior, regardless of how deserved it is, was a factor in the decision to sit out 2021.
“We want to be responsible parts of the community, and Five Points gets a bad rap — all you have to do is flip on Facebook or whatever, and people like to shoot a lot of arrows at us,” he posited. “It’s certainly something that was not a small part of our consideration. We don’t really want to push the envelope here.”
Trae Judy, owner of Five Points live music club The White Mule, booked the lineup for the aborted 2020 event. He doesn’t feel that St. Pat’s getting canceled for a second year in a row puts the event or Columbia’s overall entertainment landscape at any more of a disadvantage than any other festival or any other city. The pandemic is the pandemic everywhere, he reasoned.
“Every single festival in America is shut down,” Judy offered. “If we were the only event shut down, obviously there would be a lot more reasoning and etc. Everyone is at the same playing field. So we didn’t go up or go down. It just is what it is.”