FOLLY BEACH — The organizers of the Folly Gras Festival — a Mardi Gras-themed block party — announced Monday they have decided to cancel the annual event after "unfortunate incidents."
At the 11th annual festival Saturday, the Folly Beach Public Safety Department cited 138 calls for service, 27 arrests, 34 citations and more than a hundred parking tickets, according to initial statistics.
"What I saw out there was a lot of intoxicated folks and a large crowd, and we did our best to contain the situation and took a lot of people to jail," Public Safety Chief Andrew Gilreath said. "We were busy the whole time."
Gilreath said he has covered seven of the 11 Folly Gras events in the past and that both this year and 2017 were "exceptionally busy" for the department. He added that Folly Gras has historically been one of the busiest events of the year compared with other Folly Beach street festivals such as the Sea & Sand Festival and Follypalooza.
According to the Folly Association of Business, which hosts the event, there were a record 11,000 attendees at this year's Folly Gras. Despite hiring 71 security officers in addition to Public Safety, there were still an overwhelming number of isolated incidents, they said.
"Folly Gras, really for years now, has outgrown Folly Beach," Mayor Tim Goodwin said.
He added that safety measures such as barricading and ticketing the event, as well as hiring extra security and banning outside alcohol, skateboards, bicycles and dogs, could not control the masses of people who have consistently showed up for the last couple of years.
"Who knew people were going to come out on a dreary February day and max out Center Street?" said Folly Association of Business President Steve Carroll.
In addition to record crowds, several party buses pulled into the Folly boat launch. Security also refused entry to dozens of people who appeared intoxicated upon their arrival to the event. Gilreath said that most of the arrests that took place were related to alcohol and the drunken behavior that tends to follow.
“We want to thank all of the people who came out to Folly Gras to have fun and we apologize for those few people who don’t respect our community and have to ruin everyone else’s good time,” Carroll said. “Honestly, we feel that Folly Gras has essentially outgrown its venue; the venue being our quaint little beach town. At this point, it is not what we need for the city, the businesses or the community so we’re going to put it to rest.”
Carroll also said that this event in particular has seemingly attracted some "unsavory people" whose actions do not align with the association's mission to provide wholesome and enjoyable events to the community.
"The events we host are vital for our business community and allow us to do some great things like funding expensive fireworks shows that benefit the Charleston area as a whole," Carroll said. "We need the events but we’re determined to find a better way to celebrate Folly Beach than what Folly Gras has become.”
Folly Beach has long been known as a funky retreat away from the Holy City peninsula where surfers congregate, sunbathers lounge and locals and visitors alike gather for recreation. It's also been known in the past as a place to party. Yet, in recent years, Folly Beach has adopted a more family-friendly focus.
In 2012, the City Council passed an emergency alcohol ban ordinance after busloads of college kids arrived on the beach to celebrate the Fourth of July and incited a riot in which law enforcement officers were injured. A total of 16 tickets were issued that day.
"There are residents who don't want drinking on the streets at all," Goodwin said. "That's up to City Council."
Goodwin said that Folly Beach will continue to host its annual family-friendly events that have less of a focus on partying. Several of those still offer and allow alcohol sales and consumption on the street.
There are no plans to replace this event with anything comparable.