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Despite rain, thousands celebrate community at Suwanee Day

McKenzie Edmisten, front, and Cami Servantius walk through the vendors at Town Center Park on Saturday at the 30th annual Suwanee Day festival. They said the rain wasn’t enough to keep them away from the festival. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

McKenzie Edmisten, front, and Cami Servantius walk through the vendors at Town Center Park on Saturday at the 30th annual Suwanee Day festival. They said the rain wasn’t enough to keep them away from the festival. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Megan Fitzgerald of Dunwoody climbed a rope fence on Saturday at the 30th annual Suwanee Day festival. Her father, Patrick, said Megan performed in the morning parade, and the family stuck around for a little while to check out the vendors at the festival. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Members of the Jahara Phoenix Dance Company performed in front of attendees holding umbrellas on Saturday the 30th annual Suwanee Day festival. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

SUWANEE — Suwanee natives Dawn Hooper and Dusty Edmisten grew up going to the Suwanee Day festival when it was in Old Town. So it was only fitting for them to bring their children on Saturday, even while holding umbrellas and dodging puddles.

“We’re still playing in the rain,” Hooper said. “Rain or shine, there’s still people here. Suwanee sticks together, and we came to support our hometown.”

Rain that began in the early afternoon hours, and became heavier as the day went on, didn’t put a damper on the festivities as a steady stream of umbrella-holding festival-goers patronized the 200 vendors and watched the on-stage performances. It was the first time since 2009 that rain fell on Suwanee Day, the 30th annual festival that’s planned year round, and which city officials call the best one-day festival around. More than 100 of the vendors offered a variety of fine art, arts and crafts and jewelry.

“The word among vendors is we have a great show, so they still supported us,” Suwanee Events Coordinator Amy Doherty said. “Vendors that are here still compliment us on volunteers and all-around support.”

The morning parade theme was “30 Years of Celebrating Suwanee: Remembering the Past, Celebrating the Present, Looking to the Future.”

The grand marshal was Collins Hill High School graduate Kyle Maynard, a speaker, author, and award-winning mixed martial arts athlete. In January, 2012, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the use of prosthetics.

The 13-hour event was selected this year as a top 20 event by the Southeastern Tourism Society. The city also promoted its new logo, mobile app and mobile web site by handing out free reusable bags and lanyards.

One thing that remains constant is the festival has been the third Saturday in September since 1990. It previously was held in May, but several rainy years and warmer weather caused organizers to move the date.

Along with the growth of the city, festival organizers have said its residents are increasingly more diverse. Over the years, the festival has had performers that ranged from belly dancers, to a Mexican dancing group, to a group from the Andes that played wind pipes. Saturday’s performers included The Drake School of Irish Dance, Southeastern Snake Encounter and the Stone Mountain Barbershop Chorus.

The festival began in 1984 as a way for city residents to show off the growing town to new neighbors. In 1995, the festival moved from Buford Highway to Old Town, but has been at Town Center since 2004.

Through the years, the parade route has grown, and a tunnel below the railroad makes it easier to move about without crossing the railroad. Saturday’s parade route was different than previous years. This time, it started at Stonecypher Road, went up Main Street, then east on Suwanee Dam, and down Buford Highway, in front of Town Center Park, and ended at Chicago Avenue.

Over the 30 years, the festival, which began before the city’s first traffic light, has endured a two-hour delay because of Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and came four days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That year also recorded the largest turnout to date: 10,000 people.

The self-sustaining event costs about $75,000 to put on, and is supported in part by dozens of sponsors.

“People who came were ready to celebrate the community,” Doherty said. “They’ve got rain jackets and umbrellas, and they’re still here.”