With 2023 festival looming, Irmo Okra Strut considers big changes for 50th anniversary

Posted 9/27/23

Irmo’s Okra Strut Festival, the town’s signature annual event, is back again this year to celebrate its 49th anniversary. 

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With 2023 festival looming, Irmo Okra Strut considers big changes for 50th anniversary


Irmo’s Okra Strut Festival, the town’s signature annual event, is back again this year to celebrate its 49th anniversary. 

Friday, Sept. 29 will feature an opening-night concert along with the opening of the event’s amusement rides, while Saturday brings the annual parade, along with more music, comedy performances and craft stations and amusement rides. The festival will also host about 130 food and craft vendors.

But as festival goers prepare for the weekend, the event’s planning commission has already started discussions about how to mark half a century of Struts next year. 

Mike Ward, chair of the Okra Strut Planning Commission, proposed a few new ideas that would make next year's festival one to remember at a regularly scheduled Irmo Town Council workshop on Sept. 5.

Ward asked for opinions and advice from the town council regarding the possibility of moving the festival out of Irmo Community Park, where it’s been held for about nine years. 

The commission discussed moving the festival to Irmo High School’s practice fields to make room for a much larger celebration but they expect this plan to be impossible.

“The reality is that with the current set of policies that the school board uses, they won't reserve any of their spaces more than six months before the event,” Ward told the Chronicle. “This is such a large event that we have to have our venue booked at least a year in advance.”

No other locations have been discussed as of right now, Ward told the Chronicle.

While the chance of the festival being held on the Lexington-Richland School District 5 property is slim, Ward touched on the district's policy of alcohol sales on site.

“One of the school district policies is that they will not allow you to serve alcohol on the school grounds, and we can respect that,” Ward said. “For the 50th anniversary, if we had to say that the event was alcohol-free, I fully believe we would still have a really great turnout because alcohol has never been pushed to be a major factor at the Strut.”

Only 3% of last year’s revenue was made from alcohol sales, the chair explained.

Ward’s only worry about not serving alcohol is the event's deal with alcohol distributor KW Beverages, a long-time Okra festival sponsor. 

“Financially, losing KW would be a situation that hurts,” he said. “But we have a really great relationship with the team over at KW Beverage; anytime they've had an issue, we've been understanding and anytime we've had an issue, they're understanding. And so I think that through a conversation and some communication, they would be understanding of us not serving alcohol.”

KW Beverage is a platinum-tier sponsor, making the company one of the biggest contributors the festival. 

Another change the commission has considered is condensing the Strut from one and a half days to just one Saturday. If the commission were to cut the festival down, it would be able to allocate more funds to Saturday, making a bigger-name artist much more feasible.

This year’s lineup leans on a popular ’90s rock band that keeps on playing. The Spin Doctors, known for hits such as “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” take the top spot at the amphitheater Saturday, with popular Columbia jazz/rock outfit The Reggie Sullivan Band providing support..

Friday night, stalwart Columbia smooth jazz/R&B guitarist Terence Young takes headlining duties, while North Carolina alt-rock crew The L.A. Maybe lends support.

The potential 50th anniversary changes to the festival would be for one year to honor what the festival has accomplished.

“The Okra Strut has touched so many lives and so many people have helped it grow over the years,” Ward said. “We want to make it big. I mean, 50 years is awesome … when somebody turns 50 years old, we throw a big party and when the okra strut turns 50, why not throw a big ole party?”

Ward invites Irmo residents to attend planning commission meetings to offer ideas and opinions on the changes that could be made.

“We're really just kind of in the ideas phase,” Ward said. “We do have a public monthly meeting where people can come talk and share ideas with us.”

The next Okra Strut planning meeting will be held on Oct. 10 in Irmo Town Hall, following up on this year's festival and featuring a brainstorming session for next year’s festival.

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