Low attendance plagues Decatur’s Spirit of America Festival

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DECATUR, Ala. — The 50th annual Spirit of America festival in the River City has come to a close, and organizers noticed the numbers were lower than anticipated.

Steve Garner, chairman of the festival board, says this was the first time they extended the festival to four nights.

"We had hoped the variety on Saturday night and Sunday night would bring out more people than it did, but it is what it is," he explained.

He added the board is considering shortening the festival back to two days and one night. Considering the extreme heat that plagued this year's festival, he mentioned the possibility of cutting activities during the midday and afternoon hours.

Monday night saw the biggest crowd of people, who congregated to enjoy fireworks, and the board took notice.

"We would probably have some type of fireworks show every night," said Garner.

People who attended the festival wanted to know why they couldn't bring their own coolers; Garner said the answer is simple: keeping the vendors happy, and busy.

"About 20-25% of the festival's revenue are from vendors and if everyone brings their own drinks, we cant survive," explained Garner, emphasizing that, in certain places, they cannot cut corners and keep the festival free.

Garner also noticed people misunderstanding the disappearance of the Spirit of America pageant that ended in 2013. He says it's put on by a private group that chose to end it, but that the board is open to seeing its return.

"We are two separate entities," he said of the pageant organizers. "But we're trying to find someone who can take that over and perhaps bring it back."

Thousands used to turn out for Decatur's Spirit of America Festival, and then-President Ronald Reagan spoke there in 1984.

The festival began in 1967 to show support for troops fighting in the Vietnam War.

Garner explains funding is always a struggle for the free event, especially with competition from other area festivals. But he adds they anticipate a much larger budget next year.