SUMTER, S.C. — After a two-year pandemic pause, the Sumter Iris Festival returned Thursday.
Celebrating its 80th year, the festival, which attracts tens of thousands to the Gamecock City, opened with a 'Taste at the Gardens,' connecting patrons with food vendors and entertainment.
"We cut the ribbon. We opened the 80th Iris Festival in Sumter, South Carolina. Just a fun night," Mayor David Merchant said. "We crowned our new king and queen of the Iris Festival.... We've got vendors, food, just different things we can do. It's entertainment all weekend."
The free festival will open Friday to Sunday at 10 a.m., closing at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Festival vendors will be open all three days.
Visitors can enjoy a pontoon boat ride on Swan Lake. It's the only time these rides are available on the lake.
It's also the only time of year people can purchase Japanese Irises at the Gardens, which will be on sale all three days at the Sumter Master Gardener’s booth.
"I think it's a good thing for the community," Jack Hartzog, who was attending, said. "Obviously, it gets people out and you get to support small businesses that are in the local area."
Mike Nelson, another attendee, agreed, noting the food was a draw.
"Nice weather. The rain didn't show up," Nelson said. "I started off with shrimp and grits. I'm up to strawberry shortcake."
After the festival closes on Friday, the free Forth Friday Concert Series will kick-off on Main Street at 6 p.m. with Too Much Sylvia. Then, the Red Clay Strays will perform at 8 p.m. at the Sumter Opera House.
There’s going to be more to do for kids this year with the addition of a petting zoo, STEM activities, and more all weekend, and on Saturday, an old-fashioned carousel. Sumter’s Iris Festival Shrine Day parade is also happening on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Saturday evening, in celebration of the festival's 80th anniversary, The DeLoreans, an '80s tribute band, will take stage at Sumter Original Brewery. Tickets for the all-ages show are $20 and available online at irisfestival.org. One of the highlights of the evening will be an '80s costume contest.
Santee-Wateree RTA will be providing shuttle service from the Sumter County Civic Center on Saturday and Sunday during festival hours.
"It's a huge boost for the city," Mayor Merchant said. "It just brings us all together and it's like, if people say there's nothing to do in Sumter this weekend, they've got a problem because it is just a fun-filled, action packed weekend. All types of entertainment for families, you know, young, old, single, married, all around. So, we just ask people to come over to Sumter this weekend and just join us in the fun."
The Sumter Iris Festival is located at Swan Lake Iris Gardens at 822 W Liberty St. To find a full list of events scheduled as well as parking information, visit IrisFestival.org.