Major changes in store for 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival

lfabian@macon.comMarch 14, 2014 

There’s a trick to painting a straight pink line in the middle of Macon streets.

“You don’t look down, you look ahead,” said Chris Forrester, of the county’s Facilities Management department that laid down a bright pink stripe this week on Cherry and Poplar streets and at Central City Park.

In plotting the course of the Cherry Blossom Festival, President and CEO Jake Ferro also looks toward what lies ahead.

Instead of bogging down in what has been, he strives for what can be.

A planning process that began in April has resulted in major changes for the 2014 affair: the parade is taking a new turn, a pub crawl will replace the popular street party, the ball is taking on a military flair and Tunes & Balloons has been pushed to a fireworks finale that falls a week after the traditional closing of the 10-day event.

“This is the first year of an extended festival,” Ferro said. “We’ll still have the 10-day core, March 21 to the 30th, that’s always been.”

Nearly 50 events are new to the festival.

March 31-April 6 brings a Community Outreach Week that includes the Mentor’s Project cookout at Loaves and Fishes on April 2 and a Village Green neighborhood cleanup and garden dedication on the morning of April 5.

Tunes & Balloons follows from 4-9 p.m. that Saturday with a $5 entry fee at Middle Georgia State College.

In 2013 during Ferro’s first year at the helm of the festival, he found the first Saturday to be so jam-packed with events, such as the Pink Pancake Breakfast, Bed Race and Central City Park activities, that he felt it best to move the hot air balloons and concert.

“It’s the only major event on that day,” Ferro said. “So we’re hoping to pack them in.”

The festival’s official closing day, March 30, will still include a smaller fireworks show at Wesleyan College. Unlike the fireworks finale on campus in recent years, the event is shifting to the quad for a free Party on the Green that begins at 5 p.m.

“It will be beautiful to see the fireworks going off behind the buildings,” he said.

Organizers have always included a few pre-festival events, such as the Think Pink car painting and pageants, but this year brings a brand new feature and some unique sanctioned events run by other organizations that pay a fee to be promoted along with the festival.

Sunday’s Middle Georgia Comic Convention at the Wilson Convention Center is a sanctioned event, as is “Karla’s Kids,” a free event at Cox Capitol Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

A sanctioned Pink Extravaganza fashion show and gala at the Marriott City Center will be presented by the Diamond Foundation. The event featuring Miss Georgia USA and Miss Teen Georgia USA is supplementing the festival’s own fashion show with Mark Ballard at the Anderson Conference Center on March 27.

Instead of the private preview party for sponsors and dignitaries at Central City Park the night before Friday’s opening ceremony, Beers, Brats & Brushtrokes is scheduled for Thursday at the Blacksmith’s Shop at 665 Poplar Street.

The free biergarten will feature live music with bratwurst and beverages available for sale.

Blank, brown canvas

After getting thrust into leadership five months before last year’s festival, Ferro was eager to pre-plan for this year’s 32nd annual event.

Just days after closing out the 2013 festival, Ferro gathered the staff in the conference room for a critique.

He rolled out blank brown paper onto the table and they began adding festival staples and brainstorming about what they would like to see.

Brochures were printed much earlier this year. New and sanctioned events are marked, including the All-American Lumberjack Show at the Macon Coliseum on March 29.

“It will be interactive with the audience and there will be log rolling,” Ferro said. “It’s loud, but it’s fun.”

Economics played into retooling the street party, which has been plagued by inclement weather in recent years.

“In the past, we’ve lost big money,” Ferro said. “You can’t protect it with insurance. It would be cost-prohibitive.”

The new Cherry Blossom Music Festival will feature 23 musical acts in eight venues.

The Food Truck Frenzy was a washout last year, too, but will debut closing weekend at Third Street Park during the Mulberry Street Arts & Crafts Festival.

When reviewing the parade, Ferro was disappointed with the lack of seating for guests. This year, the parade will pass dignitaries sitting on the patio at the City Auditorium, continue down Cherry Street past the Cherry Blossom Pink House, turn onto New Street and then right on Mulberry Street to resume the traditional route.

International parade guests from Japan, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, Greece, the Philippines, Israel and Bulgaria are expected.

After a recent conversation with Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, the theme of the ball detoured from “Southern Serenade” to the “Pink, White and Blue Military Ball.” In addition to a salute to the troops, a portion of the $100 ticket will go toward the Wounded Warrior Project.

Patriotic concerts are planned at Wesleyan’s Porter Auditorium on March 25 and 27. Admission is free with a $10 Cherry Blossom Festival pin.

Ferro will also commission an economic impact study of the festival that at last count drew 350,000 visitors to Macon.

“It has a ripple effect into the local economy and I’m not sure people really know how much of an impact it has,” he said.

Ferro hopes to draw 500,000 people in coming years with an ultimate goal of bringing a million folks to town.

That means continually enhancing and upgrading events.

The paid staff and volunteers include a mix of people who have helped run the festival for decades and others with younger, fresher eyes on the festivities.

As a relative newcomer himself, Ferro sees untapped possibilities.

His enthusiasm bubbled over in a recent visit to look over parade floats under construction at Central City Park.

Seeing the menagerie of life-size animals and costumed statues available as decorations, Ferro thought of numerous new sponsors to join the parade, said float builder Kip Dingler.

“He was like a kid in a candy store,” said Dingler, who spent Thursday stapling floral sheeting onto the side of a giant birthday cake atop Taiwan’s float to mark their 30th anniversary in Macon’s sister city program.

Time-honored festival traditions certainly have a place, but Ferro is always looking for fresh ideas and feedback.

“We want to make sure we have never-ending improvement,” he said. “You can only do that with input from the public and staff.”

Events will come and go, but the blooms are always the star attraction that can’t ever be guaranteed.

“I’m excited about this festival,” Ferro said. “I believe the blossoms will be on time.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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