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The Gathering: The “New Kid on the Block” a Hit

Was it at the expense of the Annie Oakley Festival?
By Bob Robinson

Photos by Bob Robinson and Elaine Bailey. Watch for more photos of all weekend events, including the parade, Breast Cancer Awareness, the Festival and the Gathering, in the coming week.

“I can’t believe all the people who came today,” said one exhibitor on Saturday. He was one of dozens, including artists and concessioners, who were enjoying high traffic flows at The Gathering at Garst in Greenville.

Brief moments were few and the exhibitors took advantage of them by sitting down and resting on the hot, humid day.

This was the first year for a planned annual event by Garst Museum featuring historic artisans and performers. “The Gathering” took place on the Garst Museum grounds, where the former Annie Oakley Festival took place before the traditional event moved to the Darke County Fairgrounds.

“This is great,” said one visitor. “I love the crafts and the people.”

On the other side of town, members of the Annie Oakley Festival Committee noted that traffic was excellent on Saturday, typically the high-traffic day for the three-day event.

“We’ve had five historical tours since Friday with two more still scheduled for today,” said Judy Logan of the Festival Committee on Sunday. “Most of the buses have been full. Traffic has been good this year.”

Sunday at the fairgrounds seemed slow compared to the Sunday activity still at Garst Museum, but that could be misleading. Visitors are concentrated in a smaller area at the museum than on the vast acreage of the fairgrounds.

Festival exhibitors had mixed reactions to the “competition” on the other side of town.

“We had a great day yesterday (Saturday),” said one concessioner. “Definitely a profitable day. We weren’t hurt in the least.”

Other concessioners said they were down from the previous year.

“I think it’s the economy,” said one, but another said he believed the competition hurt him.

“I don’t see why they had to have another event to conflict with this one. I think it’s going to hurt both of us. It’s too much for a small town like Greenville.”

His business was down more than 50 percent from the previous year.

“I think it’s great,” said another. “Gets more people into town. They come for one but they visit both before the weekend is over.”

One visitor noted that he was disappointed there weren’t as many exhibitors here as the year before, but he still enjoyed it. He and his wife went to the Festival first, but planned on going to the “Gathering” next.

“I just love the Annie Oakley Festival,” said another exhibitor who acknowledged that she used to do crafts but gave them up for more of the tourist and “Flea Market” items.

“There’s just no profit in creating items for sale,” she said. “You never get paid for the time you put into them.”

One exhibitor wasn’t sure if he would return next year, but all others said they would be back.

While the two events likely drew more traffic to the area, they were distinctly different in their approach.

The Annie Oakley Festival is, and for years has been, more focused on a western-style approach with Flea Markets and entertainment promoting the Annie Oakley tradition. Annual entertainment includes the Shawnee Bandits Fast Draw contest, Indian Creek Regulators Shoot-Out, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill impersonators Loretta Jones and Richard Best, the annual “Melodrama” by the Darke County Civic Theatre and more. Entertainment included such popular groups as Spittin Image, Knipp Pickers, TJ Westfall and others. Artistic skills including local art and photography were showcased.

The annual Annie Oakley Parade, also conducted by the Annie Oakley Festival Committee, was as popular as ever with over 100 entries and crowds lining the streets of Downtown Greenville.

The Gathering at Garst focused more on artisans, craftsmen and the historical heritage of the area dating back to the late 18th Century. The flavor was distinctly different as exhibitors and performers were dressed in the clothing of the time and displayed the crafts and skills unique to an earlier period.

According to its website, the Gathering is designed to remember the defining events and people who shaped Darke County’s history. The event featured antiques, artists, fine food, farmers market, gardening exhibitors, skilled historical craftsmen, and primitive folk artists as well as other curiosities!

Some of the performers and artisans at the Gathering were the Darke County Dulcimer Society, TJ Hathaway, Kochan Schlecty Stackhouse, Marsha and Mike Bowman, Tom Kochan and more.

A common comment in Greenville and Darke County was that The Gathering at Garst would damage the Annie Oakley Days Festival. Many had complained over the years that they liked the festival more when it was free and held on the Garst Museum grounds. The Festival Committee had responded that Annie Oakley Days had grown too big, and the lack of electricity was a major problem.

Now weekend celebrants have both options open to them.

Time will tell if each of the two distinctly different events boosted each other, have no impact or had a negative effect. Can the community support both? Each boasted numerous local sponsors. Each noted their events as a success. Each required strong community support and a tremendous amount of hours in the planning.

Most important, each can boast visitors who enjoyed themselves.

The goal for the future? Both organizations might want to note the words of Darke County’s Famous Daughter, Annie Oakley:

“Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time nor the second and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you’ll hit the bulls eye of success.”

Miss Annie Oakley 2011, Laura Francis, can attest to this. Along with all former Miss Annie Oakleys.

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