116 years and counting, Eustis celebrates the first U.S. president’s birthday with Georgefest.
Eustis rolls out the red carpet every February to honor good ol’ George Washington, and has been doing so every year since 1902. The city has no intention of stopping any time soon.
Erin Bailey, events coordinator for Eustis, expects around 30,000 people to converge downtown for a three-day celebration, Feb. 23-25, to pay a 286th birthday tribute to the man revered as the father of our country. The city’s biggest event also is the oldest Georgefest in Florida, and the country’s second-longest-running festival of its kind, behind Laredo, Texas.
“I love seeing all of the people and how much fun they are having,” Erin says, believing the nation’s first president would be impressed. “I think he would be honored, I really do.”
The 2018 festival’s theme, “Through the Years,” includes a festive patriotic parade right down Bay Street—the highlight of the weekend—with parade entrants lined up in chronological order showcasing 12 decades of Georgefest history from the 1900s to 2010s. Several bands, service clubs, cars, trucks, floats, twirlers, cheerleaders, and political candidates are expected to be in the 10am Feb. 24 parade, and festivalgoers can take part in a variety of other Georgefest attractions, including a larger carnival with more amusement rides, fireworks, live music, food vendors, and arts and crafts.
“The carnival is going to be bigger and better than ever,” Erin says, noting the number of rides has been increased by 30 percent. A wristband night, which will be carnival preview night, will be offered 5-10pm Feb. 22. “Everyone can ride all they want to ride for $20,” she adds, “and we are really excited about that.”
Erin cherishes the hometown feel that Georgefest brings, and she notes the festival has become a popular multigenerational event many residents look forward to each year.
“I’ve talked to quite a few people who were children back in the 1940s and ’50s who remember watching the parade as a kid,” she says. “When you talk to someone who has been here for years and grew up here, and when they are talking about their memories, they are talking about the Georgefest parade.”
More marching bands are expected in the parade this year since Eustis High School will be hosting the Golden Triangle Jazz Festival for middle and high school bands. A band in Virginia has expressed interest in participating, so Erin predicts the 2018 Georgefest parade will have more bands than ever. The bands also will perform at noon Feb. 24 at the band shell at Ferran Park.
“It’s a new feature and we are really excited about that aspect of it,” Erin says.
Another new attraction for the 116th Georgefest will be the Lake Eustis Museum of Art hosting an art show featuring the works of Lake County youths, as well as the works of professional artisans, hosted on LEMA’s grounds at Ferran Park.
Sandra MacDonald, public relations coordinator for the city of Eustis, is eager to experience her first Georgefest.
“I am really excited about it,” Sandra says. “I have been involved in a lot of planning meetings, and it’s going to be a really big event. There is going to be something for everyone.”
Nate Edmund, events assistant for Eustis, calls Georgefest a “cool event” that attracts vendors, many of whom come from other states in their recreational vehicles to stay for the weekend.
Volunteers will assist vendors, bands, the parade, and other festival aspects, and help make the 116th annual Georgefest a success.
“I won’t turn anybody away,” Erin says. Individuals and groups interested in volunteering are encouraged to call 352.483.5491.
All events at Ferran Park, 250 Ferran Park Dr.
George 5K Race Registration, 6:30am; race, 8am
Chili Cook-off loading, 8-8:30am
Kids “George Jr.” Fun Run
Lake County Sheriff’s Office Animal Adoption 10:30am
Band, Southern Chaos 3pm
Chamber of Commerce Georgefest Breakfast
7am, Eustis Community Center, 601 Northshore Drive
Miss Eustis Pageant
2pm, Eustis Community Center
($20 wristband night), 5-10pm, downtown Eustis
Georgefest begins (vendors open), 4pm, downtown Eustis and Ferran Park
Lake County Young People’s Art Show
4pm, parking lot of Lake Eustis Museum of Art, Ferran Park
4pm, band shell stage at Ferran Park
10am, Bay Street in downtown Eustis
Golden Triangle Jazz Festival
noon, band shell stage at Ferran Park
Worship service/pancake breakfast
Ice cream social