Harlem's annual Oliver Hardy Festival will feature new attractions this year.
The 22nd annual all-day festival honoring Hardy, who was born in Harlem, will start at 9 am. Saturday.
"We have more music groups than ever this year," said Denise Carter, an event coordinator. "Lots of bands, and it is a variety of bands, too. From country to Christian rock and even some hip-hop, rap-type artists."
KMA country recording artist Gene Avey will perform at 3 p.m. on the stage next to the Harlem Department of Public Safety. He was named the Country Music Association's Modern Country Male Vocalist of the Year for 2008 and 2009.
"This is really the first time we've had anybody who had a record out," Carter said. "I expect a lot of people to come out just to see him."
The festival honoring the rotund half of one of cinema's more famous comedic duos will include live entertainment all day on two stages, look-alike contests, skits, children's rides and games, two parades and lots of arts and crafts vendors.
The Oliver Hardy Museum in Harlem, where Hardy memorabilia is on display, will be open. Gifts will be available for purchase, and movies will be shown.
The former Columbia Theatre, which the city owns and is renovating, also will be open.
"We're going to show some Laurel and Hardy movies in there that day," Carter said, adding that many visitors to the city have asked about the theater, which features a Laurel and Hardy mural on the side. "They can come in and see what we're planning on doing with the theater."
Laurel and Hardy fans from around the world attend the festival, and it is considered the largest single-day event in Columbia County.
But determining the number of visitors at the festival is difficult, Carter said.
"It is hard to judge the number of spectators," she said.
Festival officials have tried several methods in years past to gauge the number of people traveling to the rural town for the festival. In recent years, crowd estimates have ranged up to 40,000.
The festival is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. with a children's parade winding through downtown Harlem. Opening ceremonies, including a welcome by Mayor Bobby Culpepper and the national anthem sung by Adrena Bennett, will start at 9:30 a.m. A second parade will begin at 10 a.m.
The operators of Augusta haunted house Plantation Blood will put on a smaller haunted house beginning at the festival and running through Halloween. Carter said $2 from every ticket will go toward the theater renovation.
Attendance at the festival is free.
For directions or information, visit www.harlemga.org.
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