Brandy Gray: Carrying on a Lowcountry tradition
By Cindy Reid | It’s that time of year again. Time to get outside, soak up some sun and attend the 59th Annual Beaufort Water Festival. Although it is so well run that it may look like the events “just happen,” the festival has an all volunteer staff over 400 people, lead by the most visible face of the Annual Beaufort Water Festival, the Commodore.
Meet Brandy Gray, this year’s Beaufort Water Festival Commodore.
As befitting this year’s festival theme, “A Lowcountry Tradition since 1956,” Commodore Gray has the distinct honor of being the first former Pirette to become Commodore and she is the first second generation Commodore, as her Great Uncle James “Sammy” Gray was the Commodore in 1958. She is carrying on family tradition in fine style, with unflagging energy and a full slate of exciting events lined up for another fantastic festival. Commodore Brandy Gray sat down with Beaufort Lifestyle at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park to talk about this year’s festival.
Where were you born and raised?
I am a fifth generation Port Royal girl, second generation Commodore and the first ever Pirette to become a Commodore.
Tell us about your family.
My dear husband Mickey has been an amazing supporter for the many my civic hats I wear. Our daughter, Emma LaClaire, has been right there with us all the way. I can recall being pregnant during the festival a few years back and everyone was on “Brandy Watch.” I survived one of the hottest festivals and gave birth a few weeks later!
How long have you been involved with the Beaufort Water Festival?
More than a decade.
I was a Pirette in 1989 and 1990, then I got asked to chair the Bed Races for a few years, then I asked what else I can do to help. I worked my way up from staff, director and eventually around the table to the coveted spot! So from 2000 until now.
Why did you continue as a volunteer with the Water Festival?
I was amazed at the amount of volunteers and the hard work that went into the festival. I wanted to be a part of one of the most amazing events in our community and the proud to be a member of the Water Festival family.
What is your BWF favorite memory?
One of my greatest memories was when I received my jacket with the Water Festival crest on it. The eldest living Commodore at the time was my Great Uncle James “Sammy” Gray. He put that coat on me and grinned from ear to ear. It was a very special time for our family. He passed away a few months later and I am sure he is looking down still smiling.
What is your favorite event?
I love the parade. As a child I would site on the sidewalk at the Best Western and see the floats coming down Bay Street. My grandfather was a clown with the Omar Shriners and I watched him for many years march in the parade. Our parade is a picture of how our community comes together and shines in the middle of July. I recall many years back when Palmetto Federal/Regions had the lawn chair brigade in the parade. Their staff wore matching outfits, carried green folding chairs, had background music and marched in the parade. Then at random they would breakout into a skit. Memories like these are what make our parade so great!
Traditions play an important role in the events but the BWF stays current by adding new and exciting events from time to time. What is new or different at this year’s BWF?
We had the first ever “Paddle Battle,” a paddle boarding and kayak event in May, that was a brand new event. Salsa Tuesday is new, and we are very excited to have Son Del Coqui, a fantastic ten piece mariachi band here for that event on Tuesday July 22nd. We have changed the day of the Air Show from the second Saturday to the first Saturday, so the Air Show is on July 19th this year. Also, DragonBoat Race Day has its own day this year, Saturday, July 26th, with dragon boat races taking place all day. In addition to our famous kids Toad Fishing contest on Saturday July 19th; we will have the Coastal Education Expo from eleven to three with lots of interactive and informational booths to further knowledge of our beautiful low country surroundings. On Children’s Day, DNR will have a large touch tank for all the kids to enjoy.
One of the Commodore’s many tasks is to design the popular annual tee shirt. Tell us about this year’s tee shirt design.
Our vision for the t-shirts was a combination of the early years blended into our current year. William Rhett did an amazing job capturing those elements in our design. This design not only paints a picture of our history, it pays tribute to three of past commodores who pasted away this past year John Gentry, Sammy Gray and Ray Kearns. The other important tributes are the names on the boat. It is named in memory of my mom Peggy and in honor of William’s mom Nancy. This design is more than a painting, it is a symbol of our history, family, friends and our memories!
What concerts do you have lined up for this year?
We are super excited to have two national recording artists this year. Our Concert in the Park will feature Craig Morgan and our River Dance will feature our hometown girl Marjory Lee opening for Eric Paslay. I have watched Marjory Lee over the years entertaining us in the Talent Show, to entertaining in various venues in town and on Fripp Island.
Tell our readers something they may not know about the BWF.
Our festival runs like a well oiled machine. Volunteers give up their vacations to work for ten plus days in the heat for upwards of fifteen hours a day. The Water Festival volunteers are a family that rises up for each other on a moment’s notice.
Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Beaufort is an amazing community; the generosity of the volunteers and residents is overwhelming. We are truly fortunate to live in a town that cares so passionately about others. An overwhelming amount of support was exhibited when we assisted with the hometown event for Candice Glover. We were given a little over a week to pull off a spectacular event that would put Beaufort on the map. Volunteers came together at a moment’s notice crafting a plan to make this event happen. It is times like this that I am so very proud of my Water Festival family and our community.
Commodore Brandy Gray and her dedicated crew have lined up what is sure to be the most exciting Beaufort Water Festival ever. And in 59 years of Water Festivals, that is saying something! There are many sporting events such as horseshoe, bocce, volleyball, golf, and cornhole, badminton, and croquet tournaments taking place previous to and throughout the festival. Check the website for dates and times and for information on how to sign up.
Bring the kids and enjoy a week filled with fun, laughter and entertainment. It all happens at the 59th Annual Beaufort Water Festival!
Written by Cindy Reid, Photography by Paul Nurnberg for Beaufort Lifestyle. Published bi-monthly, Beaufort Lifestyle is a classy, sophisticated publication about the wonderful people, places and events of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands. Grab your free copy at any one of 200 area locations and visit the Facebook page here.