Glenda Pender is looking forward to the singing and picking that used to be an annual tradition each spring in Dahlonega.
But mostly, she’s looking forward to the bear hugs and the stories that accompany them.
“It’s going to be wild when we finally can get together,” Pender said. "People have so much pent up to talk about and so many bear hugs to give that it’s going to be great.”
Unfortunately, that day will not be at Bear on the Square, or at least not in 2021.
The Bear on the Square Executive Committee announced on Monday, January 11 that the festival would be cancelled for a second straight year, due to COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a temporary halt to the celebration,” the committee announced. “The safety and security of the community is of utmost concern. In consideration of current state restrictions on live music concerts and mass gatherings, and because of the continuing spread of the virus, the festival committee has decided to cancel the 2021 festival.”
The festival, which happens each April, is a celebration of “traditional music, craft, dance and storytelling of Appalachian culture,” and has been a staple in Dahlonega since 1997.
Pender never imagined the event, in its 25th year, would be canceled for a second time.
“But as the pandemic progressed it became a question again,” she said. “The question became how long can we wait to make a definitive decision.”
This year, the committee decided to be proactive and make the decision earlier in the process.
“At that point, it was so new and everything was so crazy at the last minute [last year] so we felt like we needed to give a little more heads up this time,” Pender said.
Bear on the Square was one of the first casualties to the pandemic in 2020, as the virus ascended in the final weeks before the festival and eventually was canceled by the committee. The same uncertainty that surrounded COVID-19 last spring persists today and drove the decision to cancel for a second straight year.
“The other information that was very important to know was difficult to come by,” Pender said. “The uncertainty of what was going to happen over the next year. Clearly, we couldn't wait for certainty in this situation. The uncertainty was a key factor in how to make the best decision to keep our festival attendees safe and in good health as far as we could.”
The committee researched how similar festivals were handling the pandemic and tried to see if it would be possible to hold the event while also following CDC protocols and providing a safe environment.
“Of course, we kept up with the latest CDC guidelines and all the safety protocol, polled our volunteers [about] their thoughts on jumping back in for 2021,” Pender said. “The responses were mixed. We checked other similar festivals to see what they were doing. And of course we continued to feel a serious responsibility to make the entire process as safe as we possibly could for our Bear fans, who have become like family over the years.”
BEAR WILL BE BACK
While the decision was tough to once again cancel the event that is celebrated by so many, knowing that it’s the only way to ensure the safety of the Bear on the Square community made the decision easier for the committee.
“Eventually we came down to the decision that we felt too uncomfortable to risk the well-being of our supporters,” Pender said, “and believe me, we were all as disappointed as anyone else.”
But while it might be disappointing at the moment, Pender assures that the committee is already planning for next year, with the dates of April 22-24 on the calendar.
“We're planning ahead. We have reserved our spaces for 2022 with the City and notified the DDA and the Chamber,” she said. “Let's all get our singing voices in order and be ready for some Bear hugs.”