Wrightsville Beach Park was filled with the sounds of laughter, barking dogs and live music Saturday, July 12, as families and friends gathered for the O’Neill Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest Music and Art Festival.
People began arriving around 5 p.m., spreading lawn blankets or relaxing in beach chairs to enjoy surf music performed by The Carvers.
The hot July day gave way to cooler, breezy conditions as the sun set behind the trees. Children played and danced to the music while adults mingled and browsed work by local artists.
In one booth, Carleigh Sion exhibited her watercolor paintings while she sat at a table with her paints and paper, showing children how to use water to blend the colors. Nearby, photographer Sean Ruttkay displayed an array of coasters, each printed with one of his surfing photographs.
The Music and Art Festival was held in 2011 in conjunction with the Reef Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest, and after a two-year hiatus, it returned in 2014 as a part of this year’s Pro-Am Surf Fest.
“Last year we took a break,” event organizer Tony Butler said. “We wanted to bring it back this year because everyone enjoyed it the first year. It’s been a great addition and everyone loves it.”
Butler added that while the festival served as a fun family evening, it also benefitted many local artists and charities. Wrightsville Beach restaurant Tower 7, which catered on site serving from its popular taco bar, donated all of its proceeds to Butler’s nonprofit charity Hope From Helen. The nonprofit will redistribute the funds to Adopt An Angel, Paw’s Place, Sunburst Foundation, New Hanover County Animal Control and the New Hanover County Humane Society.
“We love seeing dogs get adopted,” Butler said. “The pet charities are in dire need right now. … It’s something that we’re really passionate about.”
Many of the charities set up booths with information to help spread awareness, and Adopt An Angel brought several dogs in need of adoption.
Jill Jones, Adopt An Angel treasurer, said even if families weren’t in the position to adopt a dog, the monetary donations were immensely helpful in paying the rescued dogs’ vet bills.
“In six weeks we had 144 surgeries, and it was $8,917,” Jones said. “Hope From Helen has helped us for years on end. … We probably couldn’t sustain ourselves without help from these events.”
With all of the children milling around and petting the dogs, there was bound to be at least one adoption. Indeed, Ella and Luke Gordon fell in love with a young Beagle-mix named Patches and took him home at the end of the night.
Around 8 p.m., people settled down to listen to the South Hammock Bluegrass Band. In the mellow atmosphere, Wrightsville Beach locals mingled with professional surfers who were in town for the Pro-Am Surf Fest.
“When I was younger, going to an event like this and seeing the pros, it was something that I’ll never forget,” Butler said. “That’s why we bring the contest to Wrightsville Beach, because we want the kids to enjoy it and have those memories that they’ll have for a lifetime.”