George Antonopoulos has been performing at the Augusta Greek Festival for 10 years. Playing a traditional Greek instrument called a bouzouki, he sings, dances on tables and claps along with the rest of his band, A Night in Athens.
The native of Greece says he has made some friends and Augustans now expect him at the festival.
As if on cue, a patron approaches him with a glass of Ouzo, the Greek aperitif, and thanked him for one of the many performances he put on over the three-day festival.
In its 23rd year, the Augusta Greek Festival was held Friday through Sunday at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. Organizers estimated about 15,000 people attended at least part of the weekend. Greek tradition was celebrated with dancing, music and food interspersed with frequent exclamations of “Opa!”
Working the festival for the 20th year, Mary Edna Keller said the weekend was successful in every way.
“It’s been terrific,” she said. “We’re proud of being Greek. This festival is a chance to help others understand our heritage.”
Keller said religion, family and food are very important to Greek people, so when the festival was moved to Holy Trinity about 15 years ago, it made it that much more special to have tours of the church as a part of the festival.
Under a large white tent, an elevated stage featured performances ranging from national groups – including A Night in Athens and Shoshanna, a belly dancer from California – to local Greek dance groups Odyssey and Troupe Hellas.
A beer tent to the side featured two large TVs showing the Atlanta Falcons game.
“We are a fun-loving people,” Keller said. “You get caught up in it, you can’t help it.”
Keller’s father was the first of eight children to be born in the United States. His family moved to Augusta to join friends and relatives. Since then, Keller has worked hard to preserve their history and culture in Augusta by teaching younger generations.
“This festival gives us a chance to share our culture with everyone,” she said.
Gyros, souvlaki, feta fries and more were available outside, while plate dinners were served inside the church.
Jimmy Economos, the master of ceremonies from Atlanta, said he enjoys Augusta’s festival more and more each year.
“Things like this keep our culture alive,” he said. “Our church and our culture are interwoven. By doing this, we can share it with everyone.”