AIKEN - On a day when a little bit of Aiken was on display in Kentucky, a little bit of Kentucky came to Aiken.
While Aiken horse Limehouse was running for the roses Saturday at Churchill Downs, the sound of Kentucky picking and strumming echoed through downtown Aiken at the inaugural Aiken Bluegrass Festival.
A daunting weather forecast and competing events might have affected attendance at the eight-hour festival, but organizers deemed it a success.
"We got a whole lot more people than I thought we would," festival organizer Steve Groat said. "For a first-time event, I'm thrilled."
Held on a blocked-off portion of Newberry Street in front of the Washington Group Theater, the festival was put on as a benefit for Specialized Therapeutic and Recreational Riding, a horse-riding program for people with severe mental and physical disabilities.
Sarah Norris, a riding instructor, said the program provides weekly riding sessions for about 30 children and adults with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other disorders.
It was founded in 1996 by Aiken resident Alan Corey, whose son has physical disabilities.
Horse riding has physical and cognitive benefits that include improving balance, and refining social skills and speech, she said.
"The children don't see it as therapy. For them, it's something fun," Ms. Norris said.
At Saturday's festival, children danced and banged on the "Hillbilly percussion section" - an assortment of rusty farm implements - while guitars and banjos played from a side stage atop a flatbed trailer and music lovers young and old strolled along the lines of booths offering handmade jewelry and kettle corn.
Artists performing Saturday included Columbia acoustic roots singer Lora Dunn, the traditional bluegrass outfit Darlene and the Amicks, and bluegrass gospel act Solid Ground. Nationally recognized hoedown quartet Acoustic Syndicate were the scheduled headliners.
Among the locals representing Aiken at the festival were members of the Carolina Squares, a square dancing troupe made up mostly of men and women in their 60s featuring veteran caller Mike Gilden.
Carolina Squares Vice President Mimi Jones said the festival's sounds of strumming made her feel in her element.
"I grew up in West Virginia, so I love this," she said.
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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