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Arts festival ends on soggy note

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 11:35 a.m.

A red, white and blue banner hung from a lakeside stage limp and wet while festival vendors huddled under tents, protecting their handmade treasures from the summer storm.

What looked like a beautiful day at the 2001 Westmoreland County Arts & Heritage Festival came to an early and drenched end Sunday afternoon thanks to rain, wind, lots of mud and an emergency evacuation.

The festival drew an estimated crowd of about 80,000 to Twin Lakes Park, east of Greensburg, according to Donnie Gutherie, festival director. Last year the event drew an estimated 110,000 people.

Gutherie said the low numbers probably have to do with Independence Day taking place in the middle of the week, and of course, the rain.

'This last day killed us. I must admit that I am just a bit disappointed,' Gutherie said.

The Accu-Weather Inc. Service reported a severe thunderstorm warning for Westmoreland County around 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. yesterday. For safety purposes, the festival began an emergency evacuation around 2 p.m., according to Westmoreland County 911.

Sue Usner of Kent, Ohio, packed up her market folk art early last evening, shaking her head while explaining that she didn't sell as much as she usually does.

'I usually make in one day what I did this whole festival. Today started out really well but then the sky opened,' said Usner, who has been attending the festival for five years.

Ron Weager and his wife, Eileen, have been attending the event to sell their framed original prints and photography for seven years. Weager said he understands that rain is just one of those things everyone has to deal with.

'There is nobody to blame. It's just one of those things you get with an outdoor festival,' he said. 'The timing of the holiday is also unfortunate, you come here Wednesday (Independence Day) and I bet you see people looking for the festival.'

The festival was a safety success. Gutherie reported no injuries or big mishaps during the festival.

And, as far as yesterday's cloudburst goes, there is always next year.

'I loved it. It went really well till Mother Nature set in,' said Gutherie, who plans on returning as festival director in 2002.

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