Two Pender County events, Ocean Fest and The Blueberry Drop, win 2023 ShowFest Awards.

Burgaw’s Blueberry Drop and Surf City’s Ocean Fest were named as Excellence Award Winners for their events, outreach and merchandise at the 2023 ShowFest Awards, presented by the North Carolina Association of Festivals and Events (NCAFE).

The winners were announced at the ShowFest 2023 – Event Innovators Conference held in Charlotte in January.

Ocean Fest was named Event of the Year by the association for the second year in a row. The eco-friendly festival’s Mark Anders took the top award for Director of the Year. In addition, the festival was honored with Best Outreach Program, a Promotional Award for the Best Merchandise (a Recyclable Beer 4-pack) and the Sponsor of the Year Award for New Belgium Brewing Company, Fat Tire Brand.

Blueberry Drop Burgaw 2023

The Blueberry Drop won awards for Best Print Media for their full-page promotion in the local newspaper as well as Best Event T-shirt. A relatively new event, the Blueberry Drop “supports what we celebrate in the town of Burgaw, the culture and heritage,” says Olivia Dawson, Burgaw mayor and past president of NCAFE.

She adds that the event “captures the essence of agriculture and blueberries in Pender County and in our region.”

The award-winning print media features a full-page ad with a large reach to attract attention to the event. The Blueberry Drop t-shirt recognized all local sponsors who helped support the event, giving them recognition for their help in making the annual event happen. The drop is unique in that it is held at Greenwich Median Time, rather than midnight, giving families the opportunity to celebrate. Dawson adds that “we have the biggest blueberry in North Carolina!”

Ocean Fest Representatives 2023

Ocean Fest, a two-day festival held in Surf City, benefits and raises awareness of issues around the ocean. With live music, a 5K race, surfing and other activities, the festival promotes itself as eco-friendly and beneficial to the community as a whole. In the award application, the organization states that its primary mission “is to celebrate and protect Mother Ocean while educating the community about ways we can better protect our marine environments.” In addition, “event proceeds are used to continue the annual festival as well as to support additional likeminded nonprofit organizations.”

Stephanie Key, with Pender County Tourism, emphasizes the importance of these awards to the local events and festivals.

“It brings them more attention and increases their revenue and attendance,” Key says. “It increases awareness and spreads their mission.” She adds that the tourism office is “very supportive of the partnerships.”

Dawson adds that the awards enable these events and festivals to now advertise themselves as award-winning events, which can help them draw more participants from the community and more attention beyond the local area. Keys explains that “sometimes these events and festivals that win can be taken to bigger award programs.” In fact, they are taking several of the winners from North Carolina to the Southeast Festivals & Events Association (SFEA) awards.

Ocean Fest 2023

Joining the North Carolina Association of Festivals and Events can be beneficial to festivals and events throughout Pender County, Dawson emphasizes, adding, “We want to partner with other festivals and events and want them to have the opportunity to be recognized for their hard work.”

NCAFE is a membership-based organization made up of festivals and events, parks and recreation, towns and communities that joined to promote all the events that are happening in the state.

ShowFest is the annual event highlighting the previous year’s events.

Attendance for the local events in 2023 reached approximately 10,000 people for Ocean Fest and 5,000 for the Blueberry Drop. In 2024 Ocean Fest will be held October 13 and 14 and the Blueberry Drop is scheduled for December 31.

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at