History of Irishfest: Hilton Head Island, SC

History Of Irishfest: Hilton Head Island, SC

At the Wing, we’ve always taken St. Patrick’s Day to another level. We love to sling Green Beer, Shake our Shamrocks to Live Bands and Bag Pipers, and get downright WILD when it comes to this Irish Holiday. One of our favorite locations (and our oldest) to do so in is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  
Every year since the early 90’s, we’ve thrown Irishfest, a huge parking lot party that attracts hundreds of people looking for a place to have fun and watch the famous Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade go by. We have live bands, beer trucks, food, jump castles & more to keep the party going before, during, and after the parade.
The parade, which is on it’s 36th year, is such a good time that on March 8th, 2019, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared March 17th, 2019 as Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade Day!  Not only are we throwing our famous Irishfest that day as well, but now we get to say we’re part of a WILD Holiday for Hilton Head in South Carolina!  We sat down with Eric Overstake and Charles Warren, Irishfest Wild Wing Veterans from the early 90’s, to learn about how Irishfest came to be what it is today and how things have changed since we started this Wild Irish Tradition.
“Dianne always had an excuse to throw a party” says Eric Overstake, known as “EZ” to locals on the Island (we’re sure you’ve seen his green mohawk), about former owner Dianne Crowley (pictured above). Dianne and Cecil Crowley started Wild Wing Cafe in Coligny Plaza in 1990. In 1993, they began throwing Irishfest outside in the parking lot right in front of the famous Hilton Head Parade that ended right in front of Coligny Plaza. Charles Warren, now Franchise Business Consultant, who started out as a cook down on the island in 1992,  remembers how it it was a staple to kick off the busy tourist season on the Island. “Irishfest kicks off the season. Heritage (golf tournament) comes right after in April and then comes Easter and Spring break…and then our Birthday in June. It became the start of Party Season. One of my favorite memories of Coligny is looking up and just seeing a sea of green coming towards our restaurant.”
Wild Wing soon moved to Pope Avenue in 1996 into the vacant TGI Fridays restaurant where it has remained for the past 23 years. This location was bigger for the restaurant and that’s exactly what was needed for Irishfest. “We had a bigger area to party in. We’d have draft trucks where I served .50 Cents draft beers. The Pondering or The Chilly Willy Band (who still plays today on the Island) would be jammin’ on the stage and we’d be killing it outside as the parade approached” says Warren.
Other bands such as Tokyo Joe, The Fresh Hops and Plane Jane (who just retired after 20 years in December) also hit our stages and jammed out for thousands of party goers in green either Shakin’ their Shamrocks to the music or catching a glimpse of the parade. When asked about bands and other entertainment for Irishfest back in the day, EZ let us know the low down.  “We’ve done a bunch of bands. I think we had cornhole, outside girls in liquor tents, up to three or four beer trailers….we even did a contest to win $10,000. I think the event became so successful because in reality, everyone was down for the party. Wild Wing was the place to go…the restaurant was already successful with our awesome staff and bartenders and then you throw in a big parade, bands, beer and liquor tents and it just became a huge festival”.
EZ (pictured below) was a huge part of Irishfest in the 90’s and early 2000’s, rocking his infamous Green Mohawk every year. The story behind the Mohawk is almost as infamous as Irishfest itself. “I moved to the island in 1990. My first Mohawk I ever had was due to me losing a belly flop contest to a bar owner of Prime Time, another bar on the island. He cut the mohawk right into my head. My first year bartending for Wild Wing for St. Pats I decided to bring the Mohawk back but in green. I cut my own hair for it. After I cut it, I took a bleaching kit from some store that took about 2 times to bleach completely and then added the typical green spray stuff for hair.” He’d usually rock the Green Mohawk  for a week or two. “One year I went the entire summer with the mohawk and I loved every second of it.” If that’s not commitment to Irishfest or to Wild Wing, we don’t know what is 🙂
It seems like over the years, the vibes of the island have changed a bit due to the massive amount of people coming to the Island every year. Each year the parade and Irishfest gets a little bigger and so does the chaos. When asked about advice for coming to Irishfest…EZ wants people to know that the kids are watching. “It’s about having fun. It’s definitely a family affair. The kids are all about it and each of the floats are throwing candy…and then sometimes you get these small amounts of people who are just plastered and it just makes no sense to be that drunk. Have fun and don’t get drunk. You definitely want to remember Irishfest”.
With that being said, Irishfest has come a long way over the years. With the Governor proclaiming March 17th of this year as Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade Day, it’s only going to get a little bit WILDER. We’ll see you guys next Sunday for all the Festivities! We’ll have music outside ALL DAY LONG, starting with the ultimate Irish Kickoff…The Bag Pipers! Catch the parade, all the best food and drink specials, plus music from Deas Guys, Groove Town Assault, and DJ Race!