BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The 2012 Bay Bridgefest is jamming out to the theme of "To Infinity and Beyond," and it certainly seems the area has come that far in the years since Hurricane Katrina.
"It's bigger and better every year. We're seeing a lot of people coming into town that use to live here, and some of them moving back," said Ann Tidwell who own 200 North Beach restaurant.
"We have been able to market outside the coastal area thanks to the regional tourism partnership. So, the word is out there about the MS coast and the BSL area in particular," said Hancock County Chamber Director Tish Williams.
More than celebrating recovery, organizers say the festival is now a huge economic opportunity.
Tidwell said she increased her staff for the three day event, and stocked up on extra supplies. Her restaurant has been open less than a year and she said the festival is important to introduce new customers.
"It's really important because some people haven't ever been here except just for this. I think they're discovering us," said Tidwell.
"This is the signature event for the Bay St. Louis area. So, this is our date and time when we say, 'Hello world, come see what we have to offer. Come check out our progress and you just might want to buy a home and live here too.'"
With three stages of musicians, arts, crafts and plenty of food the message is getting out to tourists. Last year, an estimated 18,000 people came to the event. Williams expects this year to see even more visitors.
"One of our visitors came from as far away as Iowa to participate in the Bridgefest," said Williams.
Williams said another repeat visitor from Massachusetts was so impressed by the area, that he even bought a home in Bay St. Louis.
Williams said bringing new people in is what this festival is all about. Bridgefest continues Sunday at noon.