- Cullman, Alabama


May 6, 2012

Annual Strawberry Festival starts Friday

CULLMAN — One of the best, most loved berries of all time will be celebrated here May 11-12. It’s time for the annual Cullman Strawberry Festival. This year’s theme is “Paint The Town Strawberry Red.” Truckloads of the juicy, succulently sweet berries will be delivered fresh from local fields to the Festhalle Market Platz where folks will be waiting in line.

Strawberry pies, cakes, candy and breads will be offered by the many vendors who line the booths of the market. Jewel-toned jams, jellies and preserves will also be on display, along with other tempting strawberry recipes and concoctions.

And that’s not all. There will be plenty of free, live entertainment on both days, lots of arts and crafts, a kids’ fun area with lots of inflatables and even a bubble-bumper car ride.Antique tractors, classic cars, wiener dog races and much more will be going on under and near the two big tents behind the Cullman County Museum just across the parking lot from the Festhalle Market Platz.

The Cullman Strawberry Festival dates back to the ‘40s and ‘50s when Cullman County strawberries were sought by people all over the country. In those days it was a week-long affair, with floats, a strawberry queen, and many other festivities. The plump red berries were loaded into railroad cars by the tens of thousands from the dock where the market is now located. As time went on, the festival was discontinued for several years, but in the ‘90s, county officials brought it back and for a while it was held at the agricultural center in Vinemont.

Five years ago when he heard that it was about to be discontinued yet again, Festhalle Manager Jimmy Simms had an idea.

“What better place than the farmers market?” he asked.

He took his idea to Cullman building inspector, Rick Fulmer, who agreed that it was just what Cullman needed. The Strawberry Festival started out that time as a one-day event but quickly grew into the two-day celebration that visitors and local folks now enjoy.

“We’ve had such a great response from the community,” said Simms.

It wasn’t long until the farmers market needed help with the planning and logistics of the festival.

In 2009, the governing board of Oktoberfest came on board. “It was just a natural fit,” said Cullman County Museum Associate Julie Burks. “We help with the entertainment and the logistics, and Jimmy coordinates the festival from the Festhalle side.”

“We share a lot of responsibilities,” said Simms.

Because this is a non-profit organization, all proceeds are used for the next festival.

“The Strawberry Festival is a benefit of Oktoberfest in that it is organized under the auspices of, and governed by, Oktoberfest,” Burks explained.

This year’s Strawberry Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever before, offering new, fun-filled entertainment for all ages.

Water balls will give kids a chance to play in the water without getting wet. How, you ask? Well, they are put into see-through plastic balls almost like bubbles, 21 feet by 21 feet, which are inflated. Then the kids can roll around in the water, high and dry, while they play bubble bumper cars and have the time of their lives.

Another new event this year is the Cullman Idol contest. There will be both youth and adult versions of the popular contest, which is sure to be fiercely competitive. There is also the bunge jump, along with pony rides and a petting zoo.

For the adults, there is a variety of music to enjoy, including the headline act, Three On A String, who have opened for such prestigious acts as Bill Cosby, Red Skelton, Barbara Mandrel, George Lindsey and Ray Stevens.

There’s also Nashville recording artist, Mean Mary James whose bluesy, gospel, bluegrass sound will knock your socks off.

“Three On A String and Mean Mary were both slated to perform during last year’s festival when the devastating tornado that struck Cullman canceled those plans,” said Simms. “Mean Mary contacted me personally to say that she would love to come to this year’s event and I appreciated that so much. Likewise, all we had to do was ask and Three On A String marked our festival on their calendar and said that they, too, would be more than happy to come. We’re so excited to have them both performing this year.

“And local musician James Taylor, who is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard, will also perform,” commented Simms, referring to another musician who had garnered a large following in this area.

Champion fiddler and bluegrass artist, Roy Crawford, and Cullman County Bluegrass will have everyone tapping their toes on Saturday, and Exit 310, a very popular local group will perform a two-hour concert.

The multi-talented Cullman High School Show Choir will also perform.

After a congregational singing, festivities kick off at 9 a.m. Friday, May 11, with opening ceremonies conducted by special guest, Mayor Max Townson, and Cullman County Commissioners, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by 2011 Ms. Senior Cullman, Brenda Foxx, and presentation of the colors by members of the Cullman Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard in period dress.

The grand opening of the Civil War Section of the Cullman County Museum, followed by the video viewing of a Civil War reenactment of the battle between Union Colonel Abel Streight and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, which took place here in Cullman County.

Attending the event will be experts and local Civil War historians who will speak, and will also be available for questions from the audience.

Friday is also Senior Day. Cullman County seniors will be given a discounted coupon provided by the Commission On Aging, redeemable at any Strawberry Festival food vendor.

“The history of the festival dates back to when many of the seniors were children, so we wanted them to be a big part of this festival,” said Simms. “They always enjoy Bingo, and the Rap and Tap Band is fun for them. I’m really excited about having Mean Mary perform for them, too.”

Making her way through the crowds throughout the two-day festival will be the official mascot, Strawberry Girl. Mule-drawn wagon rides will be available throughout the two-day festival.

Cullman Regional Medical Center will offer free medical screenings at the south end of the market (near Rumors Deli).

The Downtown Merchants Association will have sidewalk sales throughout the downtown area.

Due to the high attendance of the festival, some streets will be closed Saturday. Maps will be available on the city website. All events are free, with the exception of kiddie rides, food, and arts and crafts.

“We invite area residents and visitors to make plans to come and enjoy all of our wonderful entertainment this year along with the farmers market, crafts fair, brand new Cullman Idol competition Friday and Saturday, Senior Day Friday, Kids Park on Saturday and everything in between,” urged Simms.

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