There are lots of things I’ve missed during this strange quarantine time, but this time of year, in particular, I miss festivals. Since moving to Cullman last fall - right after Oktoberfest - I’d been looking forward to experiencing the Bloomin’ Festival and Strawberry Fest.
They would have been the first festivals I’d have covered as a reporter in some 30 years. The first festival that I ever covered, and one of my favorites still, is the Swine Time Festival in Climax, Ga. Held the first Saturday after Thanksgiving every year, the Swine Time Festival features everything you imagine it would: princesses, arts and crafts, music, festival food, a greased pig chase for the little ones and a parade through town.
It also has a chitlin’ eating contest.
As the rookie reporter, I got stuck covering the chitlin’ eating contest. How anyone could willingly shovel boiled pig innards into their mouth was always beyond me. Jack Wingate, “The Sage of the Seminole,” emceed the contest and would demonstrate beforehand the proper way to eat a boiled chitlin, and he did so with gusto. I stood as far as I could from the stage, desperately trying to stay up wind of the odor of boiled chitlins, using the longest lens I could to get the photos. I was happy the next year, when it was someone else’s turn to cover that event.
Festivals bring communities together and often celebrate the history of the community especially its agricultural history. There are festivals celebrating just about every crop imaginable: peaches, apples, cotton, blueberries, strawberries, peanuts, watermelon and corn. There are festivals for all kinds of critters, too: mules, fire ants, gnats, rattlesnakes, etc. Inanimate objects also get celebrated: wagons, skillets, tractors, etc. Then there are festivals for music, musicians, arts, books, foods - I think there may actually be a festival for everything. And they’re all so much fun.
I love discovering new artists who perform or sell their creations at festivals. There have been some, like the late Will Luck, whose paintings I loved so much I now have enough to be considered a “collector.” I would go to a festival specifically looking for him. l appreciate his art but also enjoyed talking with him about his creations. He dropped off the festival circuit several years ago and I was sad to see he passed away in 2018. I have other festival favorites, but I love the anticipation of finding artists who are new to me.
I’m sad we haven’t been able to have spring festivals this year, but I am encouraged that St. Bernard is planning to hold its Bernard Blues & BBQ Fest this fall at the end of October. We’re still in strange times and not sure what happens next with the virus that’s disrupted all our lives, but I’m hopeful that we’ll have festivals again and I’ll finally get to experience a Cullman community festival.
Just promise me there will be no chitlins.