When an event measures itself in decades, some years can fade into the next, but the 2016 Clayton Harvest and Music Festival left quite an impression.
The annual event likely drew the largest crowd ever to stroll down Main Street on the third Saturday in September and definitely booked the most vendors. But it also had a touch of danger and marked the end of an era for one event.
The Harvest and Music Festival is the Clayton Chamber of Commerce’s biggest event of the year, with interim director Jessica Lloyd putting the crowd at more than 25,000 and the haul for the chamber at upwards of $60,000. As one of the leaders of this year’s festival, Lloyd said she saw the full scope of the event compared to past years, when she played more of a supporting role.
“I was amazed at how many different organizations and volunteers we had on Saturday,” Lloyd said, estimating that day’s volunteers at 150. “From the Rotary, the ROTC, the high school and churches, I was amazed at how many people it took to run the show that day. Without those volunteers, it wouldn’t have gone so well. You had people there at 5 a.m., and those same people didn’t leave until 10 p.m.”
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The main money-maker for the chamber is tent sales for businesses, community organizations, political candidates and other groups around town. Lloyd said this year’s Harvest Fest had 262, the most ever.
“We literally sold out our space,” she said. “We were fitting people in as best we could; it’s our largest fundraiser of the year.”
The chamber moved another of its fundraisers, the whole-hog cook-off Squealin’ On the Square, from next month’s Shindig to the Harvest Festival. The move, Lloyd said, meant pitmasters sold twice as many pork sandwiches because of the larger crowd.
But the inaugural pairing of the festival and the barbecue competition included a scare. At around 2 a.m. Saturday, as the 16 barbecue teams were about halfway through their cooks, 18-year-old Matthew Cecil Gilbert of Raleigh plowed his car through barricades at Fayetteville Street and into the cookers and campsites. The car hit three people, resulting in cuts and broken bones, but no life-threatening injuries. Clayton police determined drugs and alcohol were not factors in the crash, but they did find marijuana in his car and charged him with simple possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
Ryan Murphy, a banker from Wilson who took first place in Squealin’ on the Square, said that when he first heard the crash, he thought it was a gas explosion. “There was a big kaboom when the car hit the cooker,” he said. “The car hit the tents and sent them flying out, and obviously everyone immediately ran over there. It was horrific event.”
The three injured men were taken to Wake Med in Raleigh and discharged by Saturday afternoon. Lloyd said the chamber would evaluate what happened to see if it could take any precautions to protect future cook teams from wayward traffic.
“The Chamber of Commerce and Squealin' on the Square Committee (are) saddened by the events that occurred Friday night at our event where some of our cooks were injured,” Lloyd said in a statement. “The three injured are still recovering, and we wish them and their families the best during this time. This event is such a good event to showcase our local cooks, and we sold almost all of our BBQ plates before the concert started.”
Murphy said he’s competed in at least a half-dozen barbecue competitions in each of the last three years, but this was his first overall win. He said he didn’t expect to win but thought he had a pretty good pig.
“When we got done that morning, the pig did not have any soft spots on its skin; it was all crisp,” Murphy said. “The pig had a good color; they look for a mahogany color. After all that, I felt pretty confident.”
This year’s Harvest Fest also meant the end of Clayton Idol, which Lloyd said will be missed.
“We so dearly will miss Clayton Idol; it had a great run here in Clayton,” she said. “We’ll be looking for something else to step in and continue to showcase Clayton’s talent.”
Once the chamber closes out one Harvest Festival, it’s nearly time to start planning for the next. Lloyd said that will begin soon enough.
“Overall, everything went really well,” she said. “We’re looking forward to next year, to making changes for the better and make things more efficient.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson