How, exactly, do you go about reinventing something that’s 86 years old?
That’s the question members of the Wendell Harvest Festival Committee have been asking themselves over the past few months.
The answer? Nibble around the edges. A lot.
The 2014 version of the Harvest Festival will retain its core purpose, celebrating agriculture and the harvest season, but this year’s event won’t be your grandmama’s Harvest Festival.
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Tracie Hicks, one of the committee members helping to plan this year’s event, which runs Oct. 3-4 in downtown Wendell, says the first thing Wendell Chamber of Commerce members did was to seek out new blood for the committee itself.
“We’ve got business people on the committee, (chamber) board members and members of the community who just said the wanted to help,” Hicks said.
The group began by brainstorming some ideas – some of which visitors will see brought to life this fall.
There will be a Little Miss and Little Mister pageant for children ages 6-10. Unlike a traditional beauty pageant the winner of this event will be the youngster who raises the most money to support Wendell-area food pantries. Though the idea is new, committee member Dene Castleberry says the pageant really brings the idea of a harvest full circle.
“The pageant is for a great cause and it’s something that directly benefits people in our community,” Castleberry said. “You want to help someone when they are down.”
The festival will also have a Village of Yesteryear as part of its attractions. Castleberry cautioned against expecting something on the scale of the N.C. State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear, but he said the idea behind it is the same.
“Historically, this festival was created to celebrate our farming community. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who would know what it’s like to tie tobacco. We’re looking at all kinds of things that we could include in that exhibit just to let people know a little bit more about Wendell and how it used to be,” Castleberry said.
Sticking with the agricultural theme of the festival another new addition to this year’s event is a cornhole tournament. The game, which calls for players to throw sandbags through a hole in a board 27 feet away has seen its popularity grow wildly in recent years and Hicks said creating an event like that as part of the festival might help people stick around a little longer.
“We’ll have three classes of competition – kids, pros and regular Joe’s – and they’ll all be competing for prize money,” Hicks said.
The cornhole tournament won’t be the only competitive feature of this year’s festival. Business owners in dowtown are being encouraged to decorate their storefronts. The best will win a prize. And a parade will kick off events Saturday morning, with judges selecting the best entries in that portion of the festival.
The festival will also be laid out a bit differently this year. Vendors won’t find themselves shunted off to the outer reaches of the festival. There will be no vendor booths behind Wells-Fargo bank and none will be located along Cypress Street. Instead the line of displays will extend down Third Street from Main Street nearly to Strickland Funeral Home in a straight line.
With all the changes, Hicks and Castleberry say the festival will remain recognizable for many people who attend.
“I’m big on tradition. There’s nothing wrong with it. But even with tradition, you’ve got to change things up a little bit,” Castleberry said.
So far, 15 food vendors have signed up for the event and many of the display booths that typically line Third Street have been sold, although a limited number remain.
Musical entertainment will remain the focus of the nighttime portion of the festival. Stone Age Romeos will play Friday night and the Band of Oz returns to the festival this year to close out the event on Saturday night.
Hicks is excited about this year’s festival. You can hear it in her voice when she talks about it. She hopes this year’s festival will entertain those who’ve been before and keep them wanting to come back for more.
“I love putting on a party and that’s really what this is,” Hicks said. “Wendell’s such a great place and this is a part of what makes our town unique.”