This town’s biggest annual street party gets underway Friday as the 88th edition of the Harvest Festival kicks off.
The annual event, which began as a celebration of the end of tobacco growing season, now is an effort to focus on harvesting the community pride of a region to build up its community.
Tracie Hicks, one of the organizers of the annual event which is put on each year by the Wendell Chamber of Commerce, says events like the Little Mister and Little Miss Wendell contest and the parade offer Wendell residents a chance to celebrate the good in the community.
Members of two Wendell baseball teams, which won state championships this summer in the Tar Heel Baseball League, will serve as grand marshals in the parade which begins at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. Immediately following the parade, 10 2015 Little Mister and Little Miss contestants will gather on the stage at the J. Ashley Wall Towne Square to find out who raised the most money for four Wendell-area food pantries.
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The pantries that will receive the money raised by the children include ones at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Wendell Baptist, Wendell United Methodist and Hephzibah Baptist Church.
The annual event generates a lot of interest each year, Hicks said, because of the family-oriented nature of the festival. “There is really something there for everyone,” Hicks said.
A bevy of volunteers have been working for months to line up the 103 vendors who will participate, while others have taken on other projects, such as organizing the antique tractor show that will take place in the Agave Restaurant parking lot, the kid’s tractor pull, the pumpkin derby and, of course, the stage performances.
“We have a good, positive group of people. They are all willing to bounce ideas off one another. They’ve all been focused on making this a fun event for everyone,” Hicks said. In addition to chamber volunteers, Hicks said the town’s police and public works departments have helped with the planning and execution of the event and other volunteer groups, such as the East Wake High School FFA, have been active volunteers as well.
New this year will be a competition between several Wendell-area schools, called Wendell’s Got Talent. Students and groups from Wendell Elementary, Carver Elementary, Lake Myra Elementary and Wendell Middle will take the stage at the town square in a talent competition. The school with the most students attendance will take home $500. Later, officials from all four schools will take part in a chicken nugget-eating competition. The person who eats the most nuggets will take win another $500 for their school.
And, then, of course, there’s all the other stage entertainment that is sure to attract large crowds.
Party band The Switch will be the headliner Friday night. They will hit the stage about 7 p.m. and perform until the festival closes for the night at 10. On Saturday night, regional favorites the Band of Oz will anchor the main stage entertainment to close out the festival. Hicks said the band has been a festival favorite for years.
“Everybody around here really seems to enjoy beach music. They like to be get out and shag. And, I think it helps that beach music is really happy music. It makes people feel good,” Hicks said.
And, to get everyone in a dancing mood, a dance instructor will give shagging lessons to the crowd in the hours before the show begins.
In addition to some new entertainment and contests, there are a couple other significant changes coming to this year’s festival. There will be tables under tents to allow people to eat their food in the shade and Friday’s events will get a later start than they have in previous years. Activities begin on opening day at 4 p.m. Hicks said that will give vendors plenty of time to get set up and ready to greet visitors.
“The Friday afternoon was always kind of slow in terms of the crowd, but the vendors were all rushing around trying to get set up in time for the festival to start, so we felt like the later time would give everyone enough time to be ready,” Hicks said.
Apparently, there will be a lot at this year’s Harvest Festival to get ready for.