Thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Smithfield last Saturday for the 31st annual Ham & Yam Festival.
The temperature climbed into the 70s, and the festival gave those who turned out plenty to do on the beautiful spring day. Attendees causally browsed the wares of at least 100 vendors, chowed down on ham biscuits and yam-topped funnel cakes and took it easy listening to live music. Children rode ponies, got their faces painted, bounced on inflatables and begged their parents for trinkets.
Many churches and community groups used the event to raise money and share information about their programs with the public.
The crew from Grace Community Church in Smithfield stood out thanks to James Tucker, who came dressed as an American frontiersman from the period before the Revolutionary War. Along with Commander Ken Capps and others, Tucker spent the day recruiting boys to join the church’s Royal Rangers group. Similar to the Boy Scouts, Tucker said, the rangers teach camping, Bible lessons and a variety of crafts, trades and other skills.
“We’re just out here representing Jesus and trying to bring boys into our ministry,” Tucker said. “And we’re handing out a lot of freezy pops along the way.”
Vendors set up booths along the streets and hawked a vast array of products and services. There were plenty of crafts and nicknacks – such as birdhouses, decorated gourds and seashells, wooden roses, and dolls. A number of beauty products tempted shoppers, including makeup, jewelry and soaps and lotions made from goat’s milk. Then there were bigger-ticket dealers who sold everything from cellphone service and dance lessons to insurance, farm equipment and bathroom renovations.
Bob Holder of Sharpsburg brought one of the more unusual and eye-catching crafts: biplanes and 13-sail schooner ships that he made out of drink cans. The craft started out about 15 years ago as a way to pass time following surgery, Holder said, and now he travels to events like Ham & Yam selling the novelties.
“I just started messing with them, and over the course of a couple of years, I finally worked my way up to what you see today,” he said.
As far as soda cans go, Holder said Mountain Dew and Pepsi are the biggest sellers. When it comes to beer, most customers go for Budweiser, Bud Light and Coors Light.
Bryan Owens, who grew up in Goldsboro and recently moved to Raleigh, said he enjoys coming to Ham & Yam each year. “I like seeing the whole community come out and enjoy themselves in this gorgeous weather,” he said.
This year’s festival featured a new event, a sweet potato pie eating contest, and Owens said he couldn’t resist signing up. Owens competed in hot dog eating contest a few years ago, he said, but had no expectations going into last Saturday’s competition. That made for a sweet surprise, Owens said, when he took first place and won $100.
“I just gave it my best shot,” he said. “There were no hands allowed, so you basically had to face-plant yourself in the pie.”
Even after scarfing down an entire sweet potato pie, Owens found room afterward to eat some tacos while kicking back on a bank by the Neuse River.
Glenn and Talika Wilson said they come out to Ham & Yam pretty much every year. It’s a good time for kids, Glen said, but looking around, he was glad their children have grown up. Instead of spending the day with little ones, the Wilsons brought two of their dogs: Luna, a miniature schnauzer, and Pebbles, a miniature pinscher.
“Ham & Yam just gives the people of Smithfield something to do besides just flea markets all the time,” Glenn said. “And then you get to enjoy the live music.”
Melvin Hamilton of Smithfield said he’s been coming to Ham & Yam since the early 2000s, and he always looks forward to the festival.
“The food, the music – it’s all good,” he said.