Navigate / search

Festivals in the age of social distancing

Southerners have always liked to get together.
Family reunions, church socials, birthday parties. We can even turn a funeral into a gathering.
We particularly like festivals, and down in the South we have some humdingers.
For example.
Every year the town of Sally, South Carolina, hosts its annual Chitlin Strut, where everyone has a dandy time eating fried and boiled pig guts.
Then there is the Marlington, West Virginia, Road Kill Festival, which features a cook-off where creative chefs prepare dishes which, according to the rules, “must have as their main ingredient any animal commonly found dead on the side of the road.”
However, festivals are not always about food. Though eating something you would not normally eat seems to be an important criteria for having an event, these gatherings are often about doing things you always wanted to do but didn’t because your Mama probably wouldn’t approve.

Illustration by Dennis Auth

Like hollering.
Which is what they do at the National Hollerin’ Contest held at Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina. A few years ago the winner was on the The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and you can still find it on the internet. Something more wholesome to do than trolling politics and porn.
Pikesville, Kentucky, has Hillbilly Days, where local folks do all sorts of things they believe they would do if they were really hillbillies. The main thing they do is shake down city slickers who pay big bucks to attend and who buy all sorts of doodads that local folks pass off as the real thing.
Up north and out west they also have festivals, but they lack something. Out in Pullman, Washington, they have the National Lentil Festival, which promotes healthy eating. Sally, South Carolina, does not fear the competition. In California there is the Tarantula Awareness Festival, which features a “hairy leg contest.” OK, it is California where “awareness” is a big deal, but I’ll take a pass.
Alabama is loaded with festivals – Google Alabama Festivals, pick one, and go to it. The Big Bug Fest in Tuscaloosa gives folks an opportunity to appreciate insects and even eat one – on purpose. There are festivals devoted to gospel music, the blues, and tacos. Talk about diversity.
For years a group of civic-minded hunters down in Clarke County held the Armadillo Gourmet Society Wild Game Supper. The hunters cooked what they had killed. Their wives made desserts. Tickets were sold. Politicians showed up and contributed. And the money went to the Sheriffs’ Boys’ Ranch.
Meanwhile, down on the Gulf Coast, some folks heard of an Oklahoma cow chip throwing contest, and decided to throw a fish instead. The result: Alabama’s most widely known contribution to the festival frenzy – the Flora-Bama International Mullet Toss. I have been there, done that, and got a T-shirt.
But not this year.
The virus that has done so much damage to the nation has caused festivals to be canceled in Alabama and beyond. Someone suggested that wearing a mask could keep out the smell of chitlins as well as any germs lurking around, but it is kinda hard to eat when your mouth is covered.
As for tossing fish, anyone who has ever been to the Flora-Bama wing-ding knows that social distancing just ain’t gonna happen. With that in mind, organizers of the event have postponed the throwing until a later date. They are not alone. All around the state concerned folks are putting up TBA postings to let everyone know that the future is uncertain.
So, we must wait it out. Meanwhile those who can should fire up the grill, turn some ice cream, and make the best of a bad situation.
Something Alabamians are good at.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hhjackson43@gmail.com