NC Watermelon Festival opens Wednesday

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

MURFREESBORO – Ever notice during the late spring and summer months when you turn on your porch light and, a few minutes later, have attracted a swarm of insects to your door.

That same scenario, minus the insects, will be repeated here beginning tomorrow where the Town of Murfreesboro will flick on the proverbial porch lights and roll out the red carpet, thus inviting &uot;swarms&uot; of people to enjoy the 18th annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival. By the time the four-day event ends on Saturday night, upwards to 50,000 individuals are expected, a number that will increase Murfreesboro’s population (2,045) 25 times over.

&uot;We’re ready,&uot; said Kay Mitchell, one of a small army of volunteers who have spent the better part of the past year planning this popular event. &uot;It’s a major undertaking to put on an event of this size, but we are blessed here in Murfreesboro and Hertford County with so many hard-working volunteers that allow us to put on the show we do year in and year out.&uot;

What started 18 years ago as a one-day, four-hour local festival has developed into an event worthy of its statewide recognition. Last year, the event was recognized as one of the best festivals in the state of North Carolina.

&uot;During the year, I’ll attend other festivals in other towns and cities across our state to see what they’re doing and try to judge the public’s reaction to that particular festival,&uot; stated Mitchell. &uot;When I compare our festival to those other events, I feel very, very confident that we’re doing a great job here in Murfreesboro.&uot;

The Watermelon Festival also has a big financial impact on Murfreesboro and the surrounding communities in the areas of food (meals other than the ones consumed at the event), lodging and gas. Visitors also visit area retail outlets.

&uot;The grocery stores do a booming business during the Watermelon Festival because the food vendors at the Festival have to re-stock their supplies due to the volume of sales,&uot; observed Mitchell.

Building upon its foundation as fun-filled, family event, the North Carolina Watermelon Festival will once again feature amusement rides and games for all ages, a large variety of food (most offered on all four days), street dances each night and, of course, plenty of free watermelon slices and watermelon-oriented contests. In addition, Festival goers can enjoy the popular craft/collectibles and antiques fair.

Another traditional event is the Watermelon Festival Parade. Billed as the largest agricultural parade in North Carolina, this event will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday along Main Street. As a salute to the upcoming Centennial Celebration of Flight on the Outer Banks, the grand marshals of the parade will be characters portraying Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The parade will also feature Tracy Lynn Register, the 2003 North Carolina Watermelon Queen. The 18-year-old is a double major (Communications and Business Marketing) at UNC-Wilmington. She will be joined in the parade and at selected Festival events by queens and princesses from other festivals in North and South Carolina.

Following the parade are three popular contests – Watermelon Princess, Little Farmer and Little Miss Farmer. Each takes place on the main stage located just off Sycamore Street.

The remainder of Saturday’s schedule is full of entertainment, including cloggers, bands, solo artists and the watermelon seed-spitting and watermelon eating contests.

Saturday night’s feature band for the street dance – Pizazz – will take a break shortly past 9 p.m. in order for the skies to be filled with a dazzling display during the Festival’s annual fireworks show. This year’s &uot;light show&uot; is sponsored by Georgia-Pacific Resins of Conway.

The Festival begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday with the opening of the Food Fair. The amusement rides open at 6 p.m. (close at 11 p.m. each night) followed by the formal opening ceremony at 7 p.m.

Wednesday’s featured entertainment for the street dance is the highly popular Band of Oz.

The Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce will host their annual barbecue dinner from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesday. Other special fundraising meals during the Festival are: Thursday (4:30-7:30 p.m.) – a fish dinner hosted by the Murfreesboro Rotary Club and the Hertford County Habitat for Humanity; Friday (4-7 p.m.) – fried chicken and barbecue dinner hosted by the Jefcoat Museum; and Saturday (5-9 a.m.) – Relay for Life pancake breakfast at Metal Tech, located on Broad Street just west of the Festival site, and barbecue chicken (11 a.m. until) by local Boy Scout Troop 125.

At the Food Fair, vendors will offer hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue sandwiches, nachos, steak sandwiches, chicken, seafood, blooming onions, Chinese food, pork skins, sweet potato and apple jacks, roast beef sandwiches, smoked turkey, lemonade, soft drinks and ice cream, plus other specialty dessert items.

If music is what you’re looking for, then the Watermelon Festival is the place to be. On Thursday, the Sweetwater Band performs at 5 p.m. followed by the Magic Pipers Band from 8-11 p.m. for the street dance. At 5 p.m. on Thursday, the Double Eagle Band will crank out their tunes prior to the Phat Albert Band taking the main stage for the street dance (8-11 p.m.). In addition to Pizazz on stage Saturday night, The Alibi Band will perform at 5 p.m. on the final day of the event. Other Saturday musical/dance groups include Virginia’s Finest Cloggers (1 p.m.), The Rose Boys (1:30 p.m.), Virginia Fancy Feet (2 p.m.), The Sojourners (3 p.m.), Peanut City Cloggers (3:35 p.m.) and Rocky Mount vocalist Jennifer Moore (4:30 p.m.).

Other scheduled special events include a Petting Zoo and pony rides for the kids. In addition, a replica of the James Henry Gatling airplane, re-created by the Murfreesboro Historical Association, will be on display.