Festival organizers track T.S. Alex

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 2004

MURFREESBORO – If Mother Nature will cooperate, the 19th annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival may indeed prove to be the biggest and best ever.

With one eye focused squarely on the projected movement of Tropical Storm Alex, Festival organizers are watching the clock countdown the final few hours until the start of this annual salute to the state and nation’s most favorite summertime fruit – the watermelon.

Beginning tomorrow (Wednesday), tens of thousands of people are projected to visit Murfreesboro over the next four days, making the Watermelon Festival the largest event staged in the Roanoke-Chowan area. It’s also ranked among the top 25 festivals in the southeastern United States and has been featured on several national news web sites.

The biggest question surrounding this year’s event is…will it be dry? Last year wasn’t a total washout, but it did rain – steadily at times – throughout the majority of the Festival.

The answer to that question depends on just how quick Tropical Storm Alex departs the local area. Positioned off the South Carolina coast, it strengthened into a tropical storm on Sunday afternoon. Its projected path calls for a slow trek along the North Carolina coastline on Monday – spreading a wide band of heavy rain inland – and off the Virginia Capes by midnight. If that does occur, the door will open for the passage of a weak cold front on Tuesday, which hopefully will usher in dryer and cooler air for the Watermelon Festival. Projected highs are in the 90’s on Wednesday, but that will back down to the mid 80’s for the remainder of the week. Overnight lows are forecasted to be in the mid 60’s.

&uot;We’re putting the final touches on some things and will be ready to go on Wednesday,&uot; said Kay Mitchell, co-chairman of the Watermelon Festival planning committee. &uot;We’re keeping a close watch on the tropical storm. If the forecast holds true, we’re in store for some delightful weather on Wednesday through the weekend.&uot;

However, it makes no difference if it’s hot, wet or dry, the Watermelon Festival always proves delightful, not to mention extremely entertaining.

The 19th annual event officially opens at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) with the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce’s barbecue dinner. That lip-smacking meal will be served until 7 p.m. The food court opens at 5 p.m., the same time the Blue T band hits the stage. The amusement rides open at 6 p.m.

Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 7 p.m. Highlighting that event will be an official welcome by Murfreesboro Mayor Ben McLean followed by an invocation from Rev. Melvin Ingram of St. Paul Church, Murfreesboro.

Jay Brabban, trumpeter, will perform the National Anthem followed by remarks from Johnnie Ray Farmer, Chairman of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners. Lynette Bunch, Festival committee co-chairman, will make a special presentation.

&uot;Melon&uot; (a version of Bingo, with plenty of prizes, donated by area merchants, to the winners) will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday night’s featured entertainment is an 8-11 p.m. performance by the Coastline Band.

On Thursday, the Murfreesboro Rotary Club opens the Festival with a fish dinner from 4:30-7:30 p.m. The Food Fair opens at 5 p.m.; the Batson and Chase band performs at 5 p.m.; amusement rides crank-up at 6 p.m. and the High Roller Band takes the main stage for an 8 p.m. street dance.

The final two days are the busiest.

Friday’s schedule calls for a 12 noon opening of the Crafts/Antiques and Collectables Fair. Country music vocalist Tommy Chase is also scheduled for a 12 noon show. The &uot;Still Kickin’ band takes the stage at 2:15 p.m. followed by a unique performance from the &uot;In the Tradition&uot; bluegrass band.

The Murfreesboro Historical Association will host a fried chicken dinner from 4-7 p.m. Amusement rides open at 5 p.m. where the young and the young at heart can limber up their bodies to dance the night away with the Johnny Dollar Band (8-11 p.m.).

Saturday’s agenda begins with the state’s largest agricultural parade at 10 a.m. along Murfreesboro’s Main Street. This year’s Grand Marshal is Britt Cobb, North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture. The parade – which also features Courtney Herring, the 2004 North Carolina Watermelon Queen –

is sponsored by Glover Construction of Pleasant Hill.

Meanwhile, the numerous craftsmen, food vendors and midway/carnival workers will ready themselves for the expected on rush of Festival patrons at the conclusion of the parade.

Following an 11 a.m. opening ceremony, three traditional contests will begin – the Watermelon Princess review (11:30 a.m.), the naming of the Little Mr. Farmer (12 noon) and Little Miss Farmer (12:15 p.m.). The Watermelon Princess finals will follow at 12:20 p.m.

The afternoon hours are crammed full of entertainment – Lynn Britton, dancer (12:45 p.m.), the Virginia Fancy Feet Cloggers (1 p.m.), Stacy White, vocalist (1:45 p.m.), the Chockoyotte Creek Cloggers (2:30 p.m.), Joshua Fleetwood (3 p.m.), the Peanut City Cloggers (3:30 p.m.), Laura Vincent (4 p.m.) and the County Line Cloggers (4:15 p.m.).

For those with a bit of the competitive spirit, be sure to take part in the watermelon seed spitting and watermelon eating contests, scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Plaques will be awarded to the winners in a variety of age divisions.

The Double Eagle Band cranks-up the volume at 5 p.m., setting the stage for the evening’s featured entertainment – Pizazz at 8 p.m.

Always a crowd favorite, the fireworks show – again sponsored by Georgia-Pacific Resins of Conway – will fill the air with brilliant colors at around 9:15 p.m.

Other corporate sponsors of the Watermelon Festival include the North Carolina Northeast Partnership, Metal Tech of Murfreesboro, the NC Watermelon Association, Murfreesboro Farms, Inc., WLQM radio of Franklin, Va., WLGQ radio of Roanoke Rapids, Melrose Woman’s Club of Murfreesboro, WDLZ radio of Murfreesboro, WQDK radio of Ahoskie, Dominion NC Power, Nucor, Inc., Trade Oil Co., Commercial Ready Mix and Ace Hardware of Murfreesboro.

Official Watermelon Festival T-shirts will be on sale at the Information Booth. That location is also a popular stopping-off point for those looking to sink their teeth into a free slice of watermelon.

Any additional information concerning the Watermelon Festival is available by calling 398-5922 or logging on to www.murfreesboronc.com. That website also contains an online store featuring Watermelon Festival items.