• 73°

Juicy fruit#039; salute begins Wednesday By Cal Bryant 08/02/2005 MURFREESBORO #110; The Town of Murfreesboro is bracing for a population boom. Beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) and lasting through Satur

MURFREESBORO n The Town of Murfreesboro is bracing for a population boom.

Beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) and lasting through Saturday night, the town will host tens of thousands of individuals, all making their way to this historic Hertford County village to enjoy the sights and sounds of the 20th annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival.

Event organizers are planning a massive birthday celebration for the festival, one that began as a four-hour, one-day affair in 1985. It has matured into not only one of the top events in the state, but is ranked among the top 25 festivals in the southeastern United States.

"We have people from out of the area who build their annual plans around the Watermelon Festival," event co-chairman Kay Mitchell said. "Media coverage locally, regionally and nationally has put the Watermelon Festival on the map."

The 2005 event officially opens at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. There, the food court opens while the Alibi Band takes the stage for a two-hour performance. One hour later (6 p.m.), the popular amusement rides open on the carnival-like midway.

Mitchell noted that the carnival rides will move back to their traditional location this year. Due to wet grounds thanks to Tropical Storm Alex passing off the North Carolina coast just prior to the 2004 festival, the rides were moved to an area behind Murfreesboro Town Hall.

"Everything is centrally located with the midway area back in its normal place," Mitchell said.

She went on to add that R.C. Cole Amusements will unveil a new ride this year n "SuperShot," a 93-foot drop that promises to leave its riders breathless and they sit with their feet dangling in mid-air before accelerating at high speed towards the earth.

Mitchell said Wednesday and Thursday are "Family Nights" on the midway. There, individuals can purchase one pass and ride until their hearts are content.

An opening ceremony begins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday followed by the popular MELON (Bingo) game cranking up at 7:30 p.m.

The first of four consecutive street dances begins at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. There, the Band of Oz, a popular beach music group, will perform until 11 p.m. on the Broad Street stage.

Another tradition also continues on Wednesday where the Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual barbecue dinner from 4-7 p.m. at the Murfree Center, located on Broad Street. Tickets are priced at $6 per plate.

Thursday's agenda includes another tradition n the Murfreesboro Rotary Club's annual fish fry. The local Rotarians have sponsored this event for over 15 years. For the past three years, the event has become a cooperative fundraising effort between the Rotary Club and the Hertford County Habitat for Humanity.

Tickets are priced at $6 each for a meal n fish, slaw, boiled potatoes, hush puppies and tea n served from 4:30-7 p.m. at the Murfree Center.

Thursday's schedule also includes the food court (opens at 5 p.m.), the Last Man Standing Band (6-8 p.m.), amusement rides (6-11 p.m.) and the street dance (8-11 p.m.) featuring the Staircase Band.

The action heats-up on Friday with the 12 noon opening of the food court and crafts/antiques/collectables fair. All totaled, there are 20 vendors on the food court while the crafts fair features a record-setting 65 booths.

The Deuces Wild Band takes the stage at 12 noon on Friday followed by the Double Eagle Band at 4 p.m. The amusement rides will operate from 5-11 p.m. on Friday. The street dance (8-11 p.m.) features The Main Event Band.

Also on Friday, Murfreesboro's famous Jefcoat Museum will host a barbecue/fried chicken dinner from 4-7 p.m.

Murfreesboro will be graced by the presence of Amanda Aileen Wilson on Friday and Saturday. She is the 2005 North Carolina Watermelon Queen.

Saturday is traditionally the busiest day of the festival. The food court and crafts fair areas open at 9 a.m. That is followed at 10 a.m. with the annual North Carolina Watermelon Festival parade down Main Street. Hailed as the state's largest agricultural parade, this year's event features WRAL-TV 5 sports anchor Jeff Gravley as the celebrity grand marshal. The parade is sponsored by Glover Construction.

The remainder of Saturday's busy agenda is as follows:

11 a.m. n Welcoming ceremony.

11 a.m. n Happy Tails Dog Show.

11 a.m. n Amusement rides open.

11:30 a.m. n Watermelon Princess review.

11:45 a.m. n Little Mr. Farmer contest.

12 noon n Little Miss Farmer contest.

12:15 p.m. n Watermelon Princess finals.

1 p.m. n Virginia Fancy Feet Cloggers.

1:45 p.m. n Vocalist Laura Vincent.

2:30 p.m. n Chockoyotte Creek Cloggers.

3 p.m. n Watermelon eating and seed spitting contests.

3 p.m. n Vocalist Jason Swain.

3:30 p.m. n Peanut City Cloggers.

4-7 p.m. n Murfreesboro Historical Association's fried chicken dinner ($6 per plate at the Murfree Center).

4:15 p.m. n Church at the Crossroads Band.

5 p.m. n Tommy Chase.

5-11 p.m. n Amusement rides.

8-11 p.m. n Street Dance featuring the Pizazz Band.

9:15 p.m. n Fireworks show, sponsored by Georgia-Pacific Resins of Conway.

All of this information is included in a special publication produced by the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. Those handy publications will be available at the festival's information tent, as will free slices of watermelon.

There is no admission charge to the Watermelon Festival.

The Murfreesboro Police Department, with assistance from local law enforcement agencies, will provide security at this drug and alcohol-free family event.