A unique piece of agricultural history will be celebrated with this truly Southern, fun-filled event set to open Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. Bogguss will take the stage at 7 that evening.
Bogguss has hit the Top 10 country charts with songs like “Aces,” “Drive South,” “Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane” and “Letting Go.” She has collaborated with the best in the business, including a 1994 Liberty Records Release with the great Chet Atkins called “Simpatico.”
Her latest release, American Folk Songbook, is the natural progression of an artist who has demonstrated skill and passion for all types of music in her career. Along the way she won raves from critics and peers, winning a Grammy in 2005 for her contribution to “Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster.” She also won the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award in 1992 and Album of the Year Award in 1994.
“We are thrilled to have Suzy Bogguss headlining this festival. She is not only an amazing artist with wide appeal, but a personal favorite,” said Melissa Woody, vice president for the Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and festival co-chair. “Suzy is a fantastic entertainer and will put on a great show!”
Charleston was once known as the “Cowpea Capital of the United States” because of the abundance of peas grown in the area and shipped to markets far and away. “Cowpea” is the general name for the crowder pea, black-eyed pea, cream pea, silver-hull and other field pea varieties known as vigna unguiculata.
“This unique festival is a great way to recognize an authentic ‘agri-heritage’ as well as a truly Southern food that is a big part of our Southern diet,” said Darlene Goins, treasurer for the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society and festival co-chair. “Charleston is just full of surprises, and the fact that the small community was a major exporter of this staple on our tables is another interesting chapter in Charleston’s story.”
The festival will feature other entertainment throughout the day, such as a pageant, “Princess and the Cowpea,” other musical artists, storytelling, booths displaying agricultural information as well as heritage information telling Charleston’s nationally significant history. A children’s area will feature games and air toys, and a marketplace will offer arts and crafts, fresh produce and other goods. Food vendors will have concessions available. The festival website www.cowpeafestival.com will include detailed information on all the activities.
The community is invited to participate in the cook-off portion of the event sponsored by Whirlpool Corporation. A professional and amateur chef division will be available for entries using any variety of cowpea. Cowpea creations in the amateur chef division will be judged by a panel while the professional chef division will be judged by the first 500 people who purchase a souvenir spoon for $5. Whirlpool is bringing five gas ranges for on-site cooking demonstrations in the park. Watch for upcoming details on how to enter, or check www.cowpeafestival.com for cook-off rules.
Leading up to the event, Homestead Lawn & Tractor Co. and CPQ Professional Imaging Inc. are sponsoring a photo competition focusing on agriculture and landscapes. The competition will spotlight amateur photographers and work will be displayed at the new Hiwassee River Heritage Center in Charleston for an exhibit period. Competition details will be available this week in the Banner as well as on the event website.
“Other towns have unique food festivals celebrating everything from cornbread and green beans to banana pudding and biscuits,” Woody noted. “We want to be on the ‘plate’ so to speak. We have a true history with the cowpea and want to celebrate its place in Southern culture.”
Local farmer and Farm Bureau president Jack Sanders researched the cowpea and provided some facts about the crops that used to cover the farmland of Charleston and beyond. Sanders will be planting a crop of the popular pea varieties that will harvest in the fall, just in time for the festival.
The cowpea came to America in the early 18th century from Africa. It thrives in hot climates and has good drought resistance. It became a natural crop for Southern farmers. The original purpose for growing was thought to be for animal feed, hence the name “cowpea.” It is still a good feed for livestock, but the bean itself proved to be a great source of protein that humans also liked and began consuming. As the popularity of this plant grew, more Southern farmers planted crops and even shipped the dried peas to markets in more populated areas.
Until the railroads came to the area, the Hiwassee River was a major shipping route for the surrounding area. Charleston was the main port from which much of the agriculture production of the area was shipped.
“We will be releasing further details about all the features of the event,” Woody said. “We are continuing to add material to our website and are still adding activities to the event. We just want everyone to save the date of this great new event and help start an ‘agri-heritage’ tradition.”
Sponsorships are still available.
Anyone interested in supporting this community effort should contact Melissa Woody at 423-472-6587 or Darlene Goins at 423-413-8284.